Social work has been around since the late 1800s, with the first social work graduates setting out to make a difference in people’s lives, alleviating poverty and giving them the skills to provide for themselves and their families.
Social workers go above and beyond counseling and helping people in stressful or destructive situations. Their aim is to improve living conditions so that their patients can lead normal lives, both independently and within communities. Social work is about teaching people the skills to support themselves financially and emotionally, empowering them to cope with difficult situations they find themselves in.
Helping people to fend for themselves or removing them from harmful environments is not enough. We have to ensure that functional communities exist where these individuals feel welcome and are able to live productive lives in harmony with other people.
Social workers can be found in a variety of settings, including:
- In private practice or a clinical environment, counseling individuals and groups
- Working with social services in communities
- In local government, state departments, and even international organizations
- Non-profit organizations
As a social worker looking to enhance your professional career, the MSW program for those who have a BSW is a step in the right direction. The online master’s degree in social work offered by Florida State University’s College of Social Work offers flexibility and support while you study while providing placement arrangements that suit you, the learner.
Services that social workers provide
As discussed, social workers don’t just counsel. Success, in social work terms, is a patient who has become emotionally stable and self-sufficient, who has developed the necessary survival skills, and no longer requires counseling or help of any sort. This can take months and even years to achieve, but it is what makes social work so rewarding.
Social workers can refer their clients to organizations that assist with food, housing, legal advice, education, and mental health.
Grants and non-profit organizations
An important part of the social worker’s function is to identify patients with specific needs, such as housing or food support, and apply for the necessary grants to assist them.
Grants are available in many forms: for individuals, families, or non-profit organizations. Social workers are aware of the various non-profit organizations and government departments that they can approach for assistance when they have a client or community in need.
The Department of Health and Human Services provides healthcare aid for children and families with special needs or who are unable to access medical care.
The types of grants available include the basic necessities required for survival, such as food aid, housing, medical care, and education. Disability grants exist for people with both physical and mental disabilities – for their living and nursing costs as well as support for the trauma and abuse that disabled people are often subjected to. Disability grants can be obtained for children, families, schools, and organizations that care for various sectors of the community that have a need.
Financial advice and debt relief
Our finances have a direct impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. Living in debt results in anxiety and depression, which in turn leads to physical problems. Social workers who integrate financial counseling into their practice can offer a more holistic approach to solving mental health and socioeconomic problems.
Conservatorship is the appointment of a legal guardian to oversee someone’s financial affairs when they are no longer able, due to age or disability. Social workers are sometimes called upon to take on this role. Understanding finance and managing someone’s financial affairs is the primary function of a conservator; however, there is a lot more to it than that. The conservator is responsible for seeing to it that the individual is well cared for, for selling off assets such as cars and houses, for sorting out personal effects and documentation. Ideally, the conservator needs a good understanding of client confidentiality, consent, ethical decision making, and the state laws governing benefits and client rights.
To be successful in the role of a conservator, the social worker must have good organizational and communication skills, be observant, and be a good listener. Efficient management of financial affairs and property transactions is essential.
Social work environments
The wide range of settings and the urgent need for social workers in today’s times mean that they can choose the environment that suits their lifestyle and preferences.
Social workers in hospitals
Social work in a hospital or clinic environment presents a diversity of situations: patients who are ill due to a lack of proper nutrition, people who have an injury or illness that requires ongoing treatment such as physiotherapy, elderly patients who will need care once leaving the hospital environment, and cases of abuse or neglect that need monitoring or removal to a safer environment. Sourcing and referring patients to the various facilities for assistance is all in a day’s work for the medical social worker.
Mental health social workers
Mental health social workers deal with issues ranging from eating disorders and substance abuse to depression, trauma, and more. Building relationships with patients and earning their trust while assessing their needs is a good place to start. Finding solutions for patients includes referrals to rehabilitation facilities or ongoing counseling options.
The treatment of patients with substance abuse includes finding them suitable employment or encouraging them to take up a hobby, join a recreation club, or engage in any other activity that will encourage them to interact with other people and enable them to lead a normal life. Ongoing support is necessary and usually takes the form of group counseling sessions where patients can discuss their problems with others who are battling with the same issues. Being part of a group helps people realize that they are not alone.
Working in Schools
Social workers in schools are involved with children and adolescents who have learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and mental illnesses. They may counsel children individually, but they will also work with them in groups to try and identify any signs of abuse. The social worker will arrange additional support for children who are not coping with their lessons.
