10 Surprising Things You Didn't Know About Social Workers

Blog

Why Social Work? 

Social work has been ever growing since 1898, and

Social work has been ever growing since 1898, and millions of people have been able to leverage their professional skills to support people to work towards a better-quality life.

If you are considering pursuing social work, it will be useful to familiarise yourself with the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics (NASW) which sets out values social workers should aspire to have.

Video

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • patience and the ability to remain calm in a crisis
  • resilience
  • flexibility to adapt to new roles, tasks and situations
  • initiative
  • strong observation, analytical and listening skills
  • the capacity to absorb legal and procedural information
  • the ability to negotiate, mediate and interpret on behalf of service users
  • good organisational skills to work autonomously and plan meetings for a caseload of clients.

Empathy combined with a genuine desire to improve the quality of the lives of service users is essential, as is the ability to think on your feet and make difficult decisions under pressure. An interest or participation in some aspect of your local community is useful. General administrative skills are also needed.

‘Social work is striving towards making the world a better world’

Rony Alfandary, social worker and academic at Bar-Ilan University, Israel

Rony Alfandary: ‘In Israel, social work represents a wide culture; you can’t just improve the fate of individuals.’

I qualified as a social worker in England in 1992. I chose this career after years of working as a counsellor and a photographer. I did lots of projects with people with disabilities, and became more and more interested in actually doing the work with people who needed help and support. And I thought social work would be a good profession; it can be applied in many different circumstances, it’s international, and it’s striving towards making the world a better world. This was more than 20 years ago, and I still believe that.

I moved back to Israel in 1993, after having grown up there. I believed the country was heading towards a big change, and wanted to work with the Israeli and Palestinian communities. And my family is Israeli and Jewish, so I wanted to contribute my abilities to that part of the community.

Israel is a young country, and it’s very diverse. We have people here from a hundred different communities and it’s fascinating living in such a multicultural society. It is a state which is still in a state of war with most of its surrounding countries, and there are at least two nations residing on the same part of land. I’m part of the community that believes this can be resolved peacefully. It’s a great challenge, because the reality is very often cruel and unsatisfying. But I think one has to persevere and teach and remain faithful to an inner belief that things can be changed. As a social worker, I work with all those communities and I have to adjust myself culturally to be able to understand and be empathic to those differences.

Social work is really a very wide practice, and some of the practice is dealing with just individuals. But in Israel social work represents a wide culture; you can’t just improve the fate of individuals. You have to think in larger terms.

Social Worker Salary

A social worker's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and area of expertise. Here's the breakdown for the job category as a whole:

  • Median Annual Salary: $50,470
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $82,540
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $31,790

What do you need to get started in social work?

Please note that each University has their own uni

Please note that each University has their own unique entry requirements but you will need to have three A-Levels or equivalent level 3 qualifications, and five supporting GCSE’s including English, maths and science.

Some Universities may accept qualifications such as a HND, NVQ or health and social care access course.

I already had a degree in Communities and Development, as a result, I did a two-year master’s degree in social work.

If you already have a degree, you can choose this same route or apply for a fast track training route such as Think Ahead, Frontline or Step Up to Social Work.

Before making my application, I volunteered at a children’s centre and a nursing home.

I found this experience very useful in deciding to choose social work as a career.

You could also gain this experience from your personal life or through your work place depending on the job you do.

Responsibilities

Many social workers work with young people and their families. You might also work with the following groups:

  • the elderly
  • people with learning and physical disabilities
  • young offenders
  • people with mental health conditions
  • school non-attenders
  • drug and alcohol abusers
  • the homeless.

Government legislation focusing on the integration of health and social work services means that social workers often work in multidisciplinary teams.

Tasks typically involve:

  • conducting interviews with individuals and families to assess and review their situation
  • undertaking and writing up assessments (sometimes in collaboration with other professionals), which meet specified standards and timescales
  • offering information and support
  • organising and managing packages of support to enable people to lead the fullest lives possible
  • recommending and sometimes making decisions about the best course of action for a particular person or family
  • liaising with, and making referrals to, other agencies
  • participating in multidisciplinary teams and meetings regarding, for example, child protection or mental health
  • maintaining accurate records and preparing reports for legal action
  • giving evidence in court
  • participating in training, supervision and team meetings.

