Which social work careers are in settings that support community development?

Along with local people, social workers design plans that can help meet the needs of a community. These initiatives might involve enhanced healthcare accessibility, improved housing, or increased neighborhood safety. Individual states set the licensing requirements for social workers, so depending on their license type, they might work with entire communities or groups and individuals within communities. These could include families, people who are managing a chronic health condition, young people who are struggling at school, and adults who are experiencing homelessness.

Social workers are part of a growth sector, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects roles in the profession to grow by around 9% by 2031. The prospects are good for anyone who wants to make a difference in their community and is ready to commit to a course of study.

People on the masters in social work online course at Cleveland State University can choose between full-time and part-time routes to fit in with their work and home lives. Students on the course are equipped with the skills they need to serve a range of clients, and on graduation, they are ready to obtain licensure from their home state.

Supporting and empowering communities

Qualified practitioners have many potential career opportunities when choosing a role that impacts the development of communities. They might be employed by government agencies, hospitals, schools, or non-profits, and the exact nature of their work will depend on these settings and what their client group needs. Supporting communities is about assisting individuals to consider the issues that concern them and other residents, then helping them to organize and take collective action. Practitioners in this field strive to inspire members of the community, provide them with the resources they need, and, in doing so, establish more robust and connected areas. Social workers take a generalist approach in which collective action is informed by the resident’s human rights, social justice, and independence.

Rather than social workers leading from the front, they nurture situations in which the people who live in the community are put forward as the managers of change. The resident’s knowledge and experiences are considered vital when choosing issues to campaign around and the actions that will be taken. Community members are also at the forefront of evaluating whether the process was a success or if further work needs to be done.

In various roles and specialties, social workers engage with community development to achieve a range of positive results. These could include outcomes beneficial to individuals, small groups within the community, or the community as a whole. During this process, it is often the case that certain people will grow, learn, and develop as leaders. It is encouraged by social workers as a step towards making communities more self-sufficient and less likely to need their assistance in the future. In this way, even the most modest of initiatives can accomplish wide-ranging long-term goals, including the formation of safer, healthier, more engaged, and more cohesive neighborhoods.

How do social workers encourage people to participate in change?

Social workers have several responsibilities when they are nurturing community growth. These include establishing the issues that are important to their clients, finding useful resources, connecting these with clients, and following up on the progress of these collaborations. In practical terms, they will often have to advocate for their clients when it comes to securing resources and supporting policy changes, as well as managing their case files.

However, the success of their work depends on engaging with members of the community and people who have leadership roles within the community. For local residents, participation has to be something they commit to. Although it may take time to build a relationship between a practitioner and a community, a solid base ensures that the plans they develop become effective initiatives.

The hallmarks of successful community development involve empowering individuals without societal positions of authority, nurturing diversity, and effectively addressing conflicts that may arise throughout this process. Furthermore, social workers need to tap into the collective wisdom of each person in the group by encouraging debate among informed residents. Finally, to be sure of creating a sustainable initiative that will make a difference for years to come, practitioners need to be sure it suits the community now without negatively impacting future generations.

The different levels of community social work

Social work qualifications set graduates upon a versatile career path on which they will improve social conditions and change their clients’ lives for the better. To organize the diverse roles undertaken by social workers, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has divided the various practices into three sections. These are constructed like a series of layers, with people gaining experience in each in turn to improve and expand their competencies. The system is made up of micro, mezzo, and macro social work; each has its scope of practice, although many social workers move between levels to best support the people they serve. Here’s a closer look at how practitioners at each level can impact community growth.

Micro social work

Social workers who have a master’s degree along with a state-issued clinical social work license can work at the micro level. They often work with clients in schools or as therapists in the community to manage their experiences and issues. This will include connecting people with services that can help them manage substance abuse as well as supporting clients struggling with stress or anxiety. They help people understand their emotions and teach coping skills. By teaching people to care for themselves, social workers enable them to feel empathy for others. Studies show that the ability to empathize drives people to volunteer and help, behaviors that are essential for healthy communities.

Mezzo social work

In mezzo social work, practitioners work as community group leaders, parent educators, and support group counselors. In these roles, practitioners often deal with specific groups within the community, such as the elderly, young people, veterans, or families. A clinical license in social work is often required as they help multiple clients and the systems around each individual, such as their partner, friends, community group, or school. After establishing treatment goals with the client, they will focus their efforts on the individual but include others who form part of the client’s network. Many mezzo social workers are in community advocate roles, which means they recognize and examine common challenges that their clients face as well as those in the wider community. Part of their work will involve helping to support people in these common struggles.

Macro social work

Whatever kind of license a social worker has, they can find employment in macro roles. These posts involve practitioners looking at the bigger picture as they make fundamental changes to society through policy or by bringing resources into the community that will benefit the clients they serve. As such, their focus is on the overarching systems that affect clients. They might carry out research, draft petitions, organize community groups, or publicize legislation. Sometimes they do not work directly with clients, but their work will directly affect communities. Social workers not in the field can learn from their colleagues in micro or mezzo roles or collaborate with other professionals who engage directly with communities.

Social work careers that build, develop, and improve communities

Whether a social worker is a graduate or post-graduate professional, there are many positions in which sustaining communities is their priority or part of their practice.

