Children and Families

Social workers bring their unique skills to helping two increasingly vulnerable groups: children and families. In all, about 16% of the countrys half a million social workers work in child services while 12% work in family services.

A range of factorspoverty, homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction and child abuse and neglectmake todays families more susceptible than ever to splitting apart. In fact, less than half of Americas children live in a traditional nuclear family, according to statistics.

Fortunately, social workers have a wide array of tools to help children and families to better cope with the normal stresses of life and to deal with systemic problems such as child abuse and homelessness. Through assessment, support, counseling, resource coordination and advocacy, social workers:

  • Counsel families to find better solutions to their problems;
  • Place abused children in loving homes;
  • Find employment and housing for homeless families;
  • Help pregnant women, adoptive parents and adopted children navigate the adoption system; and,
  • Help children and families make best use of the welfare system.

In all of these arenas, social workers use a systems and family-oriented approach to helping families cope. The adoption system is a good example. Social workers counsel pregnant women, conduct home studies of potential adoptive parents, find suitable matches of adoptive parents and children and help adoptive parents deal with the struggles unique to adopted children. Increasingly, they also provide post-adoption counseling to help older adoptees deal with issues of self-identity, loss and self esteem as well as medical problems that may have a genetic component.

Social workers provide a wide gamut of services in the foster-care system as well. These services are critical as the number of children in foster care continues to rise. In this arena, social workers assess at risk families to determine if a child needs placement. They evaluate potential foster homes, monitor the foster home during placement and help legal authorities and the family to determine an appropriate time to return the child to the family of origin.

A growing component of social work practice actually aims to make foster care services a thing of the past. Using a system known as family preservation services, social workers are key members of teams that work to keep families intact. Some of these interventions include helping stabilize immediate crises, maintaining and strengthening family relationships, increasing families coping skills and competencies and helping families to access useful services.

Social workers also help women and their children who are victims of domestic violence. In a typical case, a social worker at a shelter in Ann Arbor, Mich., helped a battered woman and her two sons get back on their feet. She counseled the woman one-on-one, arranged for transportation to get the boys to and from school, and helped the woman develop goals and life skills so she could afford housing and child care once she and the boys left the shelter. The social worker also helped the woman find affordable housing and helped her contact a lawyer who specialized in abuse cases. Indeed, the social worker was essential to helping the woman develop a new and healthier life for herself and her boys.

Gibelman, M. (1995). What Social Workers Do (4th ed.).
Washington, DC. NASW Press.
NASW (2000) Social Work Speaks (5th ed.).
Washington, DC NASW Press
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