You can find out more about a career in social work by visiting Skills for Care, the sector skills council for health and social care professions.

Work Environment

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of all social workers are employed as child, family, and school social workers, a trend that is projected to continue through 2028.

Government agencies employ another three out of every ten social workers at the state and local levels. Professionals who work in government positions might conduct child welfare assessments, help individuals in need of public assistance, and work with people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Interview with a Non-Clinical Social Worker

What does a typical day in your profession look like?

Mostly in the office, approached many times during the day by five social workers who want to discuss their clients and their case management of clients. I give advice and feedback and my own point of view and make suggestions. I record and find data I review their work. I answer phone calls from stressed clients, hoping to get some sort of assistance. I speak to people from the community about government services availability.

What do you enjoy most about social work?

I enjoy the ability to assist people who are in need. I enjoy using my influence to get social workers to see things differently. I am able to form long term associations and friendships with coworkers. Good hours, decent environment, good benefits.

What do you find challenging about social work?

There is not a lot of creativity. It is a bit repetitive.

What personal characteristics do successful people in your career field possess?

They are organized, intelligent, able to empathize, and nonjudgemental.

5. What advice would you give others who are interested in pursuing your profession?

To get a master’s degree in social work after they are sure they like the field and then to read and stay educated about the field.

Specialty Areas

Medical and Public Health Social Workers

Those who specialize in medical or public health social work offer psychosocial services to individuals, families, and groups who are affected by acute, chronic, and terminal illnesses. These services might involve providing psychological counseling, connecting clients with resources in the community, and helping families who are caring for a sick loved one.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

Child, family, and school social workers work with children and families. Some work in school settings to help children with academic, social, and emotional issues. Others may work with foster children, help arrange adoptions, and assist single parents.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Mental health and substance abuse social workers assess and treat individuals suffering from mental health problems or addiction and substance abuse issues. Social workers in this specialty area may provide crisis counseling, individual therapy, group therapy, skills education, and psychosocial rehabilitation services.

Are you suited to be a social worker?

Social workers have distinct personalities. They tend to be artistic individuals, which means they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive. They are unstructured, original, nonconforming, and innovative. Some of them are also social, meaning they’re kind, generous, cooperative, patient, caring, helpful, empathetic, tactful, and friendly.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if social worker is one of your top career matches.

Take the free test now Learn more about the career test

‘Some of the best social work I’ve done has been in the aftermath of horrible plane crashes, helping people to rebuild their lives’

John Weaver, mental health social worker, US

I first went to college thinking I would become an English or maths teacher, but on the first day they told me there was a glut of teachers in the US at that time. I started to take psychology classes, enjoyed it and ended up majoring in it. And then I decided I’d rather get a graduate degree in social work than psychology, because it was a shorter path to being a clinician.

I’d never had any experience with social work, but when I was growing up my dad was dealing with serious mental illness. So I was familiar with what he was going through, and having grown up with that I thought it might be good to help people who are struggling to cope with, and help, a family member who has mental health issues.

Most people in the US think of a social worker as somebody who takes away a child who’s been abused or neglected in some way. And so in media portrayals, it’s pretty negative about social workers. But it’s also negative in the mental health field, there’s a lot of stigma around mental illness. So I thought being a social worker I could advocate and educate around those issues and try to change some of the public perceptions.

I’ve always worked in the mental health field, and I realised in the 1990s that I liked crisis work, so nights and weekends I would often be on call and work with people who were suicidal or threatening others. And then I started doing disaster work with the Red Cross; initially it was supporting people after fires and floods and things like that, but the third major disaster I helped them with was a US air plane crash. And after that I became a mass casualty person, so I’ve been associated with a lot of the major plane crashes that have happened in the years since then. I think some of the best social work I’ve done has been in the aftermath of some of those horrible plane crashes, just to support families and friends of folk who were lost in those kind of events, and help them get started on the road to rebuilding their lives.