Home-based primary care
Patients who are discharged from hospitals often need a plan in place for a complete recovery. This may be in the form of private nursing at home, going into a convalescent facility until they are well enough to go home, or having a family member nurse them. Some patients do not have homes.
Social workers play an important role in the rehabilitation of patients, seeing to it that patients have access to post-hospital care and paying follow-up visits to ensure a successful recovery.
Community Social Work
Many rural areas are underserved when it comes to primary health care and social care facilities. Underprivileged societies lack basic food, housing, and financial support. A social worker who is assigned to serve in one of these disadvantaged areas is able to effect changes that will uplift and bring cohesion to the entire community.
Social workers not only address the needs of individuals in communities, but they go further, advocating for improvements in healthcare, housing, and education. When called on to treat individual cases, social workers get to know their clients and begin to find out what the underlying problems are in the area.
They learn to read the signs. Mental and physical illnesses are often caused by malnutrition, whether through poverty or just a basic lack of knowledge about healthy eating and cleanliness. The social worker may source some assistance from NGOs that provide food in poverty-stricken areas, but the ultimate goal is to help people help themselves. Giving members of the community the means and knowledge to plant their own vegetable garden or teaching them skills to earn a living is a long-term solution that empowers people to care for themselves.
In areas where there is a lack of primary healthcare, social workers have the training and resources to advocate for better facilities. They may approach the state or local city council for assistance in building a community center that can serve as a venue for a day clinic, house a library and training center, and accommodate other community activities such as game nights.
Once funds have been obtained, the social worker can involve various members of the community who have building, plumbing, and electrical skills. They can identify people with leadership potential and who, with a bit of mentorship, will be able to help with the management of the building project or run the community center once it is established. Community centers can accommodate a daycare center for children, a weekly baby clinic, or a full-time primary healthcare clinic.
Community leaders can be encouraged to organize game nights, craft classes, and entertainment for young and old, fostering a sense of belonging among community members and improving social cohesion and mental health. By establishing a strong community, social workers manage to establish a social balance, reducing inequality and socioeconomic disparity.
When it comes to poverty in a community, social workers may advocate for improved housing, more food and clothing aid, and better medical care. They do this through interaction with the various government departments, social service agencies, and non-profit organizations.
The training of adults in various skills to earn a living and support their families helps them gain self-esteem and confidence and strengthens the community in the process.
When people work together to achieve a mutual goal, they form trusting relationships and begin to share the same values. In addition, standing together in a community helps to reduce crime in the area and encourages the formation of partnerships in projects that benefit the community.
Policy, administration, and research
Some social workers prefer taking on more administrative roles in local or national governmental organizations, advocating for change, and drafting new policies in the social work sector. They analyze statistics, do research into social norms and related problems, investigate the causes, and come up with recommendations.
There is also much work to be done in the financing and distribution of social grants as well as aid for non-governmental organizations.
Homes for the elderly
When elderly people are no longer able to care for themselves and their families are unable to accommodate them, they are referred to homes for the elderly. This is a big step to take, as it means a change of environment and the end of the life that they once lived. It can be traumatic and disorienting.
Social workers may assist with the preliminary assessments of elderly people to determine what level of care they need, both physically and mentally. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s important to ensure that their mental health is monitored, as depression and anxiety can affect physical health, and the person’s wellbeing will decline if left unchecked.
Social workers counsel people who are battling to adjust, who are depressed due to chronic pain and illnesses that are not likely to improve, who are mourning the loss of loved ones, or who are aware of the gradual loss of their mental and other faculties due to the onset of dementia.
In addition, the social worker keeps in touch with families regarding their patients’ health issues or specific needs and educates staff on psychosocial and diversity issues.
Social work and the law
Many legal organizations employ the services of a social worker in a supportive role to assist with client interviews and assess clients’ needs. Employed mainly in social welfare cases that involve child welfare or housing issues, the social worker’s skills offer a more holistic perspective on legal cases. Their specialized training means accurate documentation of social and mental profiles, proficient handling of clients as they work with complex personal dynamics, and the provision of psychosocial support when necessary. Their skills and input are important factors in the strengthening of legal teams.
A labor of love
Social workers are compassionate, caring people who get immense satisfaction out of the positive changes they make in people’s lives. The achievements are high, and the rewards in this exciting and challenging field of work are many and varied. It’s a profession worth considering.