The jobs for social workers can take many forms, but the ultimate goal is to help individuals cope with and solve issues in their everyday lives. Before you make the jump into social worker training, find out how to become a social worker and what you can do to become a great social worker.
What Does a Social Worker Do?
While the responsibilities of the social worker can vary based on their level of education and the type of licensing they obtain, in general, they should be able to:
- Help clients to identify and work through their specific issues.
- Offer them resources and solutions for help.
- Create service plans and suggest steps for actions.
- Write up reports and keep track of case histories.
- Respond to crises that may vary from physical to emotional abuse.
- Work with a variety of people that can include children, the elderly, those with disabilities and parents that are separated or divorced.
Many social workers do have an office as a base and may spend a significant amount of time working there, but also spend time off site visiting their clients. Additional characteristics of the job can include heavy caseloads, weekend or evening hours to accommodate the needs of clients, and the necessity to meet up with clients at specific sites.
Social Worker Specializations
Social workers can be found in a wide variety of places and positions, from working with children in the foster care system to helping the elderly with wellness issues. Social workers can touch every part of the social landscape, including:
- Child, family and school. These social workers might work with government agencies, such as Child Protective Services, to assist children, single parents, foster families, adopted children and those who are in difficult family situations. In the schools, social workers work closely with parents and teachers to ensure a child reaches their full potential.
- Mental health and substance abuse. Supportive services for those with mental health or substance abuse issues might include everything from one-on-one counseling, group therapy, crisis intervention or residential rehabilitation.
- Medical and public health. These social workers focus on providing support to individuals and families in difficult medical situations. They might work with seniors, children, those with disabilities and more.
- Administration, research and planning. These are the social workers who create the policies, handle the research and provide the guidance needed to reach more people through new and established social programs.
Keep in mind that social workers in any capacity can be referred to as licensed clinical social workers, assuming they hold the mandated license in their state.
Steps to Become a Social Worker
If you are wondering how to become a social worker, the following steps can help guide you on your path to an entry-level position as a generalist social worker:
- Get a high school diploma. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recommends focusing on classes in the humanities in high school, with an emphasis on sociology and psychology.
- Volunteer. Many social workers gain experience by volunteering with community organizations on a non-paid basis to gain experience working with diverse populations.
- Graduate with a bachelor's degree in social work. In some cases, a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as sociology or psychology is also accepted by employers.
- Get a state license to practice. Find out the requirements of licensure in your state. Though the rules vary, most states require 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience in order to award a license for clinical social workers.
How Do I Become a GREAT Social Worker?
Education is only the beginning; it can train you how to become a social worker, but becoming a great social worker doesn't happen overnight. The career can be stressful at times and excelling requires time, patience, and commitment to work with a range of challenging cases. Your potential for success can be boosted by following these guidelines:
- Objectivity: Fine-tune your objective listening skills in order to meet the oftentimes sensitive needs of your clients.
- Extracurricular Study: Regularly read professional publications like Social Work Today in order to stay informed and educated on emerging policies and techniques.
- Excel: Earn additional credentials from professional organizations like the National Association of Social Workers
- Continuing Education: Consider pursuing your master's degree in social worker, which can open up more professional opportunities in clinical settings.
As your skills and experience grow, you can actively work towards being a great social worker and a resource to the community you support.
Social Worker Resources
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Community-and-Social-Service/Social-workers.htm