Social work is one of those rare occupations where you really get to make a difference in people’s lives, but you could be even more effective if you choose a specialty that suits your talents. This is something that almost all social workers do in the course of their careers, and it makes it possible for them to develop much more refined skills suited to specific tasks or the needs of specific populations. If you are considering a career in social work, here are some of the possibilities that might work for you.
Administration and management
Like every other type of work, social work needs to be organized, and good record keeping is essential to ensuring that it is being properly carried out. This means that skilled managers and administrators are needed at every level. Leadership is vital for keeping up morale when social workers are facing challenging situations and ensuring that each individual’s skills are deployed effectively by assigning people to the cases to which they are best suited.
Managers also provide a shield for social workers when their actions are challenged and help them to access the resources they need to do their jobs. To work in this area, you will need a broad understanding of the field and a thorough, diligent approach to all the work you do.
Policy and planning
Although you may think of social work as something that focuses on the well-being of individuals, it can also involve working at the population level to ensure that policy development takes proper account of people’s needs. Social workers are often involved in advising on policy development and reviewing proposals before they progress to the next stage. They may also be commissioned to undertake research aimed at informing areas of policy for which there is a poor evidence base.
When it comes to planning decisions, they are often needed to identify areas in which one-size-fits-all approaches are likely to fall apart and to come up with solutions that ensure nobody falls through the cracks.
Access to healthcare is critical to realizing people’s human rights and ensuring that they are able to live healthy, happy and productive lives. Where people struggle to navigate the system, often because they are overwhelmed by health problems themselves, social workers step in. They advocate for people who don’t have any competent family members to act on their behalf, and they support people who struggle to assert their needs because, for example, they have learning disorders or are living with mental illness.
Working in this role requires a solid knowledge of healthcare systems, insurance practices and the regulations that govern the industry, as well as a basic understanding of common illnesses and an ability to engage effectively with vulnerable patients.
In a society in which disabled people face barriers in almost every aspect of life, social workers provide key forms of support aimed at helping to place them on an equal footing with the rest of the population. This includes ensuring that they have adequate housing, with adaptations as required, and that they receive adequate care, regardless of who is supplying it.
It can also involve going into workplaces to advise on employer obligations or supporting them in finding suitable employment. They may need assistance with accessing healthcare and dental care because standard systems don’t fit their needs, or help filling out forms and dealing with bureaucracy. You may also play a role in ensuring that they are able to access the social opportunities that appeal to them.
Elderly people often have complex needs that those around them struggle to understand, and they are particularly vulnerable to isolation and abuse. In an aging society, more and more of them need support. Thanks to the rise of online studying, those interested in answering this call can take on a Master’s in Social Work, such as the excellent program offered by Florida State University. The course prepares you for all of the joys and challenges of this line of work, while providing the flexibility to study on your terms.
Doing the job well requires a willingness to listen because you will need to bridge the culture gap that exists between generations to understand their priorities and advocate effectively on their behalf. Although they have many needs in common with the disabled community and most become disabled over time, they also face challenges including coping with the frequent deaths of peers and finding it increasingly hard to understand the world around them.
One of the most challenging aspects of social work but also one of the most rewarding involves working with children. You will need to be tough to do this as it can involve witnessing distressing situations and even causing distress when children need to be separated from their families (usually as a temporary measure), but your actions will help to protect children and ensure that they are able to thrive.
You will often be working with struggling parents to teach them coping skills and help them access the various forms of support to which they are entitled. You will ensure that children with special needs get them properly met, help children who are struggling to cope at school, and give those who are acting out the confidence to engage with the world in a healthy way.
People with mental health problems and learning disorders often struggle with various aspects of daily life, but that doesn’t mean they need to be institutionalized; they often just need some practical support. Social workers are there to provide this directly or ensure that they are able to make use of services designed to do so.
In this role, you may also be involved in helping people to communicate effectively in official, familial and social contexts, or helping to break down prejudice that is making their lives harder. People often get very little help post-diagnosis, which is a particular problem in the context of illnesses that get worse over time. You can help them and their loved ones to come to terms with changes and manage them as effectively as possible.
Still a subject that many people are unwilling to discuss, addiction blights the lives of individuals and whole communities. Addicts are often ostracized by those around them, and social workers may be their only point of contact outside circles of enablers and the criminal justice system.
Social workers specializing in this area do not just deal with illegal substance misuse. They are there to help people who are struggling with addictions of many different kinds, from potentially fatal ones such as smoking and pica to compulsions that are less dangerous but can be socially crippling. They help addicts develop and maintain the confidence and optimism necessary to quit and help them to manage day-to-day difficulties caused by their habits in the meantime.
Law and justice
Inevitably, members of vulnerable populations sometimes find themselves in conflict with the law. Lawyers are appointed to help them where appropriate, but they can only deal with part of the picture. It is the job of social workers to step in and ensure they are being fairly treated and understand what is happening to them.
Social workers support people in prison or juvenile detention and assist with rehabilitation. They help people understand why they are in trouble and how they can modify their behavior to avoid problems in future. They also prevent young people from joining gangs, help people leave gangs and aid habitual criminals in discovering reasons to invest in society and envision more positive futures for themselves.
Sometimes a problem cannot be solved at the individual level, and the most practical way forward is to help a whole community to acquire the resources it needs to tackle endemic problems. This could be anything from getting police to crack down on crime to ensuring that there are enough safe outdoor spaces for children to play, dealing with local pollution issues affecting people’s health, or improving transportation facilities so people can get in and out of their neighborhood to go to work.
Local activists usually take a lead on these issues, but social workers with this specialty step in to provide the benefit of expertise and enable campaigners to make use of their connections, professionalizing campaigns and giving them a better chance of success.
Social work academics identify these categories and determine where work is needed. These individuals continue their education after obtaining their initial social work degree to focus on enriching our collective understanding of the sector and what it has to offer. This is a specialty that other people transition to late in their careers to work on ideas they have developed in the field. This type of work generally means a lot less day-to-day contact with the people whom social work aims to help, but it contributes to their well-being in a different way by improving the quality of service offered to them.
With all these specializations available and ample opportunities to move between them at different stages in your career, there are even more reasons to consider getting into social work.