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Social Worker Job Description, Career as a Social Worker, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Advanced degree

Salary Median—$34,820 per year

Employment Outlook Excellent

Definition and Nature of the Work

Social workers offer guidance and counseling to people in crisis. Their clients range from the unemployed to children who need foster homes to elderly people who have no one to care for them. They help their clients obtain government funds, education, or treatment. Often they begin legal action in cases of child abuse.

A variety of organizations hire social workers: public welfare agencies, private social service agencies, schools, hospitals, clinics, and recreation and rehabilitation centers. Many work with juvenile courts. A small number are employed as teachers or researchers.

Elderly woman with social worker

Social workers have three techniques for solving problems. Casework requires conferences with individuals and families. They may counsel young people whose parents have died or families who have lost all their possessions in floods or other disasters. Group work brings together people who have problems in common, such as unwed mothers. Social workers help them solve those problems through discussions and well-planned activities. Community organization work usually has specific goals—finding jobs for idle high school students, for example.

Psychiatric social workers, who may work for the same agencies as other social workers, put more emphasis on psychological problems. They are usually supervised by psychiatrists or psychologists.

Education and Training Requirements

For most positions, master's degrees in social work are required, although a limited number of jobs are available for those with bachelor's degrees. Social workers who teach or do research generally hold doctorates.

Social workers usually major in sociology, psychology, or another social science and take courses in related fields, such as economics, child studies, education, and political science. Graduate study often covers human growth and development, social welfare policies, and methods of social work. Most graduate schools offer work-study programs that give students experience in agencies, hospitals, or schools.

Requirements for licensing, certification, or registration vary from state to state. Beginning social workers generally learn from experienced workers for the first few months on the job. After two years of supervised work, they may be eligible for membership in the Academy of Certified Social Workers, which is administered by the National Association of Social Workers. Membership is not required, but it is prestigious. Social workers with master's degrees may be eligible for such credentials as the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW), Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW), or Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW). Some health insurance providers require social workers in private practice to have these credentials.

Psychiatric social workers must have master's degrees in psychiatric social work. A good part of their graduate training is fieldwork supervised by clinical psychologists.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can apply directly to social service agencies, schools, and hospitals. School placement offices, private employment agencies, professional associations and journals, newspaper classified ads, and job banks on the Internet may offer employment listings. Social workers who wish to work for government agencies must take civil service examinations. Many students make job contacts during fieldwork for college courses.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Experienced social workers who have master's degrees may become senior caseworkers, case supervisors, or chief social workers. They may also be promoted to administrative positions. Those holding doctorates may become university professors or researchers.

Employment of social workers is expected to grow much faster than the average for all jobs through 2014. While new positions depend on funding, openings often occur because experienced workers retire or leave the field. Competition for jobs may be stiff in major metropolitan areas.

Working Conditions

Cities, suburbs, and rural areas all need social workers in schools, hospitals, offices, agencies, jails, and courts. While social work is generally challenging and fulfilling, at times it can be quite frustrating and emotionally draining. Many people are afraid to share their problems, and some cases may be difficult to handle. Social workers must be mature, sensitive people who can deal with disappointment, frustration, and stress.

Social workers usually work thirty-five to forty hours per week, but overtime may be required to meet with clients, attend community meetings, and handle emergencies. They generally receive compensatory time off for extra hours worked.

Where to Go for More Information

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
1625 L St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 429-1000

National Association of Social Workers
750 First St. NE, Ste. 700
Washington, DC 20002-4241
(202) 408-8600

School Social Worker Association of America
PO Box 2072
Northlake, IL 60164
(847) 289-4642

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary, depending on education, experience, and location. In 2004 the median salary of all social workers was $34,820 per year. The most experienced workers earned more than $57,860 per year. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service