Social work is crucial in every society as it tries to balance opportunities and resources so that everyone is empowered to perform their roles regardless of their background. It is very fulfilling as it involves uplifting livelihoods, correcting historical systemic injustices while ensuring there is a policy that deters a recurrence of the same.
What began as volunteer efforts for community improvement is now a fully-fledged career applicable across all sectors.
Pros of Being a Social Worker
Let’s start by taking a closer look at some of the pros of finding social work jobs in the United States.
It is a Very Rewarding Career
This kind of reward goes beyond the paycheck as it appeals to your humanity. A social worker is constantly correcting societal problems and assisting those who are unable to fight for themselves. They also advocate for and effect policy changes to give everyone equal access to resources, changing lives, and entire communities in the process.
Diversity of Roles
Social workers can easily transition through many diverse roles and departments. They are generalists with training and experience encompassing a wide array of topics like therapy, case management, and policy development. They get to choose from a wide range of specialties compatible with many public and private organizational needs.
Wholesome Impact on the Community
Social workers often have a clear wholesome view and awareness of societal issues from their training and experience. They can observe from the individual perspective to micro, mezzo, and macro perspectives. They know the cause and effect relationship between policies and livelihoods, enabling their actions to have a wholesome impact as opposed to other more specialized professions.
Ease of Becoming a Social Worker
It is relatively easy and quick to become a social worker; the course is compatible with many other disciplines, and it does not take long to graduate. There is also a wide spectrum of specialties to choose from, so it is easier to find a niche that works for you.
Enhanced Communication Skills
Social work practice contributes to developing communication skills as you are constantly listening to people’s plights as you reassure them and try to work out a solution. You interact with very diverse people of different stature and circumstances. It builds confidence and hones listening skills, which can be used even beyond the job.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) latest occupational employment statistics, the mean annual wage for social workers is $59,300. The amounts earned vary with the industry in which the worker is placed and the specific job.
The salary also increases with experience, skill development, and advanced certifications. The highest recorded annual wage was $86,130. Find a guide to the most marketable skills and experience here.
The demand for social work professionals is rising as many job prospects become available. Society is realizing the need to address the causes of societal problems rather than just addressing the symptoms. Since social service is largely generalist, they fit in any environment.
As more organizations embrace the need, more branches of social work are coming up. This is pushing up demand for social workers. The BLS projects a faster than average job growth for social workers from 2019 to 2029.
Types of Social Work Jobs
The classifications below are samples of the diverse ways social workers apply themselves. The work is similar, and a licensed social worker can work across more than one class, depending on their placement.
Clinical Social Worker
These specialize in medical issues and public health issues. They help patients access health care resources and explain the available options. They also address the root cause of health problems to determine whether they are preventable and educate the patients on how to cope. They also provide palliative care and schedule discharges.
They are also referred to as medical social workers or healthcare social workers and are usually employed by or attached to clinics, hospitals, retirement homes. Their average salary is $56,200
Psychiatric Social Worker
They are also referred to as mental health social workers. Their specific duties vary according to where they are stationed. They undertake a psychosocial assessment, provide therapy, and liaise with the family. They also put together discharge plans based on their assessment.
They are attached to psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes, healthcare departments, and schools.
Their wages also depend on where they are placed. Those employed in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals earn an average salary of $48,960, while those in outpatient facilities averaged $42,220.
Substance Abuse Social Worker
They are also mental health social workers who specialize in substance abuse. They assist addicts in their recovery process, so it is easier and has a better chance of success. The substance can be alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal drugs.
They assist the patients with their treatment plans by ensuring they keep appointments, coordinating with physicians, counselors, and nurses. They also check up on them regularly, refer them to specialists when need be, and modify the treatment plans according to the patient’s status.
They are employed by local governments, hospitals, outpatient services, individual and family services, psychiatric and substance abuse specialty hospitals.
Child Welfare Social Worker
These social workers are there to ensure the well-being of children. This entails conflict resolution between the parents or the parents and the children. They also intervene in child abuse cases and neglect cases.
Those with a master’s degree are trained to go further into the diagnosis of behavioral disorders and emotional disturbance.
They are employed by government agencies, families, non-profits, and schools.
Family Social Worker
These social workers are there for families facing problems that they cannot fix on their own and are affecting their harmony considerably. These problems range from substance abuse, mental illness, financial difficulties, unhealthy relationships, and stress.
They help formulate plans to solve these problems, educate the family on the accessible tools available to them, and mobilize these tools when possible. The social worker will observe the family, interview them, and understand the dynamics of the situation, their strengths, weaknesses, and the root cause of the problems.
The family social worker will help develop a plan and set goals to tackle the problem that involves the whole family. They will link the family to relevant institutions, individuals, or organizations to assist in their specific needs. They also monitor to see the progress.
They are employed by child welfare departments in state governments and local governments, child adoption services, elementary and secondary schools.
Military Social Worker
Enlisted or commissioned military members, veterans, and their families often need a social worker’s services. They may be handling trauma from the front lines, which manifests as depression, anxiety, and other emotional and psychological disorders. These are sometimes transferred to the family in the form of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, and suicidal tendencies.
