Choices

Careers in Social Work, Part 2
Choices: Careers in Social Work
Mental Health/Clinical Social Work
Patricia develops hallucinations and eating and sleeping problems during her first semester in college. After two weeks in the hospital with therapy and medication, she goes home to her parents. They take her to a community mental health clinic, where a clinical social worker helps her and her parents understand and cope with her condition.

Patricia feels she was not yet able to return to college, so the social worker helps her explore her options. With the social worker’s encouragement and support, Patricia takes a part-time job at a local pet store. With satisfying but low-stress work, together with continued therapy and physician-monitored medication, Patricia improves. By spring semester, she enrolls in two courses at a community college and increases her hours at the pet shop.

Many people at certain times in their lives need mental health services to get the most out of life. Clinical social workers are the largest group of professionally trained mental health providers in the United States, supplying more than half of counseling and therapy services. These mental health professionals help people find solutions to problems ranging from inability to cope with day-to-day stress to severe mental illness.

The social worker’s emphasis is on helping clients help themselves. Clinical social work services include aiding a client in understanding the causes of emotional distress, developing and implementing methods to resolve the situation, and, when connecting the client with appropriate community resources.

Clinical social workers are found in a wide variety of settings and often work as part of a team of other professionals. Many have they own private practices.

All clinical social workers must have all MSW. They must be licensed or certified in the state in which they practice. Many states require continuing education to maintain licensure or certification.

The challenges of mental health practice and variety in clinical social work are legion, as are the satisfactions of helping people make positive changes in their lives.

Related Areas

  • Alcohol and other drug abuse treatment
  • Individual and family psychotherapy and counseling
  • Grief counseling
  • Victim services
  • Corrections
  • Aging
  • Child welfare
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Health care
  • Group work
  • Group therapy

Employers

  • Community mental health centers
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Residential treatment centers
  • Partial (day treatment) hospitals
  • Managed mental health programs
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Schools
  • Family service agencies
Community Organization
It has taken a while, but the newspaper finally runs an article on how few loans city banks are making in some neighborhoods. Residents have suspected something was amiss; houses aren’t selling, and families with good credit have been turned down for home improvement loans. A social worker at the neighborhood assistance organization calls a meeting of residents to address the issue.

With the social worker’s assistance, residents organize for action. They alert other community organizations to build support. They survey the neighborhood. The results showed that one in five residents have applied for a loan and nearly three-quarters had been turned down. The social worker and community leaders meet with the newspaper’s editorial board. They present the survey and tell about attempts to sell homes.

The article and a subsequent editorial prompt local television reporters to pick up the story. Publicity convinces the banks that goodwill and good business require change. The social worker and resident leaders meet with banking officers to generate new policies that will enable residents to get loans, keeping the neighborhood from falling into disrepair and helping it thrive.

Helping people help themselves is a fundamental doctrine of social work. Community organizing goes a step further—helping people help themselves collectively. lt is collective problem-solving by a group working on behalf of themselves and their community.

A social worker in community organizing usually works with an existing organization to tackle issues that concern people in a building, neighborhood, workplace, or community. Community organizers coordinate and facilitate activities to improve social conditions enhance the quality of life, and bring people into the political process.

Some work directly with communities. They may help stop a toxic waste incinerator, initiate an alternative school, develop a neighborhood housing plan, get drug dealers of l the block, develop senior citizen programs, or organize stockholders to promote corporate responsibility. Others work for advocacy or social change organizations to improve conditions for specific groups (such as homeless people, immigrants, or refugees) or tackle issues such as welfare reform or violence prevention.

Many social workers in this field go on to lead policy or advocacy organizations. Others become elected or appointed public officials.

Social workers who choose community organizing can have a tremendous impact on the nation’s communities and on social reform.

Related Areas

  • Community development
  • Social planning
  • Program development
  • Community education
  • Grassroots organizing
  • Consumer advocacy
  • Voter registration
  • Economic development
  • Politics
  • Group work
  • Neighborhood organizing

Employers

  • Advocacy organizations
  • Development corporations
  • Community action agencies
  • Neighborhood and community centers
  • Local, state, and federal governments
  • Settlement houses
  • Associations
International Social Work
A country’s political social order crumbles and the world watches a human consequence of the turmoil—children abandoned in primitive orphanages. Humanitarian relief organizations move in to help improve conditions. Social workers are engaged to help. Some train orphanage staff in basic child development, including children’s attachment and separation fears, the need for creative playtime, colorful paint and pictures on the walls, better diet, more hygienic care. Life begins to improve for the children.

Other social workers help draft standards for children’s institutions including child-staff rations, recommended activities, and staff education and training. Still others work with government agencies organizing foster care services and family services and counseling. The new services will help families stay together and offer alternatives to placing children in orphanages in the future.

The functions of international social work k are nearly as diverse as the people served. On one level, the work involves direct services in refugee programs, relief efforts. inter country adoptions and development, health care, and education. But another aspect involves advancing the efforts of national governments, intergovernmental organizations, and voluntary agencies to enhance social welfare policy, technical assistance, research, and information exchange.

