We live in a world full of injustice, and constantly have to tackle pressing and complex issues. Social workers are more needed than ever in our society, but often play a background role. Their impact on society as a whole is often forgotten, and the discipline doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
Social workers are dedicated to making actual change at the ground level, and help both communities and individuals in need. They help former inmates find a new place in society. They help struggling families, and victims of abuse. And, they’re at the frontline of the opioid epidemic that is ravaging North America at the moment. Let’s take a look at why social work is so important in this day and age, and what can be done to raise awareness about it.
What do Social Workers do Exactly?
A lot of people may not have a clear understanding of what social workers do. In a broad sense, the goal of social workers is to work with vulnerable populations and relieve suffering while providing assistance and guidance. In some cases, a social worker might be the only resource in someone’s life, like is too often the case with people suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, or the homeless.
Some of the responsibilities of a social worker are:
- Providing crisis intervention
- Involving clients in beneficial activities
- Gathering specific and relevant information about clients
- Watching for signs of abuse
- Connecting and referring clients to appropriate resources
- Helping clients develop coping skills
- Providing counselling and psychotherapy
The Importance of Social Work
The role of social work is to promote well being and help people fulfil their basic needs, especially those who are oppressed, marginalised, or living in poverty. A defining and historic feature of the profession is to help the development of the individual and the society as a whole. A fundamental aspect of social work is to also look at the individual’s environment, and how it can contribute or create problems in living.
“Social work is a very broad field and offers a wide variety of roles and settings for people who are dedicated to helping those in need,” said clinical social worker and consultant Sandra A. López. “This may sound biased, but I can’t think of too many professions that are as centered on addressing people’s needs throughout their lifecycle, and in so many diverse ways.”
She added that social workers have to wear multiple hats at once. They may work as a therapist one day, and as a victim’s advocate the next. They may have to work as policymakers, do some activist work, or do some mentoring. But even if they have to work in diverse roles, all social workers work together in one unit to tackle the same core issues.
Social Workers are More Present than Many Think
Many people are also unaware of the scope of their work, and in how many fields social workers are involved. Social workers can work in virtually any realm of society, including:
- Mental health clinics
- Private practice
- The military
- Public agencies
Their unique and well rounded set of skills allows them to work anywhere people are in need. They might be asked to work as counsellors in school, or help devise programs to lower dropout rates. They might work as wellness officers in companies. They might deal with military personnel facing trauma, or veterans dealing with substance abuse. They play a crucial role at almost every level, but are so many times forgotten.
The Social Work Shortage
There is also a huge shortage of qualified social workers all over North America. In Canada, the demand for social workers outstrips the supply. The situation is especially critical in the foster system, and in populations located in underpopulated territories.
There is also a great need for social workers coming from aboriginal communities. Many people in these communities feel like social workers have a cultural bias against them, which causes many to distrust them. Many aboriginal social workers stated that there needs to be help specifically when it comes to child welfare issues, and that only aboriginal workers can truly understand the trauma some of the parents who went through the residential school system had to go through.
“They are needed, as they have living knowledge of the indigenous journey,” said Terena Hunt, ex social worker and member of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation. “Only they can assist indigenous families through their own journey.”
However, many obstacles are making it difficult for people from remote regions to get the formation and qualifications needed. Online learning could provide a solution.
Schools like Wilfrid Laurier University, for instance, enable students to get a master’s degree in social work completely online. These courses also accept students with a bachelor in a field that is outside of social work. Wilfrid Laurier University’s program is one of the most respected in the country and upon graduation, graduates can move into a wide variety of roles such as family counselor, mental health clinician, and mental health specialist.
Why More Should Consider a Career in Social Service
More has to be done to promote social work positions as well. Social work is one of the professions that reports the highest satisfaction rate, and is one of the most fulfilling career paths anyone can embark upon.
“I love doing social work,” says social worker and psychotherapist Paul Inglizian. “It’s an honour to be able to help people reach success. For every family, child and adult that we help, we help transform whole communities, and create a healthier foundation for future generations.”
More has to be done to value the role social workers play in our society. It starts with more education, and continues by raising awareness about issues affecting society’s most vulnerable members. It’s also about shifting towards a culture of compassion, and understanding how supporting, guiding, and investing in populations in need benefits us all.