July 19, 2024

Health Mettler Institute

Healthy LifeStyle & Education

Building strong and inclusive communities through social work

Building strong and inclusive communities through social work

Social workers play a critical role that is often overlooked in American communities. For those who are fortunate to live in loving, stable families, a social worker is just a government employee who visits people when they are in trouble.

There are millions of American families, however, for whom social workers provide a critical lifeline. It not for them, many citizens would be left destitute and desperate.

The number of social workers in the United States is testament to the important role they play. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 700,000 social workers were employed in the U.S. as of 2021.

This number is expected to grow as communities grapple with immigration, poverty, mental illness, addiction, family violence, and other societal problems.

For those who are inclined to help others and strengthen their communities, this is an excellent time to join the social work profession. To have an impact on social and policy issues, prospective students should explore a master’s degree in social work.

The Florida State University College of Social Work online master’s program is a top-ranked MSW program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). For students who have already obtained a bachelor’s degree in social work, the program will take two years to complete; if the student has a bachelor’s degree in another discipline, they can finish the program in three years.

The Master’s of Social Work program covers topics such as the general social work profession, human behavior, and social welfare policy and practice. Students also learn psychopathy in clinical practice, as well as how to provide social work services to groups and communities.

After qualifying, students can be employed by the state, military, medical facilities, schools, family service agencies, and a host of other employers who provide social work services.

It is important to understand the role of the social worker in the community, as it provides context to the courses in this program. This article examines how social work benefits local communities, as well as the specific role of the social worker in different settings.

Social work origins in America

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, migrants arrived in America in droves. Many of them had nothing; they came hoping to carve out improved lives for themselves and their families.

Unfortunately, the country was not fully prepared to receive them. Many immigrants lived in poverty, residing in tenements overrun with disease and hunger.

Churches and community organizations realized this situation was untenable. Migrants could not return to their countries, and if they continued living in America, their conditions needed to improve.

Without any formal organization, those who could offer help decided to assist. They would bring food and medicine to residents of tenements, teach job skills, and instruct women on health and hygiene.

Over time, the need for organized social work became apparent; training courses were developed and it eventually evolved into the organized discipline that it is today.

The problems that plagued Americans two hundred years ago have not changed much. Many people still live in poverty and do not have opportunities for self-advancement.

A significant number of Americans struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, and the demand for mental health services has never been higher. The country also has a large population of aging baby boomers, many of whom require some form of social services.

Other groups who often require the services of social workers are people with disabilities, neglected and abused children, and those who are marginalized because of gender.

Many women also receive assistance from social work services due to violence in the home or the demands of childcare.

The benefits of social work

The benefits of social work have not changed much over the years. Social workers advocate for and empower less fortunate members of society. Social worker’s roles include the following:

Identifying individuals and families that need support

Social workers find out who needs their help in the community. They work with other related service providers to discover who would benefit from social work services.

Related service providers include the police, foster care authorities, doctors, school officials, mental health practitioners community leaders, and the court system.

Assessing client needs and circumstances

After a social worker determines that their services are required, needs that must be addressed are established.

A social worker may schedule an interview with individuals or family members to discuss their concerns and the circumstances that led to their current situation. They can also receive briefings and reports from other professionals who have already contacted the client.

The social worker then develops a file or report that becomes a reference point for moving forward in the work. The information gathered by the social worker is used to assess progress and can be shared with other professionals who assist in the case.

Developing assistance plans

An assistance plan is often referred to as a treatment plan. Those who receive social work services, however, do not always require medical treatment. Many clients require assistance in improving their life circumstances, and in many cases, only need to be pointed in the right direction.

The social worker’s plan outlines what steps are needed to achieve desired goals. This plan is often developed in consultation with the client’s input.

Monitoring client progress and making needed changes

Creating a plan to assist a client is just the first step in working on a case. The social worker must then ensure that their clients adhere to recommendations and do whatever is necessary to improve their circumstances.

For example, if a social worker assists a client who is battling addiction, one of the stated goals within the plan might be that they attend a certain number of AA meetings within a given period.

The social worker will then follow up to make sure that the client has met this goal. If the client has not, they discuss the reasons why together and adjust the plan to better fit the client’s needs.

Intervening during moments of crisis

The social worker must intervene during circumstances such as violence within the home, as well as neglect and abuse of children, elders, and the disabled. If necessary, they will help victims get medical help and move them to a safe environment.

Social workers also help victims deal with the trauma of their circumstances. They can provide counseling services or refer clients to psychologists and psychiatrists.

Pointing clients to vital resources

Quite often, if disadvantaged people are provided with necessary resources, they can improve their circumstances.

Social workers point out those resources and help their clients access them without difficulty. For example, if a family has a drug-addicted teenager, the social worker can assist them in enrolling in a state rehabilitation institution.