Social workers manage programs, train others, help develop service delivery systems train in developing countries, and much more.

International organizations such as the United Nations and its International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) employ social workers in both urban and rural projects. The World Health Organization (WHO) works on several fronts—acquired immune deficiency syndrome, drug addiction, famine—that include social work services. And the International Committee of the Red Cross performs vital disaster relief services, often with the aid of social workers.

For those practicing in this exciting field, language abilities and a desire to travel are a must as is an appreciation of other cultures. With our growing comprehension of the interdependence of nations, there is expanding potential in international social work— definitely a world worth exploring.

Related Areas

  • Social development
  • Community development
  • Community organization
  • Group work
  • Advocacy
  • Social planning
  • Social development
  • International adoption
  • Technology transfer
  • Family planning
  • Child welfare
  • Health and mental health
  • Posttraumatic stress
  • Substance abuse
  • Management
  • Social policy
  • Employment services
  • Refugee services
  • Employers
  • International aid organizations
  • Relief organizations
  • International human rights agencies
  • Refugee relief agencies
Management/Administration

County revenues have not met expectations, so agency directors are told to plan budgets without increases.

As the administrator of the county welfare agency, the social worker tackles this tough, but typical problem. How to plan next year’s budget without curtailing services and hurting clients, when demand is increasing?

First, she sets up a staff task force, asking for cost cutting ideas that would not sacrifice services. Next, she reviews the budget. A few projects can wait. A few vacant positions will remain empty.

The task force presents its ideas. Choosing among them, the social worker decides to reallocate funds used to place very troubled children in expensive institutions. Instead, the agency will recruit and train special foster families, using the funds to provide backup services, community therapy, respite care, and other services. Because trained foster families can often provide better care in the home at a lower cost than institutions, it is a win-win situation.

An important assignment in social work is managing when, how, to whom, and by who services are allocated. This is the job of the professional administrator.

Social work administration includes many elements common to administration in other organizations. But it also entails knowledge of human behavior, social problems, social services, and values.

The administrator’s roles are diverse. They usually include policy formulation and goal setting, program design and implementation, budget development, operations management, personnel direction and supervision, fund development and resource allocations, public relations, and, perhaps most importantly, evaluation.

An administrator’s day-to-day tasks may consist of setting goals, acquiring the resources to achieve those goals, problem solving and negotiating, team and coalition building, managing information, assessing future needs, and ensuring quality control. In many cases these tasks are interrelated.

Whereas in the past employers simply promoted social work practitioners into administrative positions, emphasis is now being placed on background in the administrative field and technical management ability. A capacity to work with and motivate others is key to administrative success, as are creative thinking and leadership.

Administrators chart the course of virtually all social services and can make a real difference by ensuring that agencies provide quality services equitably to those in need.

Related Areas

  • Planning
  • Policy
  • Organization
  • Development
  • Advocacy

Employers

  • Family service agencies
  • Child welfare departments
  • Social service agencies
  • School pupil personnel departments
  • Area agencies on aging
  • State mental health departments
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Probation departments
  • Health
  • Public welfare agencies
Policy and Planning

The social worker who directs a city health agency suspects that the number of women diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is increasing. Although lesbian women are stereotyped as "safe" from infection, the social worker suspects that lesbian women are more susceptible to HIV than is generally recognized. Most prevention literature is targeted to gay men and heterosexuals. But some lesbians are drug users, and others have sex with men at times. A review of city health statistics confirms her suspicion: The number of cases has doubled in three years. She learns from area medical associations that gynecologists, hospitals, and clinics have no literature specifically informing lesbian women about how they can protect themselves from contracting HIV.

The social worker decides the city health agency should act. She brings her concerns to other community organizations. They form a coalition. She and other coalition leaders testify at a city council health forum to build support and get the news media involved. The social worker redirects a portion of the agency budget to develop information specifically directed at lesbian women. The new literature is distributed to area medical associations, hospitals, schools, community centers, and the news media. A review of city statistics two years later shows that the increase has slowed.

The realm of policy and planning affords different satisfactions from direct service social work. It allows the social worker to have an impact on large numbers of people.

Social workers in this field address problems such as child abuse, homelessness, substance abuse, poverty, mental illness, violence, unemployment, and racism. They work to improve systems to better conditions for the people affected.

Social workers analyze policies, programs, and regulations to see what is most effective. They identify social problems, study needs and related issues, conduct research, propose legislation, and suggest alternative approaches or new programs. They may foster coalitions of groups with similar interests and develop inter-organizational networks.

On a daily basis, this often means analyzing census data and legislation, drafting position papers, testifying at public hearings, working with the media, talking with policymakers, and lobbying elected and appointed officials. Their tasks may also involve raising funds, writing grants, or conducting demonstration projects. Often social workers are the directors of organizations that do this work.

Work on one issue may take many months or years, and change is often incremental. But work in the policy and planning field earns social workers the satisfaction of knowing they are pressing our society to improve the quality of life for all of its members.

