Social workers are employees who specialize in helping children and families. There are several variants of social workers, but the differences between the roles are typically based on location and types of clients. For example, some social workers only work with children, while others assist the elderly. Social workers can work in a community, going out to directly interact with their patients. Others work in clinics, foster systems or even schools. Social workers are commonly employed by the government.
The requirements to become a social worker vary depending on the state, but there are a few similarities. In most states, you must get at least a bachelor’s degree in social work. Some careers also require other degrees, with psychology and sociology being the most common. In addition to a degree, you must get accredited by your state. Advanced positions require a master’s in social work.
Important Skills for Social Workers
Being a social worker is a demanding job. In order to succeed, there are several skills you must master. No matter what field you work in, empathy is a key skill. Many individuals who need help from a social worker are in difficult positions. You must be able to understand how they ended up in such a situation, without making them feel judged. In order to get a patient to open up, you must also be able to make them feel safe and comfortable sharing their experiences.
Communication is also important. This includes both verbal and non-verbal communication. As a social worker, you must know how to communicate with your patients while also explaining to other healthcare workers what your patient is going through. Social workers must be able to pick up on non-verbal cues as well. This is especially important if you work with families, as some family members may not feel safe outwardly refuting claims, but their body language will tell you when something is amiss.
Patience is another key trait. Many patients are not working with social workers by choice. When you first meet your patients, you are a stranger, asking for personal details about their lives. Many patients get upset and lash out. You must not only be able to wait for them to trust you, but not lash out and escalate the situation.
While most skills focus on treating patients, you must also be able to take care of yourself. Social workers help clients when they are at their lowest. While it is rewarding to help others, it is often a long process. You must be able to separate your work from the rest of your life. Otherwise, you risk getting burned out from the negative stories and will not be able to help your clients.
While the degree requirements vary depending on the state of your specialty, all social workers are required to get proper accreditation. Some universities will include accreditation as part of the program, otherwise, you are required to get your own accreditation. Your accreditation class must be approved by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Some of the top universities that include CSWE certification include:
Types of Social Work
While there are many different areas for social workers to specialize in, each job falls under one of three categories. These are micro, mezzo and macro. Micro social workers focus on clients in a one-on-one setting, typically in a clinical setting. Mezzo workers sometimes work with individuals, but mostly focus on families. Macro workers rarely work with patients, instead working to improve the community. These social workers focus more on research and lobbying, but may interview patients to gather information and identify what factors in the community put residents at risk.
Your salary may vary depending on your chosen field, but on average, social workers make between $25 to $30 an hour, or $54,000 to $60,000 annually. Getting a masters or doctorate in social work will often lead to higher wages. Medical and elderly social workers typically have higher annual wages, ranging from $62,000 to $65,000, based on the state.
Child and Family Social Workers
Child and family social workers primarily help younger patients. In a family setting, these social workers focus on how parents care for their children. Social workers will help parents develop better parental techniques. If the parents are unable to care for the child, the social worker can remove the child and place him or her into foster care. Social workers continue to work with patients while in foster care. If reconciliation is not possible, the social worker will work alongside state services to prepare the child for adoption. Some of the issues child and family social workers commonly encounter are behavioral issues, truancy, teenage pregnancy and abuse from a family member.
Child and family social workers are employed in a number of areas, such as school setting, foster services, behavioral health centers and juvenile correctional facilities. While they typically work traditional office hours, they may be required to take calls during emergency situations. Most agencies only require social workers to hold a bachelors, but some schools and health facilities want social workers with a master’s degree.
Gerontological Social Workers
Gerontological social workers help older patients, typically over the age of 60. Some of their tasks include helping elderly patients transition out of their family homes and finding an adequate community. This may include nursing homes or assisted living facilities. They will also work with families to explain what issues their elderly family member is experiencing and investigate whether they receive adequate care. Social workers not only look for signs of physical abuse, but also financial manipulation.
Some gerontological social workers are employed directly by hospitals and nursing homes. Others work in physician’s office or hospice agencies. Most starting positions only require a bachelor’s degree, but higher-ranked positions require additional accreditation.
Criminal Justice Social Worker
Criminal justice social workers help patients who are either incarcerated or recently released from prison. These social workers often meet with patients right before they are incarcerated to prepare them for life in jail. They also help patients after they finish their sentence to transfer back into society. In prison, they help patients identify why they committed their crimes and come up with positive coping skills to avoid repeating these mistakes. In addition to working with patients, criminal justice social workers are often called in to act as expert witnesses in court cases. They also act as a victim advocate, helping patients report crimes. Nearly all of these social workers are hired in prisons, jails or other law enforcement offices.