If you want to make a meaningful difference with your career, becoming a social worker can help you do just that. Social workers help improve the lives of vulnerable populations and advocate for positive change within their communities through different types of social work.
Beyond that, what do social workers do exactly? Since social work is such a broad field, social workers’ daily duties can vary greatly from one setting to the next.
Below, we’ll break down what social workers do in greater detail so you can determine if it’s the right profession for you.
What is Social Work?
Social work is a profession that has been around for over a century1. Social workers are united by the commitment to:2
- Advance social welfare
- Support individuals facing crises, adversity, and oppression
- Help people access resources to meet their most basic needs
- Promote social justice and equality
- Empower people through counseling, advocacy, and reporting
- Respect the dignity and worth of all people
- Adhere to the social work code of ethics (What are the NASW code of ethics?)
Advancing these goals invites social workers to engage in a wide range of duties throughout their careers, from providing individual counseling to promoting policy changes.
In order to fulfill these goals, social workers typically need to possess a nuanced understanding of human behavior and development. They also need to be aware of the complex ways that social, cultural, and economic factors impact individuals within a community.
What Are the Three Scopes of Social Work?
Social work takes place on many levels. Depending on the scope of work that a social worker specializes in, their day-to-day work can vary quite notably.
Let’s take a look at the three scopes of social work:
- Micro social work – On the micro-level, social workers offer one-on-one support to people in need. For example, they may provide mental health therapy, substance abuse counseling, or housing assistance to individuals, couples, or families.
- Mezzo social work – The second scope of social work concentrates on groups of people rather than individuals. A social worker operating within this scope may offer their support to schools, prisons, hospitals, or neighborhoods. For example, a school social worker may deal with crisis intervention, facilitating conflict resolution and developing strategies that benefit their students, and a clinical social worker may help families of terminally-ill hospital patients navigate the logistics of end-of-life care.
- Macro social work – The last level of social work focuses on impacting positive social change on a broader scale. Macro social workers may participate in research, social program development, advocacy, and policymaking. For instance, a macro social worker may tackle the problem of homelessness in their city by advocating for new legislation.
As you can see, social workers can take their careers in many directions, depending on the scope of work they choose to specialize in. While a micro-social worker may spend most of their time meeting with clients one-on-one, a macro-social worker may primarily engage with local government officials and community representatives. Each scope of social work has an important role to play in the advancement of social welfare.
What Communities Do Social Workers Support?
Social workers generally help people that are vulnerable, marginalized, or in crisis.
Here are a few examples of the populations that social workers may work with:
- People who are homeless
- People living in poverty
- People with disabilities
- Victims of violence or domestic abuse
- Children and adolescents
- Couples and families
- Elderly people
- Hospital patients
- People with substance abuse issues
- People with mental health issues
- People within the LGBTQ community
- Refugees and immigrants
- People in the criminal justice system
What Does a Social Worker Do?
So, what can you do with a Master’s in Social Work as a social worker? Social workers can support vulnerable communities in a variety of ways. On any given day, they may be responsible for:
- Assessing individuals’ needs – Social workers often evaluate clients on a case-by-case basis. After determining a client’s needs, the social worker can construct a plan to help the client improve their situation and reach their goals, whether that’s overcoming addiction or obtaining affordable housing.
- Matching individuals with relevant resources – Individuals in crisis can often find the process of accessing resources to be confusing or even overwhelming. Social workers can facilitate this process on their behalf. For instance, a social worker may help a client sign up for food stamps, affordable healthcare, or subsidized housing.
- Helping people adjust to significant life events – Divorce, illness, death, and unemployment are just a few examples of events that can turn someone’s life upside down. Social workers can help people adjust to these types of changes by providing counseling, resources, and other forms of support.
- Offering support in times of crisis – Social workers can also step in during times of crisis. For example, if a social worker suspects that a child is being abused, they can inform the relevant authorities to ensure the child’s safety. Social workers may also assist individuals who have been impacted by natural disasters.
- Advocating for policy changes – Laws often need to be updated to enable vulnerable communities to receive the support they need. Social workers can advocate for these populations by presenting research to policymakers and explaining why certain policies should be enacted on behalf of these communities.
- Researching and developing social programs – Some social workers may have a hand in researching and developing new social programs to support communities in need. For example, a social worker may create an affordable child care assistance program for working mothers living in poverty.
- Offering testimonies in court – On occasion, social workers may be asked to provide their testimonies in court. For instance, during a domestic abuse case, a social worker could give the jury insight into the family dynamics at play.
- Providing clinical services – Some social workers specialize in clinical social work, which qualifies them to provide mental health diagnoses and treatment plans. What is a clinical social worker? Clinical social workers with Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) accreditation may offer their clients mental health therapy to help them get through difficult situations and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
- Checking in with past clients – Social workers may check in with their past clients from time to time to make sure they’re still doing well. Social workers may also re-evaluate their clients’ resources to ensure they receive adequate support as their situations change.
- Documenting their work – Social workers are typically required to document their work to ensure their clients have detailed reports about the support they receive. Thus, many social workers spend a considerable amount of their day completing paperwork.
These are just a few examples of how social workers can make an impact on their communities. As society continues to change and evolve, so will the field of social work.
Where Can Social Workers Find Employment?
Social workers can usually apply for jobs in a variety of settings. Some social workers are hired by social work agencies. Other social workers may be able to find jobs in the following workplaces:
- Government agencies
- Senior centers and nursing homes
- Schools and universities
- Hospitals and healthcare facilities
- Prisons and courts
- Clinics and counseling agencies
- Community outreach programs
- Military bases
- Private practices
How to Become a Social Worker
If you’re drawn to the field of social work, you may be wondering how to become a social worker yourself.
Here are the common steps you may take on the path toward becoming a social worker:
- Obtain an accredited social work degree – In most cases, social workers benefit from completing the necessary education requirements before practicing in the field.
To become a social worker, you can earn your bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW), master’s degree in social work (MSW), or both. Some entry-level jobs may only require a BSW. However, the majority of social work jobs require you to have what is an MSW and an up-to-date social work practice license.
Your chosen social work program should be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
- Apply for your social work license – Many social work positions require you to be an officially licensed social worker in your state. Before you can apply for licensure, you’ll likely need to earn your MSW.3
After that, you can obtain your license by passing the Association of Social Work Boards (AWSB) Social Work Licensing exam and fulfilling any additional social work licensure requirements laid out by your state’s licensing board.
You may also need to complete continuing education throughout your career to remain eligible for bi-annual licensure renewal.
Once you’ve achieved the required education, training, and social work licensure in your state, you can start pursuing a fulfilling career in social work.
Alliant International University: Earn Your Master’s of Social Work
As you can see, the social work practice is a diverse profession. As a social worker, you can pursue a career in many directions and work with a wide range of populations in need. While social work may be emotionally taxing at times, it can also be incredibly rewarding. It gives you a chance to make a real impact in your community.
If this type of work interests you, you may want to consider earning your master’s degree in social work at Alliant. Our California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) offers an MSW program that can help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to become a social worker.
Take your first step towards a fulfilling career in social work and learn more about our MSW program today.
- National Association of Social Workers. “Social Work History.” National Association of Social Workers. https://www.socialworkers.org/News/Facts/Social-Work-History Accessed May 26, 2022.
- National Association of Social Workers. “Code of Ethics: English.” National Association of Social Workers. https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethic…. Accessed May 26, 2022.
- Melissa Russiano. “Social Work License Requirements.” November 04, 2020. SocialWorkLicensure.org. https://socialworklicensure.org/articles/social-work-license-requiremen…. Accessed May 26, 2022.