Social and human service assistant

Social and human service assistant roles are entry-level positions that suit people new to the profession or, in some cases, people who have not yet qualified. Working in shelters, clinics, hospitals, and community centers, they help individual clients in various ways. Often, this will include obtaining assistance through filling out forms, coordinating healthcare, or gaining access to welfare benefits. Occasionally, they are aides to busy senior colleagues with multiple clients; as such, they might specialize in supporting clients who are veterans, have addictions, or have struggling families. Once they have established what the individuals need, they can find services, bring together a package of resources, and create a plan for moving the client’s situation forward. They help tackle key issues such as poverty and homelessness in US communities by getting people to apply for housing assistance or food stamps.

Residential counselor

Residential counselors are social workers with at least a first degree under their belt. They often live in a residential facility while working and act as the head of the household. They ensure the home is well-stocked with supplies, carry out maintenance duties, and create schedules for the resident’s chores. Many will also create and run activities, lead discussions with residents, and give any medication they are legally allowed to, according to their license. While other social workers will manage the cases of the residents in the home, it is the residential counselor who has the most contact with individuals and can act as a liaison point between the two. As well as being supervisors, they have a therapeutic role and ensure that people who have disabilities, mental health problems, or substance abuse issues are cared for. Part of their role is teaching their clients essential life skills, which means that when and if they are ready to leave the facility, they will become productive and valued members of the community.

Gerontology social workers

Bachelor’s-level social workers can choose to specialize in gerontology. They find employment in adult protection services, referral centers, outpatient services, and faith-based agencies. It is often the case that older adults are vulnerable to income insecurity, ill health, and poverty. It can lead to people feeling marginalized from their community, which means neighborhoods lose the benefits of an active elderly population. From passing on their skills and specialist knowledge to providing childcare and volunteering with non-profits, seniors have much to offer. Gerontology social workers support the elderly population by offering mental health counseling that helps people cope with the changes in their health and social status. They can also identify resources, local groups, and services that might be useful for elderly people who want to be more autonomous and play a greater role in their community. In this field, social workers understand that with the right level of support, older residents can be less dependent on their families and remain productive.

Social work case manager

In schools, prisons, and emergency shelters, social work case managers take on roles as coordinators and supervisors. They have earned at least an associate’s degree in social work, though many have a bachelor’s or master’s qualification as well. When they meet clients for the first time, SWCMs start by evaluating what help is needed, drawing up a plan of action, and connecting their clients with any relevant services. Once the pathway has been established, they engage with other professionals, such as counselors, physicians, and teachers, to ensure the client can reach their goals. Some clients will have complex needs that include housing problems, food insecurity, and mental health issues. Social work case managers will advocate on their behalf to ensure the plan remains on track. Their endeavors support the recovery and success of individuals, but the results are also felt at a community level. They ensure more children gain a good level of education, people leaving prison are less likely to re-offend, and those with mental health challenges get appropriate professional care.

Social science research assistant 

Social science research assistants have a degree in social work and are employed in a range of settings, which include academia, consulting firms, social advocacy groups, and local government agencies. The growth of AI and machine learning has led to masses of research data being collected and stored. If processed and analyzed effectively, this information could be useful in formulating policies and programs that benefit communities. SSRAs manage and analyze large databases, then help create presentations and reports using specialist software. They also engage in other forms of scientific research to identify areas of interest that could be relevant to social justice.

Social and community service manager

After earning a bachelor’s degree in social work, practitioners can become social and community service managers, although some employers prefer master’s-level graduates. Many find work in social service companies, non-profits, and government agencies. People in these roles manage and organize a range of programs that are designed to support individuals and the communities they live in. They ensure the required resources are directed to neighborhoods in most need and coordinate public services. Working alongside stakeholders and members of the community, they identify areas of need and then help design and run programs that provide the missing service. Part of their work involves recommending changes to initiatives and ensuring the community is satisfied with the plan that’s in place.

Care coordinator

Social work care coordinators offer a joined-up way of managing the care of patients, the elderly, and other vulnerable people in the community. They help to ensure that nobody falls through the cracks and that residents can navigate their care successfully. When patients are unsure of their diagnosis or are struggling to follow a treatment plan, CCs can step in to provide insight and information. Part of their role involves educating the patient and their family so they better understand the situation. As patients are discharged, CCs connect them with the resources they need to live independently and integrate with the community when they return home.

Child and family social workers

Child and family social workers are degree-level graduates with state licensure; they work for government departments, non-profits, and community groups. Family life can be complex, and sometimes child and family social workers have to step in and offer help. They will assess the situation within a home and offer help as well as practical support. Part of their work will include establishing behavioral changes within the family dynamic that lead to a healthier, safer environment for children to grow up in. Sometimes they have to intervene when the family has experienced a crisis to ensure change happens swiftly. In other cases, they can respond to families who need help with housing or food stamps.

Supporting individuals, groups, and communities across the US

People come to social workers for help when facing a range of everyday problems. Many of these issues come about as a result of changing circumstances; others emerge as a result of wider factors such as health inequity or social injustice. Practitioners in a range of different roles serve individuals and groups, but their work will always have a ripple effect on entire communities. They strive to listen, understand, and help people cope. Over time, this helps improve the client’s quality of life, the way they interact with others, and what they have to offer their neighborhood. Social work has a positive effect on individuals and communities, and as a result, it also impacts society as a whole.