Social Worker Job Description: Duties, Skills and Responsibilities
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Social Worker Job Description
Social workers are caring professionals who, as the bedrock of a social services system, provide individuals, families and groups in difficulty with the support they need to improve their lives.
Social workers operate in a variety of areas, including the family, women’s issues, child support and protection, mental health, alcohol and drug addiction, unemployment, housing, immigration and asylum requests, elderly care, prisons and correctional centres and rehabilitation programmes for ex-offenders.
So, what does a social worker do?
When assigned a new case, a social worker will first examine the needs of the client. Once the client’s needs have been identified, the social worker will explore all of the various avenues available, both internally and through external organizations, to obtain the resources needed to tackle the problem. Social workers frequently collaborate with a range of other public, private and non-profit organizations that work to combat a wide range of social issues.
The job of a social worker can thus be said to have two key elements: an understanding of the needs of the client and the situation in which they find themselves, and a knowledge of the organizations and resources that are available to deal with the problem.
A new case may concern a single individual, a family, a group or a community. The first task of a social worker is to perform an analysis of the situation and to identify and evaluate the client’s specific needs. The subsequent step is to prepare a care plan designed to improve or resolve the situation by putting into place the support and services that best fit those needs.
Social workers mediate between their client and the organizations that may potentially furnish the support required (e.g. public social and healthcare organizations, private bodies, cooperatives and non-profit associations) and work to ensure that those services and resources are made available, as well as to encourage self-help and the assumption of personal responsibility on the part of their clients.
Once a care plan has been put together, the social worker monitors the situation as it develops, intervening to take action as and when necessary, if the measures set out in the plan do not prove effective.
Strong planning and management skills and the ability to keep track of a situation as it unfolds are thus essential attributes, as are negotiation skills and the ability to find a compromise. Working with people in need of social and psychological support and helping them to overcome their problems can be hugely demanding and provides a constant test of a social worker’ skills. The job involves dealing on a regular basis with vulnerable people experiencing complex, stressful, often emotionally distressing situations. In order to successfully cope with the psychological stress such situations can generate, it is vital that social services professionals maintain a healthy degree of separation between their work and their private lives and limit their emotional involvement in the cases to which they are assigned.
Social workers operate in a wide variety of settings, including public social services agencies, hospitals, care homes, schools, substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation centres, residential communities for children, support centres for people with disabilities, social welfare centres and care homes for the elderly.
Since social workers spend a great deal of their time talking to their clients and visiting the centres and facilities they work with, a flexible approach to working hours is an essential requirement of the role.
Social Worker: Responsibilities and Tasks
It isn’t easy to come up with a definitive list of the tasks of a social worker because they practice in so many different settings. However, their main duties will typically include:
- Identifying clients’ needs
- Preparing care plans
- Managing relations with clients and service providers
- Providing support to clients
- Monitoring care plan implementation
- Adapting care plan measures as situation develops
- Building networks of contacts to meet clients’ needs
How to Become Social Worker - Education, Training and Requirements
To become a social worker requires some form of academic training, such as a degree in social sciences or a related field (e.g. psychology or sociology). Also highly valued by potential employers is previous experience in a social care role, including voluntary experience. Depending on the setting, social workers may also be required to have a knowledge of foreign languages, especially if they are working on immigrant integration programmes or in reception centres for asylum seekers.
Finally, in some countries, the law may require social workers to obtain a special license or permit before they are legally entitled to practice.
Social Worker Skills and Qualifications
Job vacancies for social workers typically ask for the following skills and abilities:
- Planning and management skills
- Knowledge of social welfare legislation
- Ability to build relations with clients
- Ability to work as part of a multidisciplinary team
- Listening and communication skills
- Ability to cope well with stress
- Practical, pragmatic mindset and a sense of initiative
Social Worker Career Path
The career path of a social worker can develop in a number of different ways. One option is to attend training courses to gain the specialist skills and qualifications needed to work with a specific group - for example children, the elderly, or people in psychiatric care - or to practice in a specific setting - e.g., hospitals, schools, prisons or in immigration.
The typical career path of a social worker usually involves progression from an operational role to a managerial position. Social workers who show strong organizational skills and the ability to work without supervision and cope well under pressure can expect to be promoted to some kind of coordinating role and, eventually, to position in social services management.
Top Reasons to Work as a Social Worker
Why should you consider working as a social worker?
Social work is an ideal job for anybody who wants to make a difference in people’s lives. As a profession that is extremely involving from a personal perspective, it has the potential, when things go well, to be very rewarding.
However, when things don’t go so well, the sense of failure can have a very negative impact. To deal with the emotional and psychological pressure this places them under, social workers need to be able to separate their private lives and professional lives and approach situations of crisis and emergency with a strong dose of pragmatism and practicality.