A degree in social work can open the door to various career opportunities where you can help, rehabilitate, support and guide people facing social, personal or physical challenges in everyday life. Social workers constitute an essential element of almost every social sector and institution.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 13% growth in the employment rate of all social workers from 2019 to 2029 is expected, which surpasses the average employment estimate for every other field. Being a growing profession and diverse field, it can be applied across various settings and specialties such as academia, healthcare, government, and more.
However, some of the career choices in the social work sector may require you to pursue specialized tracks of study in the form of a master’s or graduate studies. This will help you advance and complete your certification to practice social work and work with individuals and industries you are passionate about. So, after graduating with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), your next step should be to aim for a master’s degree – for this, you can seek out MSW advanced standing programs online.
Degree holders aspiring to pursue a career in this fulfilling discipline have multiple paths they can take to start off their professional life. This article outlines the range of career opportunities you can undertake as a social worker.
Child welfare social worker
Child welfare social workers, also known as child welfare specialists, often partner with community organizations to protect and advocate for vulnerable and at-risk children suffering from abuse, neglect or maltreatment. These professionals ensure that children are brought up in a stable, loving and safe environment. They work in schools, foster care, government agencies, juvenile justice and family services.
While their role specializes in resolving family conflicts and strengthening ties for the child’s welfare, they may also conduct inspections and report suspected child abuse or neglect. These specialists also have the liberty to intervene and remove affected children from harmful living situations and advocate for them on social and economic levels. After taking a child into custody, they evaluate whether they should be temporarily or permanently removed from their birth family and put under foster care or adoptive families.
Child welfare social work can be demanding and stressful. Workers are often expected to maintain high caseloads, maintain extensive paperwork on their cases, and have a high tolerance for stress and emotionally volatile or complex situations.
Mental health counselor
Mental health counselors are social workers who focus on offering help and support to patients suffering from mental, emotional and behavioral issues. To help them live healthier and fulfilling lives, these individuals work directly with patients by assessing, treating, diagnosing, moderating and preventing complex mental health difficulties brought on by challenging life events. They can also provide therapy in individual, couple, group and family settings.
They can work in various sectors, including private practice, schools, hospitals and community clinics. This profession is rising as more people are openly seeking treatment and counseling for mental health issues.
A mental health counselor must possess exceptional interpersonal, emotional, communication and problem-solving skills. They must be well-organized and exhibit great compassion and empathy as their patients usually go through life-altering circumstances.
The criminal justice system appoints probation officers to interact directly with inmates, abusers, ex-offenders and individuals released on parole. These specialists monitor, report on and communicate with these criminals in prevention, rehabilitation or intervention programs to ensure their compliance with the conditions of their probation and prevent them from committing more crimes.
Probation officers may conduct regular interviews to evaluate their progress, maintain contact with the parolee’s family, and perform drug tests to ensure that they stay on the right track and are not a danger to the community. Additionally, these officers may also be required to appear in court to testify whether the parolee respected the terms of their probation.
To excel in this field, an individual must possess excellent communication and people skills, strong stress management, social perceptiveness, critical thinking, and the ability to juggle multiple cases simultaneously.
School counselors or guidance counselors are trained mental health professionals who work with individuals or groups of students who exhibit behavioral, mental, emotional or physical disorders that can impact their academic progress. These school social workers work closely with teachers, administrators and parents to help students with their academic struggles and address domestic issues.
They guide students at every grade level and strive to build a safe atmosphere where children can feel empowered in their ability to learn. As an advocate for the wellbeing of students, school counselors may recommend outside agencies and treatments when necessary. Apart from helping students to process their problems, these specialists can also assist them in planning out their goals and future plans.
A school counselor must respond effectively to the requirements and demands of a diverse student pool. They must showcase excellent communication skills, advocacy skills and interpersonal skills. Also, they must exhibit sound judgment and emotional intelligence as they are dealing with young, impressionable minds.
Military social worker
Military social workers support and provide services to military personnel throughout their transitioning, service and post-service periods. They work with active and former military members to help them address and manage issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, substance abuse, and social and familial challenges they may face as a consequence of their employment in the military.
After assessing their situation, military social workers can provide access to various resources such as counseling, financial aid, support groups, medical benefits, employment possibilities, and more.
These social workers also provide families of active-duty military professionals and veterans with counseling, employment and mental health support. These individuals can acquire job opportunities at military bases, private practices, hospitals and military-related agencies.
Military social workers must have extensive knowledge of military culture, rules and regulations. They must familiarize themselves with professional boundaries and military standards when dealing with active and retired personnel. They should also be empathetic and provide counseling in areas such as depression, loss, grief, stress and anxiety.