John Weaver was recently featured in a film about secondary traumatic stress, Portraits of Professional Caregivers: Their Passion Their Pain. His blog about disaster mental health is Eye of the Storm.

Work Schedule

Most jobs are full-time and sometimes include work on weekends, evenings, and holidays. Some social workers are also required to be on call sometimes.

How to Get the Job Write a Standout Resume Review resume-writing tips for social workers and look at sample resumes to ensure you include everything you need. Apply Start by searching sites with job listings that are specific to the social work field, such as the National Association of Social Workers career site. Prepare for Interviews Ahead of your interviews, you can prepare by reviewing lists of interview questions for social workers.

Disadvantages of Being a Social Worker

  1. Social work can be stressful
  2. Emotional burden
  3. Many social workers cannot unplug from their work
  4. You see the worst of people
  5. Social work is not always safe
  6. You often have to walk into unknown situations
  7. Some people can’t deal with the high level of responsibility
  8. You will not make a fortune
  9. Some people will be difficult to deal with
  10. You will often expect the worst while hoping for the best
  11. You may get sued
  12. Social workers can’t help everyone
  13. Bureaucracy can be a problem
  14. Being a social worker often means having a flexible schedule
  15. Social workers often work long hours
  16. Can be hard in case people just don’t want your help
  17. You may need a license for being a social worker
  18. Feeling of helplessness
  19. You will worry about your clients
  20. Social workers often have too many clients

Social work can be stressful

Apart from the numerous advantages of being a social worker, there are also some issues related to it.

For instance, one problem with being a social worker is that it can simply be quite stressful.

You will have to deal with many difficult situations and especially if you are a rather sensitive person, you may not be able to deal with what you see.

In fact, many social workers are not able to deal with stress in a proper manner and may even develop mental issues due to that.

Emotional burden

In general, the emotional burden social workers have is significant and depending on where you will work, you may have a hard time processing all the experiences you will make.

Life can be hard and experiencing those issues can really break people.

Hence, before deciding for a career in social work, make sure that you really have the stomach to see the hardest sides life has to offer for us.

Many social workers cannot unplug from their work

Another disadvantage of being a social worker is that many social workers simply cannot unplug from their work.

In fact, it is quite hard to unplug from your work if you always have to think about the tragic destinies of your clients.

Consequently, before becoming a social worker, make sure that you have the mental strength to just forget about difficult situations for a while.

Otherwise, chances are that you will experience serious sleeping problems since you will think about the problems of your clients all night long.

You see the worst of people

Especially if you still have a rather naïve view of the world, social work can really shock you since you will just see the worst characteristics of people sooner or later.

In fact, you will probably be shocked by what people are really capable of in certain situations and seeing all of this in person can really push you to your boundaries.

Therefore, by being a social worker, you will also lose your illusions and will see the world in its rawest form.

Social work is not always safe

Depending on where you work as a social worker, you may also not be safe.

For instance, if you work on the streets and help homeless people or drug addicts, your chances of getting robbed or attacked will be significantly higher compared to just working in a normal hospital.

Thus, be prepared that you might have to work under relatively unsafe conditions before you decide to become a social worker.

You often have to walk into unknown situations

Social workers never exactly know how their day will look like.

While some people love this high level of insecurity and find it quite interesting, others don’t like uncertainty at all and rather want to know exactly what they walk into.

If you belong to the second category who rather wants to have a fixed plan instead of changing plans quite frequently, social work may also not be the way to go for you.

Some people can’t deal with the high level of responsibility

While some people love to have high levels of responsibility and really want to make an impact on the lives of other people, others just don’t want to have this burden.

In fact, it can be emotionally difficult to know that the well-being of whole families might depend on your decisions.

Consequently, if you are the type of person who doesn’t want to take on high levels of responsibility, becoming a social worker may not be the right way to go.

You will not make a fortune

Another downside of being a social worker is that you will also not become rich.

Sure, you could earn pretty good money from your job.

However, compared to working in consulting or banking, your salary will be rather limited in social professions.

Thus, if you want to get wealthy or even want to become a millionaire for some reason, becoming a social worker will likely not bring you closer to this goal and you might want to search for other professions instead.

