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What Is Human Services?

April 13, 2021 | Staff Writers

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If you have always been a people-centered individual with a passion to help other people alleviate stress and change, then a career in human services is good for you. The world is a dynamic place, with challenges that manifest differently for each individual. While some challenges lead to the development of resilience, others end up increasing vulnerabilities and trauma as they persist.

The ultimate truth is that we all need some help to navigate the challenges of life, be they economic, social, geographical, or health-related. We all need a helping hand. The broad field of human services work strives to meet those human needs through direct service delivery, human development, counseling, or crisis intervention.

In this article, we will explore what human services entails, why human services are important, the different career paths in the field, and how you can discern if a human services profession is the right choice for you.

Let’s do this!

Scope of Human Services

Human services is a broad field with many varying definitions. Collectively, they are an interdisciplinary set of social assistance programs encompassing services like counseling, food, shelter, and healthcare. Human services are usually offered by governments and not-for-profit agencies. These are designed to promote the welfare of different communities through the provision of help or support to individuals and families. Simply put, it is the interdisciplinary practice of serving humanity to alleviate suffering and help people function at their best.

What is Human Services Management?

Human services management refers to the administration and leadership aspects of any of the vast organizations that provide human support services to individuals, families, and communities.

What the Field of Human Services Includes

Human services is a vast field that incorporates different disciplines such as:

  • Social Work
  • Human Resource Management
  • Counseling Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Social Service

Human services involve the provision of uplifting human service through a social service organization. A human services worker as noted by the Bureau of Labor is a social worker whose scope of work includes providing the best possible human support through a suitable human services program as rolled out by the government or an organization.

To join the human services profession, each human service student is required to obtain an accredited bachelor’s degree. Some states allow you to start with an associate’s degree. It is best to advance your education to obtain a master’s degree in the field.

Those who get into human resource management can become a human resources manager and enhance their leadership skills through an administration management degree.

How HIPAA Affects Human Services Managers

Since human services managers often deal with sensitive personal information when dealing with families or individuals, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires accountability to ensure the security and privacy of patient information.

HIPAA ensures that human services managers can maintain their health insurance programs since their scope involves constantly shifting between jobs.

Why Human Services Are Important

The importance of human service should not be underrated in today’s fast-paced world. To maintain a healthy community and overall or global societies, it is important to establish systems that advocate for efficient human service practices. 

Why a Human Services Office is Necessary

The government and organizations involved in human services must establish a strong network of contacts through which their services can be accessed by those in need. One such important point of contact is the human services office, which is crucial in the following and other ways. 

1. Central Access to Services

A human services office acts as the central point from which the specific social service offered by a given institution can be accessed. In organizational or company settings, this office serves as the central location where a social worker can provide the much-needed service to fellow workers or anyone else requiring the help of social workers such as human service assistants. 

2. Results in Employment

Since most human services professionals, like human service assistants, usually shift between jobs when a human services program comes to an end, a human service office ensures that there are persistent employment opportunities for the workers. 

Each human services worker hopes to quickly find the next assignment. As such, having a human services office ensures there is a constant demand for service, which in turn means that professionals in the human services field will always find ready work. 

3. Access to Funding

Any nonprofit or government outfit in the human services field requires proper funding to operate. For the nonprofit, the office assures willing donors that the organization is credible and can be trusted to handle donated finances appropriately. Governmental agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services also require funding from the government as can be looked at loosely as a government office. 

Establishing a human services office ensures interested parties can also access the appropriate funding since the various human service outfits are just but a middle ground between donors or the government and the people in need. 

Why Human Services Advocacy is Important

Working to promote an atmosphere where human services thrive is a noble cause. At a time when many people disregard human services and discredit the need to get into the field as a practitioner, it is important to rally for the inclusion of human services at all levels of daily life. 

Human services advocacy helps spread the recognition that we are all human, and we owe each other a helping hand in the face of overwhelming challenges. 

that may overpower us or those around us, and that there is a need to establish and promote the thriving of systems for effective human service. Some people who face fewer challenges may sometimes discredit the need for external help for people as they often posit that each individual, family, or community can find solutions for challenges from within them. The exact opposite happens. Sometimes all we need to solve a challenge is a little help from the outside. 

Human services advocacy leads to benefits such as the acquisition of resources and affecting public opinion on critical matters. Proponents of human service help mobilize for resources to fund a cause from the public, government, or human service agencies. Sometimes need arises to sway public opinion in a particular direction for the benefit of agencies that serve different vulnerable populations. 

Human services advocacy also helps maintain the balance between the opportunities for work and the number of professionals looking to join or continue working in the field. As long as the advocacy leads to the thriving of viable causes and human services programs, employment opportunities will always be available. 

How to Define Human Services Problems

Different people face different challenges or problems for which human services may be required if they are to be solved and the proper balance restored to enable them to function at their highest individual or collective capacities. These problems vary from place to place. They also vary in nature and intensity across different individuals, families, or communities. 