Military social workers provide counseling, support, and crisis intervention. They also do a debriefing after dangerous events. They also participate in research, implementation of health programs, and training of medical personnel.
They are specially trained to serve military clients. They learn military cultures and the individual’s roles in the military to consider these when making their assessments. They are eligible for commissioning as officers in the military or reserves if they hold a Master’s in Social Work degree.
They work for the military base and hospitals and can be hired to mediate family meetings, assist in advocacy, social services, and well-being programs.
Military social workers earn an average annual salary of between $50,000 to $75,000
Student Welfare Officer
A social worker is suited for this job as it requires both clinical and social skills. The main task is to identify risk students and provide moral and social support so that they can stay in school and out of trouble. It also involves protecting the rest of the school from the effects of risky behavior. They are constantly aware of the top mental health issues affecting students.
It requires establishing the root cause of erratic behavior, whether it stems from difficulties at home or other influences. It may involve paying a visit to the homes and working with their families and other community partners if necessary. Once the welfare officer has assessed the needs, they may link them to relevant agencies for help.
On the macro level, the job involves policy-making and developing prevention programs with the school’s student support team to eradicate the need for bad behavior.
They are employed by schools and colleges and earn an average of around $28,472 per year.
Community Social Worker
They are involved in diverse functions of the community depending on their specialization. A service community organization may come to raise funds for a good cause, plan infrastructure, encourage gender empowerment, and participate in other community ventures.
A community social worker can work under NGOs, for individuals, private corporations, and non-profit making organizations.
The payment structure will depend on the level of experience, qualifications, and the nature of the project. The annual average highest was $74,200 for administration specialists, followed by $63,000 for 20 and above years of experience and $42,000 for less than nine years of experience. The median for an MSW degree holder was $54,000 and a BSW $41,300.
Corrections Social Worker
Also referred to as a jail social worker or a prison social worker is a mental health specialist who runs programs with prison inmates to aid their reform process and enable smooth transition back to society. They facilitate educational programs for the prisoner, sessions to discuss health, addictions if relevant, and family.
They will liaise with the inmate’s therapist if there is one to understand their client. They can coordinate any family visitations and necessary legal representation. They maintain the case file to track the rehabilitation progress and for designing future programs.
Correction treatment specialists earn between $36,000 and $95,000 with a mean of $54,290 per year.
There are many more roles played by social workers that cannot be captured in one article. Once you become a licensed social worker, your role will be determined by the organization or institution you work for.
For instance, a military social worker is a family, psychiatric, child, and student welfare officer within the military base. Some institutions have social workers performing human resource roles and other administration duties. The possibilities are limitless.
What Education and Training Are Needed for Social Worker Jobs?
The bulk of social work training is focused on people management, which is why the arts and humanities will be dominant. However, there is a scientific angle that looks at health, both physical and mental, that needs to be covered before one can become a certified social worker.
More certifications are unique to certain institutions where social workers are posted, which may not be covered here. They are necessary, but not mandatory for a career in social work.
Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work
To earn the occupational title of a social worker in the United States, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This is the only accrediting agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation in the U.S for social work education.
It is a partnership between educational institutions, social welfare agencies, professional institutions, and private citizens. They set, maintain, and revise standards using their experience with the many elements within the profession to enhance social work education quality.
The degree can be a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW). It is a four-year undergraduate course, the first two focusing on liberal arts. The last two focus on social work in research and practice, policy, laws, and human development in general.
You should not strain to pay for the program as there are many options for financial aid available.
Social Worker License
In most states, the degree paves the way for licensing. A social worker without a license may face difficulties finding employment. Non-Clinical Social workers can apply for a license at this point as ‘generalist’ social workers without specialization.
The BSW degree is not the only prerequisite for certification as most states administer another exam through the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) before licensing. This license is due for renewal every two years, and the degree holder should take continuing education courses in between to facilitate this.
Different licenses are offered for various levels of social work practice. Social work licensure ensures social workers have proper education and training to deliver ethical and professional service. Each state has its own formula and requirements for licensing different levels of social workers. You can check out this comprehensive licensure guide for more details.
Master of Social Work
Clinical social workers need to have at least a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree before being licensed. Besides becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker(LCSW), a Master of Social Work degree holder may decide to stick to general social work as a Licensed Master Social Worker Advanced Generalist (LMSW-AG).
MSW degrees should also be received from graduate schools accredited by the CSWE. It requires two years of full-time study and another two years of internships or fieldwork (at least 900 cumulative hours). These are done concurrently, and the entire course should take approximately two years.
A BSW degree will give you an advantage while pursuing an MSW degree as you may be exempted from certain units, and your previous experience put into consideration. This means you will require a shorter period to finish the course.
MSW students do not require to have BSW degrees. However, applicants with undergraduate degrees from a broad spectrum of liberal arts are accepted. It is worth noting that some institutions offer the course as a Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW), and some offer it as a Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA).
The core of the programs is identical, although science-based approaches to subjects tend to narrow down on specific topics while arts are broader in their subject matter. The student will choose between the two; an MSW program that is clinical versus a generalist model, which integrates facets of the different components of social work.
Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) and Ph.D. in Social Work
These are the highest degrees in the social work field. Holders of these degrees generally teach, conduct research, or analyze policy in educational institutions or public offices.
To pursue a Ph.D. in social work, you need a master’s degree in social work with a minimum of 55% marks and at least 5-years’ experience in teaching, research, administration, healthcare, or social welfare professional experience. The five years of experience can be substituted for a Master of Philosophy degree, which takes two years to complete.
The Doctorate of Social Work is closely related to the Ph.D. but tries to incorporate other social work areas besides clinical practice. Social worker shortages demand a more generalist approach to social education. A master’s degree is still a prerequisite for enrollment. This can be an MSW or a related degree.
Licensed Military Social Worker
These social workers receive special training to serve current and veteran members of the military and their spouses. They are conversant with military traditions and rules and may be commissioned as officers if they hold a master’s degree in social work with a military concentration.
They are also eligible for advanced specialty licensing post-training from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). There are two military-specific certifications available that allow the social workers to practice at a higher level in the military.
- Military Service Member, Veterans, and their Families- Clinical Social Worker (MVF-CSW)
This social worker assesses diagnoses and treats serving members, veterans, and their families to avert emotional and mental disorders, among other psychosocial disorders. They have 3 to 4 years of proven military-specific social work experience and a proven minimum of 30 hours of continuing education with a bias towards diagnosis and treatment of service members, veterans, and their families.
- Military Service Member, Veterans, and their Families- Advanced Social Worker (MVF-ASW)
This social worker advocates for favorable organizational, regulatory, and legislative policies that take care of service members, veterans, and their families. They address current and potential obstacles in policy. They need at least two years of military social work and a minimum of 20 hours of continuing education with a bias to service members, veterans, and their families.
Dual Degree Programs
This is when students work for two degrees simultaneously in parallel, whether in the same institution or separate institutions. The goal is to reduce the completion time since it will take longer to complete one after the other.
The most common combination of social workers is a Master of Social Work and Master of Public Policy. This combination has produced some of the most efficient social workers as it gives them crucial tools and experience.
Social determinants of health such as gender inequities, race, socioeconomic, and influence should be factored in policy. Social workers should also be prepared for changes in the new health environment to be effective.
This explains why graduating from this dual degree program allows you to apply for a Ph.D. in Social Work immediately as it is assumed you are all rounded.
The Covid-19 pandemic and its associated ills have made it mandatory to explore online options for any program under consideration. Before this, online social work programs were already running in many institutions. They enable the students to enjoy location flexibility while reducing the rigors of a daily commute to and from campus.
Supervised fieldwork is an essential component of these programs because most social work positions involve direct client services. You should still be able to balance personal commitments with fieldwork requirements, even as an online student.
Best Value Schools compiled this list of the best online social work degree programs to guide in making that decision.
Determining the Best Social Work Degree Programs
Certain standards should be adhered to for a program to be recognized as sufficient for all social work levels. Whether the focus is on clinical or general social work, there is a combination of practical lessons and class lessons preset by the Council of Social Work Education that should be adhered to.
It is advisable to confirm CSWE accreditation before enrolling in the program as it is the only recognized accreditation body for social work in the U.S.
The Negative Side of Social Work
Now, let’s uncover some of the downsides you may experience if you choose a social work career in the United States.
The Struggle of Separating Work and Personal Life
It is human to empathize with cases involving struggle and suffering, common in a social worker’s routine. The emotional response to such cases can’t always be predicted, and there is a possibility of carrying the burden to your home. Every social worker needs a coping mechanism to handle this. Unfortunately, this cannot be taught in class, and they rely on experience.
Exposure to the Worst of Life
Many cases handled by a social worker involve intervening or engaging with people in bad situations. These range from abusive relationships, substance addiction, removal of children from toxic families, among others. Continuous exposure to these situations may have long term psychological effects.
Exposure to Life-Threatening Situations
There have been cases where frustrations are taken out on social workers in the course of their work. The subjects may turn violent if they don’t agree with recommendations, like when a child has to be separated from their family or committing a substance abuser to a facility.
The Occasional Inability to Remedy Cases
There are several reasons why social workers are powerless to intervene, like legal restrictions, lack of permissible evidence in suspected abuse cases, among others. This is very demoralizing, and it takes more willpower to keep doing the job after these experiences.
It is very easy to burn out several times in the course of your career as a social worker. The above and other external and internal reasons may lead to feelings of helplessness and a sense of not being appreciated.
Social workers are often not viewed in a good light because of decisions made that intervene in family situations. Some high profile cases even get to the media, where the social workers bear the brunt of criticism for alleged mistakes.
It is critical to find a work-life balance to be effective in your social work job. Create as much time for yourself and your family as possible. You can also schedule periodic mental assessments for yourself to enable early detection of any psychological effects the job might be having on you.
Social work is highly rewarding, especially when you can see the positive impact your contribution is having on the community. If you can successfully manage your life’s potential issues, you can have a long impactful career, and it is worth considering.