How social workers strengthen individuals, families, and communities

social workers

There are many times when a helping hand can make a big difference to a situation or a certain period of your life when things change mentally or physically. That help may come from a partner, friend, or family member. However, when the help we need is more substantial, it could mean getting support and solutions from a professional social worker.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics sums up this complex job role succinctly as someone who helps people “prevent and cope with problems in their everyday lives.” The fact is that increasing numbers of social workers are needed to fulfill this fundamental task in a diverse range of work environments and situations. This is leading to higher-than-average growth in the job outlook for social workers and 63,800 posts each year.

Why are social workers so vital, and how are they helping people in your community to ‘prevent and cope with problems’?

Help at times of major change or challenge

Do you ever feel overwhelmed and as if aspects of your life are out of your control? You certainly wouldn’t be alone in this, not least, as the pace of life and events on a national and international platform can be deeply unsettling. One survey in the U.S. reported that around 75% of people felt impacted by stress in the previous month.

If that stress is due to problems such as a relationship breakdown, trauma, severe poverty, or a chronic health condition for example, then moving forwards can seem impossible. This is when a social worker could get involved.

Each social worker has multiple individuals, families, or groups to support. However, they tend to specialize in one difficulty and need. For example, it could be working with offenders on their rehabilitation and reintegration or helping the elderly to access specialist services.

Often the social worker acts as a facilitator, connecting their clients to other organizations and professionals who can help them. They also act as an advocate, communicating with others who may be able to provide practical, emotional, health-related, or financial assistance. 

Remember, too, that a social worker would provide insights on how to self-manage improvements and positive steps forward.

Integrating non-nationals

One illustration of how a social worker can help an individual or family to overcome barriers is if they are foreign nationals settling into a new community. Or maybe they have lived in their neighborhood for a while but are socially isolated and struggling with practical things due to language or cultural barriers.

A social worker could either provide bilingual help and support themselves or find a translator to assist. This would ensure that the needs and wishes of the individual or family are thoroughly assessed and that they are then guided towards robust and sustainable solutions.

What form this help takes can be highly diverse, including ensuring that benefits and health care needs are met for non-native speakers or, indeed, second-generation immigrants who feel disadvantaged in some way.

Lives in crisis

Clearly, social workers don’t simply deal with a few small challenges for each of their service users or clients. They are tasked with looking at the bigger picture and what each person or family needs to make positive changes.

That can include making a big difference to individuals and families facing a major crisis, such as when children are taken into care due to parental substance misuse or when someone is struggling due to a significant mental illness.

Being able to assess needs such as this – and reconcile ethical and professional duties – can be extremely demanding. The social worker would also need to create a realistic and achievable plan for problem-solving. That requires a unique combination of both personal and professional skills used in social work.

Possibly, the biggest personal attribute they lean on is empathy. This helps service users or clients to feel comfortable and listened to, and it’s vital for social workers to earn the trust from the people they are working to support.

How do you enhance your soft skills at the same time as learning the professional skills and knowledge required to help people tackle often substantial challenges? The answer could be to enroll in an MSW advanced track online program. Keuka College’s online Master of Social Work degree uses a strong combination of study and clinical experience to help students to gain competence and confidence as social workers. This includes demonstrating the best ways to help navigate emotional and other behavioral issues, but also the skills needed to assess, diagnose, treat, and prevent mental illness.

Dismantling barriers to community engagement

Social workers often help their service users or clients to engage more with their local community. Everyone has a right to be able to access the services provided in their neighborhood, including public buildings such as libraries, health services, places of worship, transport, and leisure provision.

If someone is being held back from enjoying what their community provides due to disabilities or chronic health conditions, then a social worker can find specialist solutions, including grants and aids.  They can also work with individuals to explore how to engage with employment better, such as advocating reasonable adjustments with an existing employer to take account of disabilities and health issues.

The importance of social workers

This article is only skimming the surface of what social workers do across the U.S. in various settings and specialties, including hospitals, prisons, schools, and care homes. All to help individuals and create a healthier and more integrated community.

If it is a career that has touched your life or one you are considering, it’s important to ask questions, as natural curiosity can help to shape new experiences and knowledge.

However, if you want a quick overview of the value of social workers, then the National Association of Social Workers refers to this profession as being one to “enhance human well-being and help meet basic and complex needs of all people, with a particular focus on those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”

If you want to relieve suffering and help people make positive changes and steps forward, then being a social worker could be your ideal job role.

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