The following are some of the most common human services problems for which the special intervention of a human services worker may be required:

1. Drugs and Substance Abuse

The abuse of drugs and other intoxicating substances like alcohol requires the services of a qualified substance abuse counselor if the affected person is to recover from this type of addiction. Addiction treatment calls for social service professionals with training in counseling psychology. Some states may license you to work as a substance abuse counselor with only a bachelor’s degree. However, the majority of the states require a minimum of a counseling psychology master’s degree to practice in the field. 

2. Mental Health Problems

It is increasingly becoming evident that more and more people are suffering from different forms of mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among others. 

Establishing strong community systems helps reduce the negative impact of mental illness as people find ways to cope with their illness and leverage their strengths.  

3. Aging

It is easy to overlook aging as a common social problem. The Baby Boomer generation is aging fast, and more people clock over 65 years of age each day. This increase in the aging population calls for the placement of more people under gerontological and geriatric care in hospices, hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities to alleviate the physical, social, and mental stresses that come with aging. 

Human service assistants may find work in facilities providing gerontological and geriatric care with just a high school diploma. However, a bachelor’s degree in a human services field is the best point to start. Many assistants usually obtain an associate degree to join the labor market earlier and then proceed to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree through work-study options or accelerated human services degree programs. 

4. Terminal Illnesses

The human services field also incorporates caring for people with terminal illnesses to provide services such as health care, counseling, and preparation for their final days. Since terminal illnesses may spark feelings of self-hatred, purposelessness, and hopelessness, at-risk patients require high-quality counseling to help them navigate the daily challenges posed by terminal illness. 

Human service practitioners may also help terminally ill patients access healthcare such as Medicaid and Medicare. As a social worker in geriatric care facilities, you may at times be called upon to help patients come up with an exit strategy. This may involve helping them write a will

5. Homelessness

Human services identify homelessness as one of the most common human service problems. Across the U.S, an estimated 552,830 people are homeless in 2021. The top states with the highest number of homeless people include California (151,278), New York (92,091), Florida (28,328), Texas (25,848), and Washington (21,577). 

The homeless usually live in temporary shelters, transitional housing, or sleep in places that are not suitable for human habitation such as abandoned buildings. 

Homelessness is attributed to problems such as drug laws, lack of access to mental health resources, and problems with the provision of adequate affordable housing opportunities. Constant surges in housing costs also make it difficult to secure a home, especially for people out of employment or those earning minimum wage.

Human services agencies help alleviate the problem of homeless by creating safe havens or specialized shelter systems that help people acquire permanent housing. At The surface level, these agencies help the unsheltered population with other basic human resources such as food, clothing, water, and access to basic healthcare. 

6. Hunger, Malnutrition, and Extreme Poverty

According to Feeding America, although America is the world’s greatest food producer, scores of children and adults experience sharp food insecurity. A food-insecure household uncertain or limited access to enough food for leading a healthy life. Children are the most vulnerable and most affected by food insecurity, with rampant cases of serious malnutrition. 

About 34 million people lived in poverty in the U.S. in 2019, whereby a family of four earned only $25,000 annually. 

Human services agencies help amass resources to assist those living in poverty and hunger by connecting them with proper food sources, healthcare, and employment opportunities. 

Career Paths in Human Services

Due to the broad nature of human services, there are plenty of career paths that human service professionals can take. Those who complete a suitable human services degree find work in government agencies, nonprofit/non-governmental organizations, and for-profit organizations. Some proceed to establish their own human services practice, such as counseling services, after obtaining a master’s degree. 

Examples of governmental human services agencies include:

  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • The Department of Health and Human Services
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Some of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in human services include:

  • The American Red Cross
  • National Industries for the Blind
  • Voices of America’s Children
  • The Corps Network
  • The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)

Some of the private sector organizations in the human services field include:

  • Counseling groups in private schools
  • Some private foundations
  • Private mental health practice centers
  • Lobbying outfits for certain causes

Most Common Jobs in the Human Services Field

Human services enthusiasts usually obtain an associate or bachelor’s degree to kickstart their careers. Those who want a more fulfilling career pathway proceed to obtain a master’s degree since most states require this education level for licensure as a social worker, especially for clinical practitioners. 

The following are the most common human services jobs:

1. Counseling Psychologist

A counseling psychologist may among other things, help substance abuse patients recover from drug and substance addiction and resume normal lives. 

2. Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

As a human services professional, a clinical social worker provides emotional support, therapy, mental health evaluations, and case management services in collaboration with medical professionals like doctors and therapists. 

3. Community Health Nurses

Community health nurses help improve the well-being and overall health of communities through educating them on treatment, disease prevention, nutrition, and safe health practices. 

4. Child Welfare Case Worker

As a human services worker, a child welfare caseworker helps promote the daily welfare of vulnerable children through access to counseling, nutrition, healthcare, education, among other needs. 

5. Human Services Manager

A human services manager’s role is administrative and involves leading and managing other social workers in a given organization. 

6. Community Outreach Worker

Community outreach workers serve humanity through organizations by promoting public education, fundraising objectives, volunteer recruitment and coordination, and media campaigns.

