How social workers benefit local communities

How social workers benefit local communities

In the US, there are a wide range of issues present in the country, ranging from economic issues such as rampant inflation, unemployment and debt to social issues such as family separation, substance abuse and structural racism, so social work has never been more important. In addition to providing frontline support to people in need, in many cases, social workers are often instrumental in pushing for change in society, working hard to help build the right support and infrastructure in the community, fighting in favor of measures to alleviate poverty and empowering local people.

In this article, we examine the typical tasks and duties carried out by social workers, the areas and institutions they typically work in and the crucial role they play in local communities. In addition, we will examine the skills and knowledge required for this kind of profession, the options available for anyone who would like to become a social worker in the future and how lifelong learning and practical experience are both crucial to a successful career in this field.

A multifaceted profession

The International Federation of Social Workers defines social work as “a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people.” Social work is a wide-ranging field, with many different areas of application. Generally speaking, however, we can say social work is about providing advice, care, organizational assistance and counseling services for members of the general public in a variety of different contexts.

In terms of specific issues, social workers are typically responsible for helping people who may require assistance for a variety of reasons, including acute or chronic disease or physical incapacity, financial issues, drug or alcohol addiction, behavioral problems or emotional issues. They are typically employed in an array of different settings, including hospitals, private practices, schools, nursing homes, community centers and local and federal government.

Key areas of expertise

Over the course of their career, many social workers will work in a variety of fields and institutions. While most social workers seek to improve the situation of individuals and groups and have a positive effect on the wellbeing within their community through their work, they will often specialize in specific areas. One potential field is working with families and schools, where social workers are typically responsible for advocating for the general wellbeing of children, as well as providing targeted assistance to children, parents and schoolteachers in order to help them deal with various issues related to behavior disorders, bullying, learning difficulties or mental health.

Social workers are also frequently employed in situations related to divorce or parenting problems in the family, as well as children who grow up in care or have foster parents. In these cases, social workers typically provide both emotional and administrative support, and also help seek out additional resources.

Many social workers are also heavily involved in healthcare, both within medical institutions and through local community work. In the event of a serious illness, for example, a social worker might be made available to provide personal support to both the patient and their loved ones. In some cases, in addition to providing emotional assistance, the social worker may also be required to help patients access the healthcare or additional services they need. In fact, social workers are often called upon to help source care outside of the hospital, such as home nursing or other outpatient care. This is particularly relevant with older patients, something which is crucial in almost all developed nations, where the number of older residents is set to grow for the foreseeable future.

One other main area in social work relates to substance abuse. In this case, social workers are usually tasked with assisting patients with therapy and helping them to access affordable rehabilitation programs, while they can also provide additional support in terms of returning to work or attaining long-term sobriety. They may also work in drug outreach programs that seek out people who may need assistance, very often in low-income neighborhoods. Social workers may also be responsible for running or assisting with preventative programs, both in the local community and in schools and other educational facilities.

Pillars of the community

When someone mentions the profession of social worker, the first thing that comes to mind for many people is someone who goes into the hardest, most difficult situations in the local community and does their very best to improve the situation, often in the face of scarce resources and unfavorable odds. While there are many contexts in which a social worker may operate, there is also a lot of truth to this description. Social workers often do vital work within the community, particularly in neighborhoods where poverty, social hardships and abuse are not uncommon.

In addition to the issues mentioned above, including helping people deal with behavioral or mental health issues, sourcing access to healthcare and providing help with substance abuse, social workers also often play a key role in tasks related to a whole range of other issues, particularly in relation to community organization and mobilization. While they are often employed by local government or educational institutions, social workers might also work for nonprofits or grassroots organizations who are involved in local, national and even international programs designed to help improve the entire society.

Positive, practical assistance

In addition to social workers working in specific areas in local institutions, we may also find community social workers, who are specifically trained to deal with situations that relate to their local community on a more macro level. Often, community social workers are tasked with providing community outreach or helping to form community coalitions that can achieve a specific goal or goals.

Imagine, for example, that a group of homeowners in a high-density populated area would like to make some improvements to their surroundings, such as a playground, cleaner streets or more trees and garden areas. At the same time, they have little experience in such projects and are therefore unsure of exactly what is possible, the best way to achieve their goals and the proper channels they should use to submit any requests. In this case, a social worker or group of social workers, often as part of a larger organization, might be responsible for mustering local enthusiasm for the idea, attending or even holding meetings on the issue, armed with a list of action items to achieve. Community social workers might also work with local government, contractors and even sponsors to build support and gain funding to ensure that the initiative is a success.

Community social workers could also be involved during an election cycle, where they often encourage people to vote and spread information about democratic rights and how to exercise them. In addition, they might also be responsible for assisting people in states where voter ID is required. They may also be asked to work on programs designed to alleviate poverty or to promote social mobility or equity. One example of this might be a back-to-work program that encourages people who are unemployed long-term to find suitable work positions that can build on their personal skillset and experience.

