Careers in Social Work

Social workers can elect to work with any number of different populations or in a variety of problem areas, as described below.

  • Aging: Social workers assist the elderly and their families, helping them to make decisions about their future, to maintain their independence, and to arrange for services. Employers include: hospitals and long-term care facilities, banks and insurance companies, senior centers, area councils on aging, senior housing facilities, and mental health and family service agencies.
  • Children and Families: Some social workers take on the challenge of intervening when children are physically or sexually abused or neglected, when a family is in trouble, or when parents have problems. Often the social worker's intervention makes a critical difference at a key moment in a child's life. Employers include: adoption agencies, day care centers, foster care agencies, family preservation services, public and private child welfare organizations, and family guidance clinics.
  • Public Welfare: Social workers are primarily the administrators, supervisors, program planners and evaluators of the public welfare system. Some supervise intake and case managers who provide direct services. Employers are government and private social service agencies.
  • School Social Work: Working with other school personnel, social workers help children with physical, emotional, or learning disabilities. They assist children who face child abuse, neglect, family violence, poverty, and divorce, and they work with teenagers on issues of sexuality, suicide, violence, and career planning. When social workers are involved early in a child's life, they can often prevent more serious problems from developing. Employers include schools, special education programs, Head Start centers, family guidance clinics, and early intervention programs.
  • Justice-Corrections: Social workers are found in the courts, rape crisis centers, police departments, and correctional facilities. In correctional facilities, they focus on rehabilitation. In other instances they provide drug and alcohol counseling, job and life skills training, and counseling to help offenders. They also offer support and services to victims of domestic violence.
  • Developmental Disabilities: People with developmental disabilities and their families may require social work services to plan for the future and assist them in improving their functioning and social adjustment. Employers include: community living arrangements, state and local agencies, medical facilities, and schools.
  • Occupational Social Work: Social workers are sometimes employed by corporations and unions to help workers with problems such as addiction, depression, or burdensome family responsibilities. They may provide wellness seminars to staff, help workers plan for retirement, or help a company revise their personnel benefits. Employers include: corporations, employee assistance programs, and unions.
  • Health Care:  Social workers in hospitals, clinics, hospices, and managed care settings assess the social and emotional needs of patients, manage the services required to adjust to an illness, plan for care after hospitalization, and help the patient and their families cope with the personal and emotional problems related to illness. For example, social workers are found in neo-natal intensive care nurseries, agencies serving persons with HIV/AIDS, oncology services, and pediatric and intensive care units.
  • Mental Health: 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. They work as part of a team in mental health agencies or in private practice. They provide individual, group, and family counseling to people who are depressed or addicted, and they may work with the homeless or those suffering with schizophrenia. Employers include: community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment centers, and out-patient programs.

Excerpted from: Choices Make a Difference: Careers in Social Work, National Association of Social Workers, 1993.