If a family needs assistance with childcare, the social worker can point parents toward state-funded solutions. If they have a child with a disability, the social worker can introduce them to education resources.

Social workers should seek out resources through government assistance as well as private institutions.

Developing programs to help clients

Social workers do not only work directly with clients. If they see an opportunity to develop a program that can help the community, they should take it.

These programs do not have to be complex; even a simple program can help people extricate themselves from problems that have plagued them for years.

For example, many after-school programs are initiated by social workers. Children and teenagers need to be occupied after school, and social workers—together with community stakeholders—create programs to engage children until their parents finish work.

These programs reduce delinquency, and kids also develop skills that they can use later in life.

If licensed, they provide psychotherapy services

Licensed clinical social workers can provide mental health treatment services, many of which include psychotherapy.

If a social worker determines that their client needs counseling or another available therapy, it will be included in the treatment plan and their progress will be monitored to ensure the client is meeting their goals.

Maintaining client records

Social workers create a file for each client they work with. The file contains the information gathered about the client—the problems they are facing, suggested interventions and medical treatments, and stated goals.

Some social workers find the paperwork challenging, especially at the onset of their profession. Unfortunately, paperwork is a critical component of social work. Managing it can be easier by utilizing tips and strategies provided by seasoned social workers.

Participating in policy development

If you enroll in a program such as the Florida State University College of Social Work online degree, you will learn about policymaking and how social workers can take steps to help their communities.

Policymaking is important to social work because it examines the root of problems and how to help the population.

Social workers often work in government offices as advisors. They have grassroots experience in the community and can provide insights that lawmakers and politicians lack.

Social workers participate within the justice system

Social workers are also deployed within the justice system to work with offenders who need assistance. For example, if a mother is arrested, she can request a social worker to investigate the welfare of her children until she is released.

In many cases, incarcerated clients are assigned to social workers that can help them overcome problems they may face when re-entering into society.

Social workers can also provide guidance and counseling to inmates and help them work through issues that may be holding them back from positive participation in their communities.

They are advocates

Being an advocate is perhaps the most overlooked role of the social worker. Social workers advocate for all clients so they can provide them with resources to improve their lives.

They are the voices of those who are underprivileged, as well as of those who suffer discrimination, violence, and abuse. Social workers ensure these individuals are not forgotten and receive essential services.

Developing community activities

Community activities are a great way to bring people together and build a sense of inclusivity and belonging. Social workers—together with community leaders—are often at the forefront of creating activities that allow all to participate.

Conducting research and writing reports

To bring about change, social workers must show that existing policies are not always effective. One way they do this is through research. Because they are familiar with their communities, they are well-placed to reach out to people at the grassroots level about certain problems they may face.

Social workers conduct surveys, analyze data, and present reports to appropriate people within the government, in order to bring about change.

Evaluating community programs

Community programs are designed to reach the less fortunate, and they come with measurable goals. Social workers evaluate these programs to determine whether they meet stated objectives. If they do not, they need to find out why and what can be done to improve outcomes.

Social workers can seek input from community leaders on how to improve existing programs and what new programs can be implemented to reach as many people as possible.

Changing demands of social work

Social work roles have changed drastically in the last fifty to one hundred years. One of the most significant changes is the prioritization of mental health. Social workers always strive to help clients overcome mental health issues they may be facing, while simultaneously working on other issues affecting their clients.

Advances in civil rights have also redefined social work. Everyone is now entitled to assistance and must be treated equally regardless of their race or background.

Child welfare is taken much more seriously than it was decades ago. Social workers must learn to recognize when a child is living in an unsuitable environment.

In addition, children with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been added to the social worker’s role. Until recently, children with disabilities were often left behind and excluded. If parents did not have the money or resources to help their children, they would often reach adulthood with limited life skills.

Social workers, doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists are now able to identify these children and provide necessary interventions. The children are monitored to ensure that they develop the skills needed to lead fulfilling lives as adults.

Even after reaching adulthood, children with disabilities often keep in touch with their social worker, who continues to help them access resources, jobs, and housing.

Finally, substance use has also changed the face of social work. Addiction is a crisis in many American communities, and social workers try to identify those who need help and provide them with information about available treatment programs.

They incorporate the services of rehabilitation clinics, psychotherapists, and psychologists to assist their clients. They also follow up after addiction treatment to help re-integrate clients with substance use issues back into society.

The important role social workers play

Social workers play a crucial role in creating the stable communities we live in today. They are as important and necessary as doctors, police officers, and other professionals who diligently work for the betterment of their communities.

As you contemplate a career in social work, allow yourself to be motivated by the fact that you are gaining the skills necessary to help many people within your community.