Some people will be difficult to deal with

While many people will be quite thankful for what you do for them, other people may be rather difficult to deal with.

Some people who experience difficult times in their lives are just quite frustrated and will not value your help that much.

Therefore, you will experience times where you put in plenty of work for a client without getting any reward from this client at all.

You will often expect the worst while hoping for the best

Due to the high level of insecurity related to being a social worker, you will often just have to hope for the best.

In fact, you will often only have limited control over what people are doing and you will often expect pretty bad things to happen while you know you could not save those people at the same time.

This limited power and the high level of insecurity can really eat you up if you don’t have the stomach for it.

You may get sued

You may even get sued due to your career as social worker.

Especially if you have to deal with mentally sick persons who often have a completely flawed picture of reality, chances are that those people might accuse you of several things sooner or later.

In turn, you may even lose your job, even though you did nothing wrong at all.

Social workers can’t help everyone

Before you become a social worker, you should also realize that you will not be able to help everyone.

In fact, there will be clients who just have so many different problems that they simply will not get out of their mess.

Thus, don’t expect that you will help everyone around you.

In some cases, you will just have to accept that some situations are simply too difficult and overwhelming.

Bureaucracy can be a problem

Another issue of being a social working is that you will also have to deal with significant levels of bureaucracy.

In fact, many people underestimate how much paperwork social workers have to do every day and if you don’t like paperwork at all, chances are that you should watch out for a different occupation.

Being a social worker often means having a flexible schedule

You will also often not have a fixed schedule in social work.

Quite often, your schedule will change and therefore, you will have to be quite flexible in this regard.

Especially if you have children, this may be quite hard since you will have to pick up your kids from work at a certain time and if your schedule from social work conflicts with those times, you have to organize someone who picks up your kids for you.

Social workers often work long hours

Depending on the respective field you work as a social worker, you may also have to work quite long hours.

In fact, one workday could be 12 hours + and in case of a certain emergency, it might be even longer.

Hence, don’t think social work is easy. It requires a high level of dedication and commitment.

Can be hard in case people just don’t want your help

Some people also just don’t want your help.

This can be emotionally hard, especially if you know you could help those people but they are simply not willing to take your help.

Thus, be prepared that you will simply not be able to help everyone.

You may need a license for being a social worker

In some states, you will also need a license to become a social worker.

There are often also some minimum educational requirements that you have to meet for becoming a social worker.

This could mean that you have to go back to school for a while to fulfill those requirements before you can become a social worker.

Feeling of helplessness

As a social worker, you will also experience really difficult situations from time to time and if you don’t have the emotional stability to deal with those problems, chances are that you will feel quite helpless.

In turn, this may also make you quite sad in case you just don’t know how to help people out of their misery.

You will worry about your clients

Social work is also mentally demanding since you will often have to worry about your clients.

This may lead to a state where you worry all day long, not only during your workday but also later at home.

In turn, this can also adversely affect your mood and your overall quality of life.

Social workers often have too many clients

Another problem with social work is that social workers often simply have too many clients.

In turn, they will not be able to spend enough time with each person and some clients will just be left behind.

Social Worker Salary And Eligibility

Social Worker Salary And Eligibility

Being a social worker is a rewarding job itself but one can also earn a pretty good sum of the amount while helping others. In the US a social worker earns nearly an average of $47,980 per year or $23.07 per hour with a little experience in the field.

The growth rate in this field is higher than any other comparable field. The demand for the social worker is likely to be increasing within 5 years.

Jobs in mental health and substance abuse and other parts of social work likely to be increased with 16% by 2026 for people with a masters degree in social work. Although to become a social worker you only need a bachelor’s degree in social work but to become a clinical social worker you have complete master’s degree and at least 2 years of post-masters experience in a supervised clinical setting.

Go On, Tell Us What You Think!

Did we miss something?  Come on! Tell us what you think about our article on what does a social worker do in the comments section.

Rahul Bhadana From New Delhi, a startup marketing analyst who loves to spend times with a book in his hand.

Tags