7. Human Services Generalist

A human services generalist is trained as an advocate for special populations and works with social service providers to provide direct services to individuals or a community.

What Do Social and Human Services Assistants Do?

There may be various job titles for social and human services assistants, such as a casework aide, social work assistant, human service worker, addictions counselor assistant, clinical social work aide, among others.

A human service assistant or social assistant works under another human services professional like a psychologist, social worker, and other higher community social service workers. They help clients identify and get applicable services and benefits and also follow up to ensure these are obtained promptly.

Social and human services assistants work with the elderly, children, immigrants, veterans, mental health patients, the homeless, ex-prisoners, and families. They also work with people with disabilities and various addictions.

Social and human service assistants perform the following daily duties:

  • Determining what kind of aid their clients need
  • Developing treatment and assistance plans in collaboration with other social workers and professionals
  • Finding services like Medicaid and food stamps for clients
  • Assisting clients to complete the application process for assistance programs
  • Coordinating client services
  • Checking in with clients to ensure the required services have been obtained and are provided accordingly
  • Finding assistance for clients with daily activities like bathing, eating, dressing,  and exercise.

What a Typical Career Path in Human Services Looks Like

Since human services are a broad field with a lot of career options, it is only possible to generally outline the typical career path.

It is possible to start your career in human services with just a high school diploma and find work as a human service assistant.

Those who need to improve their job prospects acquire a human services degree. This could be an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree. A social worker may for instance find a suitable social worker program near them.

An accredited social work degree such as a Master’s in Social Work (MSW)enables a clinical social worker to obtain the mandatory operating license.

Depending on the state one operates in and the job type they hold, constant learning is required where continuing education units are compulsory for repeat licensure. This may be in critical topics like suicide prevention, ethics, and domestic violence.

A human services career path offers great fulfillment for people-centered individuals as they help at-risk clients find their purpose and function to their highest capacity.

How to Determine if a Career in Human Services is Right for You

If you are just starting, you may be lost as to how you should determine if a career in human services is the right choice for you. No need to worry anymore. Having come this far, we will now help you explore some indicators that show you can do great in the field.

How Do You Determine if a Career in Human Services is Right for You?

As with any other career, perhaps the most basic indicator that helps determine if you are a perfect match for that career path is your personality. For a human services career, you will do great if you are a people-centered person with the passion to help others alleviate their pain, stress, suffering, or overcome day-to-day challenges they may be facing. This is important since most of the time, you will be providing direct care to at-risk clients as a social service practitioner. The only career path that involves less direct contact with clients is human services administration.

You also need to consider the job outlook for the specific career path you want to take. What are the job prospects in the years to come? At what rate are jobs and remunerations expected to grow? How much job security does your career offer? If you feel that the general outlook matches most of your expectations and will help you meet your human and career needs, you can dive headlong into the human services field. Start by determining how much annual salary you would have to get to manage your lifelong physical, social, and economic goals.

If you are shifting from another career into human services, check to ascertain that your current education and work experience are closely or related to human services. This may help with among other things, ease of transferring credits and adapting to the new educational and work environments. If it isn’t a match, then human service may not be the best for you. 

Skills Needed for a Career in Human Services

A career path in human services calls for strong “people” skills since you will be dealing directly with people most of the time especially for the direct-care careers. The following skills will position you the right way for a career in human services.

1. Empathy

The human services field usually involves situations laden with deep emotions. As a social worker, you have to develop the ability to sense the emotions of other people, as well as learn to identify with these emotions and provide the best possible comfort to your clients. 

2. Communication Skills

Although this may not be a major component in a human services degree, there is a need to develop strong communication skills in the social service as you will be regularly communicating with clients, seniors, and any other human services professional at your workplace.

3. Patience

As a human services worker, patience is a virtue to cultivate right from the start. You have to learn to be patient and considerate because working with some at-risk clients like addicts and those with a terminal illness can be a challenge. Results may not be achieved in a short duration, and you have to be patient enough with each client in their journey. 

Educational Requirements That Must Be Met for a Career in Human Services

Depending on the requirements in your state and the specific career path you want to pursue, there may be differences in the educational requirements for a career pathway in human services.

Entry-level positions like human service assistant may be taken up with just a high school diploma. From this point, you can advance into an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Other higher positions require you to obtain a suitable human services master’s degree if you are to obtain licensure. This is the case for clinical social workers, who are required in most states to obtain a Master’s in Social Work for licensure. 

Other than the basic degrees, a practicum, internship, licensure exam, or continuing education units may be required. If you would like to become a counselor, for example, you first start with a bachelor’s degree and then obtain an accredited Master’s in Counseling. 

An applicable state exam may be required as well as a national exam to test your expertise in providing professional social service. 

Some states require human services workers to maintain their licensure through continuing education units in topics like suicide prevention, domestic violence, and ethics. 

While a doctoral degree is not compulsory, it is a good option for advancing your career and securing better positions such as professorship or higher administrative posts. 

Are you passionate about changing the world one step at a time? Consider a career in human services to experience the joy of seeing at-risk people become better versions of themselves, functioning at their highest capacities. 

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