Most people think of social workers as the professionals that staff government-run child protection or social service agencies, working with low income families. These social workers’ daily duties include helping people apply for benefits such as welfare and food stamps, investigating child abuse reports, conducting home visits and arranging foster home placements for children and adolescents.
There are also medical social workers who work on hospital discharge planning, ensuring that patients have a safe place to go and that they receive appropriate follow-up services upon leaving the hospital.
The above are only two of the most well-known roles that social workers play; there are many more. In addition to child welfare work in social service agencies and medical work in hospitals, social workers practice in the following areas:
- School Social Work - an advocate who helps students reach their potential in a school setting by helping to remove obstacles to success.
- Forensic Social Work - typically work in jails, prisons, or attorneys’ offices applying social work concepts to questions and issues relating to the law and judicial systems.
- Case Management Social Work – assess the varied and complex needs of their clients, helping clients and their families access necessary services, and coordinate care among multiple service providers.
- Occupational Social Work – programs and interventions are targeted specifically to the workplace populations (i.e. employee assistance programs)
- Family and Children’s Social Work - provide services to, or on behalf of, individuals who are under the age of 18, and to the members of their households (i.e. adoption agencies, homeless shelters).
- Geriatric Social Work - focus on the bio-psychosocial well being of the older adult typically in nursing homes or hospice care settings.
- Clinical Social Work – educated in social-work graduate schools and trained under supervision, in order to assess, diagnose, and fix problems or disorders that interfere with healthy bio-psychosocial functioning of people (i.e. educationmental health clinics, private practice, alcohol and drug treatment centers).
If you’re surprised to learn this, you are not alone. The role that social workers play has been continuously expanding since the 1970s and respect for the profession has grown in tandem.
- “Clinical” social workers undergo additional training and must pass a state exam in order to obtain a license that allows them to practice independently.
- Social workers with the designation LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) often work in private practice, treating the same kinds of mental health issues that psychologists also treat.
- In simple terms, the main difference between the two is that psychologists are trained to center on the individual person, while social workers are trained from a “person-in-environment” perspective: the idea that one’s behavior must be assessed and understood in the context of his environment, including familial, social, political, physical, spiritual and economic.
- Social workers that work outside the counseling field perform tasks such as locating resources, coordinating services, advocating for clients--especially in the legal system--and interpreting and writing government policies.
- Like nurses, social workers are able to work per diem, stepping into an agency in the absence of the permanent employee, because they possess both a body of specialized knowledge and a wealth of transferable skills.
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