Similarly, social workers might run or promote training programs that can help people to learn a new skill or profession which can make them more employable or that can provide a boost to their income. Small business programs can also be crucial, as social workers can help people with entrepreneurial skills develop their business and source funding.

Of course, in all these cases, social workers are to a large extent just as reliant on the community as the community is on them. They depend on not only a network of people and organizations to help them help people, but also on the people themselves to want to help themselves.

Key qualities and skills

Given the complexity of the role and the arduous situations in which social workers can often find themselves, the profession is not for everyone. It demands a great deal of resilience and personal resolve, as well as a wide range of skills and personal qualities.

First and foremost, a social worker must be a good communicator, capable of forming relationships and getting along with people from a wide range of different backgrounds, from drug abuse victims and elderly patients to business leaders and public administrators.

Empathy is also key, as many of the people who require assistance need a sympathetic person who is willing to work hard to understand their issues and help them to improve their situation.

Critical thinking and organizational and time-management skills are also crucial to ensure that the social worker can manage difficult situations and provide genuine practical help to those in need. Many experienced social workers also emphasize the importance of self-care techniques that will help to manage daily life in what is unquestionably an emotionally demanding occupation.

In addition to these general skills and abilities, social workers also require a certain degree of specialist knowledge in the area they work in. After all, in almost all cases, social workers are responsible for assisting people in areas where the individual has little or insufficient knowledge, so it is essential that the social worker is able to provide them with first-class support that can make a genuine difference to their lives.

A social worker involved in housing issues, for example, must have a good understanding of things such as planning permission, housing grants and local building regulations, while a counselor who works with substance abuse must have excellent awareness of not only the different types of drugs and the harm they can do, but also the types of rehabilitation and treatment available, and how people can access them.

Educational paths

It is perhaps no surprise then that in most countries, including the US, social workers are required to complete both an undergraduate and then a postgraduate course — often a Master of Social Work, or MSW, through a reputable institution such as Florida State University. This gives them the opportunity to develop the right skillset and knowledge base for their profession through formal education. If someone is interested in the field of social work and substance use disorder, for example, it is essential to pursue thorough training and attain a detailed grounding in both the general principles and theories needed to become a social worker, and the kinds of techniques and practical skills that can be applied in their chosen area of expertise.

Fortunately, there is now an array of different university courses that can help prospective social workers develop the right skillset and make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. Florida State University’s online MSW program offers prospective social workers the chance to develop the skills, knowledge and practical experience needed to begin their career, not to mention the qualifications required to do so. The course provides students with the opportunity to examine clinical best practices in social work, practical theories and real-life examples.

In addition, students also enjoy social work field placements, where they can gain valuable experience in their chosen profession with the support of both a supervisor and mentor to provide valuable advice and feedback. This kind of online course is ideal for people who would like to further their education but who are either unwilling or unable to relocate to complete a degree on-campus, while it is also ideal for people planning to remain in either full or part-time employment while they study.

The importance of lifelong learning

Beyond the years of formal study, the best social workers also place a huge emphasis on lifelong learning. This may be vital in all areas of life, but it is particularly crucial in social work, where you are thrust into a fast-paced world and typically expected to perform a wide variety of roles — from confidant and counselor to community organizer, business advisor and administration expert — and have in-depth knowledge in a bewildering number of areas.

Naturally, experience is also an excellent way to learn more about the profession and gain the knowledge and skills needed to excel and provide the highest level of professional support. There is certainly no substitute for practical experience, and just like any other profession, social workers gain much of their knowledge through their everyday work. At the same time, the best social workers work hard to stay as informed as possible in their chosen field so that they can provide general help and assistance to the local community.

Fortunately, even after completing their degree, social workers have access to a wide range of training programs. There are also professional organizations such as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in the US to provide additional support. Many social workers also do their own learning, whether through their own reading, peer-to-peer conversations or even mentoring programs, which can be a valuable method of gaining or passing on valuable experience. Social workers in the local community might also receive funding from their local government offices for further development. If they happen to be employed by an NGO, they may be fortunate enough to receive additional training courses.

We are all invested in social work

The importance of social workers cannot be overstated, particularly in terms of their contribution to the community. This is especially true in disadvantaged neighborhoods, where individual residents could be fighting any number of issues, from systemic poverty and racism to family problems, substance abuse or trying to gain access to basic healthcare.

In addition, in any neighborhood, there will also be many, many people who are interested in improving their lives both on a personal level and raising the level of the entire community. In almost all cases, you will find social workers who are working to help people reach their true potential, even in the face of countless difficulties and tribulations along the way.

A good social worker will work tirelessly to help alleviate problems and also facilitate the work of people who want to do good and move forward. It is far from an easy job, but at the same time, the rewards of helping those in need could hardly be greater.

In addition to giving thanks to social workers, both local communities and state and federal governments should always do their best to support their work, both in administrative and financial terms. After all, the basis of a good community is the people who help to build it.