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What does a Social Worker do?

Social workers are among America's real-life superheroes. These tireless professionals can work with society's most at-risk, in-need individuals and families. It's not a glamorous job, but it's a rewarding and highly-necessary one.

What is a social worker?

In a nutshell: social workers help people. Who? Everyone who needs it. As a social worker, you may help individuals or families seek medical or mental health services, legal counsel, or financial assistance.

The three main kinds of social work are:
  • Child, youth, and family
  • Medical and public health
  • Mental health and substance abuse
Child and family social workers can work with the foster care system to place children in foster homes, help facilitate adoptions, help advocate for children in court, or help juvenile offenders find and work with legal counsel.

Medical and public health social workers usually work in a health care setting, such as a hospital, clinic, hospice, or nursing home. These types of social workers generally advocate for patients and may provide counseling to patients and their families.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers can work one-on-one with people who are suffering from mental illnesses or alcohol or drug addictions, or provide group counseling for these people and their families.

As a mental health or substance abuse social worker, you may work in an outpatient facility, or an inpatient treatment center.

School of thought

If you're interested in pursuing a career as a social worker, you must first dedicate yourself to earning at least a four-year bachelor's degree, preferably a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW).

Many social workers earn master's or doctorate degrees before entering the work force; even people who have been employed as social workers for some time are returning to school to earn advanced degrees.

As a student pursuing a degree in social work, you may complete coursework in subjects such as human behavior, criminal justice, law and ethics, or child development.

In addition to your education, you must meet the licensing, certification, or registration requirements that are mandated by your state. You may also have to complete an internship or fellowship before you can become a licensed social worker.

Social development

The job outlook in this field is good, with employment opportunities growing relatively quickly. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that employment of child and family social workers will increase by 16 percent, employment of medical and public health social workers will increase by 20 percent, and employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers will increase by 20 percent, which is much faster than the national average occupational growth.

The salary of a social worker can vary greatly depending upon their academic background, geographic location, and type of industry in which they're employed.

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