Hospice social worker
The role of a hospice social worker is to assist patients suffering from a debilitating condition or terminal disease, their families, and loved ones by providing them with grief counseling and social, psychological, emotional and spiritual support. Simply put, hospice social workers help patients and their families cope, adjust and plan for the journey ahead.
While this profession might be emotionally exhaustive and taxing, these individuals play a vital role in supporting people in what may be the most challenging experience of their lives. In some cases, these workers may also help patients and their families identify and seek outside resources and services, such as support groups for additional counseling.
Hospice social workers can work in hospice centers and palliative care departments in hospitals and provide at-home services.
Substance abuse counselors
Social workers who work with clients with a history of drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and other issues are known as substance abuse counselors. They teach individuals to overcome their dependency by providing therapy, rehabilitation and counseling with the intention of full recovery.
These professionals perform assessments of a patient’s mental and physical health, develop individualized treatment and recovery plans accordingly, and work with patients to avoid relapse by conducting group and individual therapy. Focusing on psychological wellbeing, they also help individuals repair personal and professional relationships affected by addiction.
Substance abuse counselors can find employment in rehabilitation and healthcare facilities, hospitals, and detention and counseling centers. To pursue a career in this field of social work, an individual must be patient, empathetic and compassionate. Moreover, they should be sensitive and open-minded so that their patients can share their struggles without fear of judgment.
Medical social worker
Medical or healthcare social workers primarily focus on satisfying the varying needs of patients and their families by helping them navigate health and wellness challenges. They help their clients understand and cope with the emotional, physical, psychological and financial needs that arise with significant medical challenges by weighing their available resources and making the best decisions for them and their families.
Other responsibilities of medical social workers include helping patients evaluate healthcare options, discharge planning, conducting home visits to recently discharged clients, making end-of-life plans, and more. Depending on the individual’s and their family’s needs, these professionals can take the role of a therapist, case manager or patient navigator. They can work in various medical settings such as hospitals, clinics, long-term healthcare institutions, nursing homes, etc.
Medical social workers should possess a solid understanding of clinical social work practices and healthcare protocols. They should have excellent organizational and problem-solving skills to provide solutions to unique challenges. Most importantly, medical social workers must be compassionate and empathize with patients facing stressful health challenges.
Foster care social worker
Foster agencies employ foster care social workers or case managers to advocate for children in the foster care system, ensuring their physical and psychological welfare. These individuals work as therapists for children to resolve emotional, behavioral and mental issues that may have stemmed from abuse, neglect or abandonment.
A foster care social worker is also responsible for assessing and interviewing prospective foster families and running an extensive background check to evaluate the suitability of the foster situation as they are ultimately responsible for the child’s wellbeing. They have the liberty to perform home visits to check up on their living conditions in foster care, monitor a child’s progress, and see whether they are adequately cared for and supported by their foster family.
Apart from the training and educational requirements, a foster care social worker must harness excellent communication skills, analyze and sort out pressing and complex situations without letting their emotions get in the way, and have a background in conflict resolution.
Geriatric or gerontological social workers
Gerontological social workers are experts responsible for helping senior citizens address their changing needs by performing a biopsychosocial assessment. They can provide direct therapy and care to their clients at the individual level. They are trained to recognize abnormal aging patterns and suggest medical treatment when necessary.
These practitioners may also work to help their elderly clients and their families examine their needs and identify resources such as services, medical care, housing and utility assistance. Gerontological social workers can further help their patients transition into nursing care facilities.
As this is a particularly vulnerable client demographic, gerontological social workers must be knowledgeable about specific policies, programs and issues that affect the elderly. They must be able to carry out mental, behavioral and physical assessments to identify their clients’ needs.
Child and family therapist
Child and family therapists assist and advocate in cases involving families and children dealing with relationship difficulties, psychological disorders, addiction, behavioral problems or mental illness. These practitioners offer counseling services to families who have experienced loss or been through a traumatic incident. Child and family therapists develop a comprehensive treatment plan and may suggest community resources after evaluating the family’s needs, their relationship pattern, and communication among family members.
These practitioners mainly focus on identifying and resolving conflicts, developing healthy boundaries, improving family dynamics, strengthening relationships, and treating disorders such as addiction, depression, anorexia and obesity. Stressful and challenging situations in a household can negatively affect an adolescent’s ability to prosper in school and can stunt their emotional maturity. For this purpose, child and family therapists provide counseling to such children and offer child-centric solutions to their parents to help them create an environment free of unhealthy social dynamics.
Child and family social workers should exhibit exceptional people skills, especially when dealing with children. They should be empathetic toward their clients’ situations. However, they should also have self-regulation skills so that they don’t feel overwhelmed in the face of challenging circumstances. As they are required to keep case files on all their clients, they should also possess strong organizational skills.