Social Work Professions: Summary of the Social Worker Fields

Oct 07, 2019

Social workers can choose to specialize and focus in a specific area of social work. Some opt to work as a child and family social worker, while others pursue a career as a healthcare social worker. Social workers may also choose to concentrate on working in the field of mental health and substance abuse.

Essential Information

Social workers better the lives of children and adults by helping them find assistance and care if their current living situation isn't adequate for them to flourish. Children who are faced with life-threatening situations are a high priority for social workers. Students looking to get into this career field typically must earn a bachelor's degree, but there are higher paying positions for those who earn advanced degrees in social work. Additionally, social workers must obtain state licenses to practice.

Career Child and Family Social Worker Public Health Social Worker Substance Abuse Social Worker
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Licensure required Licensure required Licensure required
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 7% 17% 18%
Mean Salary (2018)* $49,760 annually $58,470 annually $49,630 annually

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

A career in social work can be very rewarding, as it gives students the chance to really make a difference in people's lives. Below are overviews and descriptions of three possible career options for social work graduates.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

These social workers provide services to children and their support systems. Some may work with families to ensure that children are properly cared for through services like daycare, foster care, and adoptions. School social workers work with students, their parents, and school personnel to create an environment that allows children to reach their potential. The issues a school social worker may handle can vary depending on the age of the students they work with.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of child, family, and school social workers was expected to increase about 7% from 2018-2028. The increases in job opportunities are due to the growing enrollments in schools and the need to help disadvantaged children. In addition to schools, government organizations and family services are major employers. Budgetary short-comings could hinder opportunities with governmental organizations. In May 2018, the BLS reported that the mean annual salary for child, family, and school social workers was $49,760. Of the major employers, elementary and secondary schools paid the highest annual wages, followed by other schools and instruction.

Medical and Public Health Social Workers

This branch of social work concerns individuals who are facing serious illnesses or are in need of special care. These social workers may be employed by hospitals and can interact with doctors, nurses, and hospice workers. These professionals get sick and disabled people the services they need such as at-home care or treatment referrals. Some may choose to specialize with a specific population, such as the elderly.

The BLS stated that employment for healthcare social workers was expected to grow much faster than average by 17% from 2018-2028. The growing elderly population is a major reason for the projected job growth. Facilities that service senior citizens and their families will be a major source of job opportunities. According to the BLS in May 2018, healthcare social workers made a mean salary of $58,470 annually. Of the major employers, scientific research and development services paid the highest wages.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Social workers in the mental health and substance abuse areas provide intervention, outreach, and therapeutic services to individuals with these problems. They can help individuals who've been in treatment readjust once they leave a facility. Mental health and substance abuse social workers may be self-employed. They can work with professionals in the therapeutic services, including psychologists and substance abuse counselors.

The BLS stated that employment for mental health and substance abuse social workers was expected to increase 18% from 2018-2028. Opportunities are due in part to the increasing number of substance abusers being placed in treatment rather than prison and the necessity to provide counseling services to them once they have reentered society. In May 2018, the BLS indicated that the mean annual earnings for a social worker in the mental health and substance abuse field were $49,630. Of the major employers, health practitioners' offices, elementary and secondary schools, and home health care services paid the most.

Child and family social workers focus on counseling children and families. Mental health and substance abuse social workers work with individuals who may have mental health issues or an addiction, and healthcare social workers concentrate on individuals who may be affected by illness or injury. Steady job growth is expected for all areas of social work from 2018-2028, and average salaries ranged from the high-$40,000s to the high-$50,000s in 2018.

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