Social work offers a wide variety of professional options. Social workers interact with people of all ages and community settings. They help families to cope more effectively, individuals to conquer problems with addictions, older adults to face difficult losses and life changes, and children to deal with family and school problems. They also work with organizations to support the community. In addition, they serve as counselors, group leaders, advocates, case managers, administrators and other roles.
Nature of Social Work
Social work is a profession for those with a strong desire to help people, to make things better and to make a difference. Social workers help people function the best way they can in their environment, deal with their relationships with others and solve personal and family problems.
Social workers often see clients who face a life-threatening disease or a social problem. They help individuals and families cope with inadequate housing, unemployment, lack of job skills, financial problems, serious illness or disability, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancy, or antisocial behavior. Social workers also assist families that have serious domestic conflicts or parental and child problems.
Through direct counseling, social workers help clients identify their concerns, consider effective solutions and find reliable resources. Social workers typically consult and counsel clients and arrange for services that can help them. Often, they refer clients to specialists in services such as debt counseling, childcare, elder care, public assistance, or alcohol or drug rehabilitation. Social workers then follow through with the client to assure that services are helpful and that clients make proper use of the services offered. Social workers may review eligibility requirements, help fill out forms and applications, visit clients on a regular basis and provide support during crises.
Social workers practice in a variety of settings. In hospitals and psychiatric hospitals, they provide or arrange for support services. In mental health and community centers, social workers provide counseling services on marriage, family and adoption matters, and they help people through personal or community emergencies. In schools, they help children’s parents and teachers cope with problems. In social service agencies, they help people locate basic benefits, such as income assistance, housing and job training.
Full-time social workers usually work a standard 40-hour week; however, some occasionally work evenings and weekends to meet with clients, attend community meetings and handle emergencies. Some, particularly in voluntary nonprofit agencies, work part time. Most social workers work in pleasant, clean offices that are well lit and well ventilated. Social workers usually spend most of their time in an office or residential facility, but also may travel locally to visit clients, meet with service providers or attend meetings. Some may use one of several offices within a local area in which to meet with clients.
Social workers held about 468,000 jobs in 2000. About 1 out of 3 jobs were in state, county or municipal government agencies, primarily in departments of health and human services, mental health, social services, child welfare, housing, education and corrections.
Most private sector jobs were in social service agencies, hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies and other health centers or clinics. Although most social workers are employed in cities or suburbs, some work in rural areas. The following shows 2000 employment by type of social worker.
- Child, family, and school social workers (281,000)
- Medical and public health social workers (104,000)
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers (83,000)
Employment of social workers is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through 2008. The aged population is increasing rapidly, creating greater demand for health and other social services. Social workers also will be needed to help the sizable baby boom generation deal with depression and mental health concerns stemming from mid-life, career, or other personal and professional difficulties. In addition, continuing concern about crime, juvenile delinquency, and services for the mentally ill, the mentally retarded, AIDS patients, and people in crisis will spur demand for social workers in several areas of specialization. Many job openings will also stem from the need to replace social workers who are retiring.
For more information on starting your own career in social work, considering reviewing either of the following titles available in the UCF Library:
Colby, I., & Dzigielewski, S. (2010). Introduction to Social Work (3rd. ed.). Chicago: Lyceum Books, Inc.
Grobman, L. (2005). Days in the Lives of Social Workers (3rd. ed.). Harrisburg, PA: White Hat Communications.
Ginsberg, L. H. (2001). Careers in Social Work. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. (UCF Library: HV10.5 G55 2001).
Simpson, C. (1999). Careers in Social Work. New York: Rosen Pub. Group. (UCF Library: HV10.5 .S56 1999).
For additional information, please visit the UCF Career Services.