Related Areas

  • Community development
  • Community organization
  • Health care management
  • Management
  • Administration
  • Political organizing
  • Government relations
  • Advocacy

Employers

  • Public interest groups
  • Local, state, and federal government
  • Voluntary health and welfare councils
  • Advocacy organizations
  • Development corporations
  • Trade associations
  • Administrative agencies
Politics

"I am the first social worker in the U.S. Senate. Now I have a caseload of 4 million Marylanders. And though I am practicing in a different forum, those skills and values I learned as a community organizer in the streets of Baltimore are what make me an effective leader in the corridors of Congress."

—Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)

Kentucky State Representative and social worker Jim Wayne campaigned on human issues—health care, foster care, education, social services to children, and the environment—issues critical to his district’s voters. He describes political office as a "phenomenal vehicle for mobilizing social work values. People look to public officials for leadership. There is a tremendous opportunity to empower people," he says.

Wayne cites a small neighborhood that turned to him for help. Development, largely sponsored by the state, had trapped families in homes now devalued by noise, pollution, and traffic. They wanted the government to buy them out and relocate them to decent neighborhoods. Rep. Wayne helped them organize and arranged for pro bono help from a large area law firm. "The neighborhood now is negotiating with two government entities," Wayne said. "And the people are very hopeful."

Wayne thinks a political career is an excellent way to practice social work. "There is so much good you can do in the public arena—so many doors can be opened for people in need. There are so many positive things that can be done."

There is a natural progression in the careers of many social workers from activism to leadership. Increasingly, social workers are holding elective offices from school boards to city and county governments, from state legislatures all the way to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Some have been appointed to top posts in state and federal governments.

Many social workers relish the opportunity to make changes on a local, state, or national scale. They possess skills that make them well suited for public office and for building support for an issue.

Social workers who run for office have an important ally in NASW and its Political Action for Candidate Election (PACE) organization. PACE has been active at the federal, state, and local levels to promote candidates, including social workers, who support social work values. Social workers’ skills and talents also make them valuable in the roles of political organizers or campaign managers and strategists.

For those willing to roll up their sleeves and participate in the political process, a social work degree and experience can provide them with the tools to be successful and foster positive change.

Related Areas

  • Campaign management
  • Community organization
  • Advocacy
  • Government relations
  • Social policy

Employers

  • Political campaigns
  • Political parties
  • Political organizations
  • Associations
  • Government agencies
  • Advocacy groups
Research

The hospital social work director needs to know if the department’s programs are effective, if elderly adult patients are well served, and if services needed for recovery are in place.

She commissions a research project. The social work researcher constructs a questionnaire to find out how well older sick adults are managing at home after they leave the hospital. Are the services arranged for them helping? Are they sufficient? Are more needed? Which ones? The questionnaire asks, "Do you need help with meal preparation? with medications? with toileting? with transportation for follow-up visits? with housekeeping? with paying bills on time? with home maintenance?" It inquires about frequency, convenience, and cost.

After six months, 327 former patients have responded, and the researcher tabulates the data. Results show that visiting nursing services are sufficient and a neighborhood meals program is sufficient. But many report needing more help around the house. Others say taxis are often slow to respond, making them late for follow-up visits, and the cost is too high. The director asks a local agency to coordinate teen volunteer home helpers to help with housework, maintenance, and bill paying. She negotiates with a van company to transport three or four patients on clinic days at lower cost than taxis.

One of the most absorbing roles in professional social work involves expanding the profession’s knowledge. Social work researchers achieve this by investigating the effectiveness of approaches, methods, or programs in assisting clients. Social work researchers also help agencies provide services more effectively and contribute to efforts to support and promote social change. Research points the way for improved social policies or legislation and can be the underpinning of successful social policy advocacy.

Research entails a scientific process involving quantitative and qualitative techniques. Data are collected in a variety of ways, then analyzed and reported. Problems for study may include virtually every facet of social work. Social workers may investigate the effectiveness of a particular service program or treatment approach or study broader, societal concerns.

Research tasks may include identifying a problem, organizing research projects, developing questionnaires, gathering data, performing statistical analyses, writing articles, testifying at public hearings, or presenting findings at conferences.

Many researchers begin their careers in direct services and program development, then return to a university to get a doctoral degree to pursue a research career. Others work in agencies or organizations, including federal, state, and local governments.

Social work research is a satisfying way to turn intellectual curiosity into results that contribute to the practice of social work and the betterment of life.

Related Areas

  • Planning
  • Policy
  • Community development
  • Advocacy
  • Social planning
  • Program development
  • Economic development
  • Politics

Employers

  • Colleges and universities
  • Research institutes
  • Associations
  • Advocacy organizations
  • Development corporations
  • Local, state, and federal governments
Social Work Careers

Part 1: Substance Misuse and Addictions; Aging; Child Welfare; Public Welfare; School Social Work; Justice/Corrections; Developmental Disabilities; Employment/Occupational Social Work; Health Care


http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/choices/choices2.asp
10/24/2014
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