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EXPLORE BECOMING A SOCIAL WORKER
What is it like to be a social worker?

Social workers help people overcome problems and make their lives better. They might work with people who are homeless, sick, or having family problems. Or they might help students who are having trouble in school.

One of the ways social workers help is by finding resources for people. For a person with family difficulties, social workers might find a parenting class or support group. For a homeless person, they might find a place to live and a career training program. For a student, they might find a mentor or a learning disability expert.

Some social workers set up resources like these. They research what kinds of help people need. Then, they set up programs to give that help. They might focus on child abuse, poverty, violence, and other problems.

Many social workers give counseling. They talk to people about their lives and help them to understand and solve their problems and to make plans.

There are three main types of social work.

Child, family, and school social workers. Some of these workers find foster homes for abused or neglected children. They also help parents learn how to care for children better. Other social workers help with adoptions. Social workers in schools give students and teachers advice about learning problems, behavior problems, and social problems, like bullying or shyness. Other social workers help elderly people and their families.

Medical and public health social workers. These workers help people who are sick or who have health problems for a long time. They give advice to people and their families about how to deal with being sick. They also find services to help, such as nutrition classes or nursing care.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers. These workers are sometimes called clinical social workers. They help people with mental illness, upset feelings, or drug or alcohol abuse. They might give talk therapy-talking with people in order to identify their problems and find ways they can get better. They might also reach out to the community-finding people who have problems and offering help. Some of these workers teach classes about how to make a budget, deal with anger, or get other life skills.

No matter their focus, most social workers spend the day in an office. Some travel to the people they help. Sometimes, they meet with people in the evening or on weekends. Many social workers have their own businesses.

Many social workers like their work. But it can be hard to deal with people who are upset or having trouble. Sometimes, social workers are very busy because they are helping many people at once.

How do you get ready to be a social worker?

Nearly all social workers go to college. They earn at least a bachelor's degree, which usually takes 4 years. Many social workers also need a master's degree to get the jobs they want. A master's degree usually takes 1 or 2 more years of school. Some people stay in school longer to earn a doctorate degree.

In college, social workers learn different ways to help people. They also take social studies classes, including psychology (how and why people act and feel the way they do), sociology (how people act when they are in a group and problems groups have), economics (how people get and use resources and how economies work), and ethics (how people decide what is right and wrong). Students also learn by watching experienced social workers.

Before they can get a job, social workers need a license, certification, or registration. The rules for getting these things depend on the State where the worker lives. Workers can also get a certification from The National Association of Social Workers. This certification makes it easier to get some jobs.

Students can start getting ready by taking social studies classes. They can also join peer mentoring programs and other volunteer programs.

How much does a social worker get paid?

The majority of social workers are child, family, and school social workers. The middle half of child, family, and school social workers made between $26,310 and $42,940 in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent made less than $21,270. The highest-paid 10 percent made more than $54,250.

How many jobs are there?

There were about 477,000 social worker jobs in 2002. About 4 out of 10 jobs were in State or local government agencies. Most private sector jobs were in involved with health care or social assistance.

What about the future?

Between 2002 and 2012, jobs for social workers are expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. Jobs working with older people will grow especially fast because there will be more people who are old and need help. Jobs helping people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol will also grow quickly. Jobs in schools will grow because there will be more students with special needs. Jobs in hospitals will grow, too, but not as fast as jobs in other places.

In cities, competition for jobs might be strong. It might be easier to find jobs in rural places.

Are there other jobs like this?

  • Clergy
  • Counselors
  • Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists
  • Psychologists
  • Social and human services assistants
Where can you find more information?

More information about social workers can be found in the Careers Database.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics



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