Becoming a Social Worker

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Social work is a wonderful profession for anyone who really wants to make other people's lives better. Social workers help people cope with everyday issues, relationships, personal and family difficulties. Some people in this field help their clients with a social problem like homelessness, substance abuse, or unemployment, while others assist people with a disability or disease. Other social worker jobs help advocate for better services, do research, or help with policy development and planning. Specialization is common.

School, child, and family social workers provide assistance and social services, to help improve children's social and psychological functioning, as well as that of their families. They might help single parents, work to arrange adoptions, and find foster homes for children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned.

Some social workers specialize in services targeted for senior citizens, including running support groups for their children, offering advice to the elderly or their families about housing options, as well as long term care and transportation, and coordination and monitoring of important services for the elderly. Some social workers help people suffering from personal problems that affect work, or from pressures on the job itself.

In the school, social workers may be the link between student families and school personnel. They work with many others to help students attain their potential, while addressing problems like teen pregnancy, misbehavior, truancy, and other issues. Social workers may advise teachers and parents on coping with difficult children.

Public health and mental social workers might be called upon to provide assistance to people in order to help them cope with illnesses. They may also give advice to caregivers, provide counseling for patients, and help plan for the needs of patients after their discharge from hospitals. They may be responsible for arranging home services, or they could work in a team evaluating certain types of patients.

Social workers in mental health and substance abuse fields assess and treat people suffering from mental illness or substance abuse issues. These workers may provide therapy (both individual and group), social rehabilitation, outreach, crisis intervention and everyday living skills. They also may help plan services that will help people return to the community from other situations, such as institutionalization or homelessness. Social workers may also coordinate volunteer work.

In addition to these types, there are also social work administrators. People in these social worker jobs help develop programs that address issues covered by the social work umbrella. Their responsibilities may include analysis and research pertaining to programs, regulations and policies. These social workers identify existing social problems, and then suggest solutions. Fund raising and grant writing may be required as well.

Work Environment

Like work responsibilities, social workers' environments can vary significantly between positions. People in social worker jobs spend the majority of their time in residential facilities and offices. However, they may also need to travel, in order to meet service providers, attend other meetings, or visit clients.

Social work jobs are emotionally satisfying to many people, but they can also be quite challenging. Many areas are understaffed and under-funded, and large case loads lead to high pressure. The majority of social workers have a standard forty hour work week. However, evening and weekend work for meetings may be required, as well as attendance at meetings and emergency work. Some social workers have part time only positions, particularly in non profit agencies focused on volunteer work.

Education, Training, and Advancement Prospects for Social Worker Jobs

To become a social worker, the minimum requirement is a bachelor's degree in social work. However, many positions require a higher degree. All states have some sort of certification, registration, or licensing requirement as well. In health settings and clinical jobs, a master's degree in social work is normally required. To teach at a college or university, or to get a research appointment, a doctorate in social work may be needed.

Most states place a high emphasis on communication skills, sensitivity to cultural diversity and professional ethics in their licensing requirements. The majority of states require two years, or three thousand hours, of clinical experience to license clinical social workers. It's also important for people in social worker jobs, as well as those doing any volunteer work, to be able to deal with personal responsibility, be sensitive to the needs and problems of others, and remain objective.

Emotional maturity is vital. Social workers must be able to work independently and have good relationships with both co-workers and clients. People who want to know if they're well suited to this field may seek volunteer work as a social work aide, or in a similar position. This can help test interest.

Advancement often requires work experience and an advanced degree, but positions include directorships, program manager positions and supervisory jobs. Teaching, consulting, and research are other avenues that social workers may choose to pursue. Private practice is another option that may be chosen. These clinical social workers provide psychotherapy and counseling to patients. They must have a master's degree, a period of work experience under supervision, and a network of contacts from which to get referrals.

Job Outlook and Salaries

Social worker jobs are expected to increase faster than average, with favorable job prospects, particularly for those working with the elderly or in rural locations. The aging of the baby boomers will cause a greater demand for social workers in that field. It is expected that agencies may restructure services, hiring more assistants. This could result in a slightly lower demand for social workers in some areas. Social workers can expect to average a salary of about $37,000 per year, with rates varying by location and job requirements.
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