All humans need some extra support sometimes in their lives, whether it’s someone suffering from a physical ailment or having emotional problems. No person is an island. But, who are these people who dedicate their lives to others? Social workers are those unsung heroes who spend their professional lives helping adults, children, and sometimes animals live better lives. They may either be school counselors or child services. But, that is not all they do.
A new role in the 21st century
The role of social workers has transformed in the modern world. Nowadays, social workers play a primary role in societies. They work at the micro and macro level. Sometimes these professionals also develop policies to address challenging national and global issues. Tech-savvy social workers use the latest tools for self-development and awareness programs, and maintain an online presence to increase their reach.
During times of crisis, we all turn to these heroic individuals for support. These highly-trained and qualified people usually have graduate-level degrees in social work and justice. But, their accolades do not limit them to specific areas of community and volunteer work. Instead, their education and experience open up diverse options. Most people think that social workers only work in traditional settings, such as mental health clinics and nursing homes. They are wrong because they have a myopic view of the degree.
So, what can you do with a social work degree besides social work? Most of the skills students learn in social work programs apply to a career in human resources. For example, social workers have excellent communication skills that are valuable in every industry. Similarly, critical thinking skills can help students pursue a thriving career in healthcare.
Now that we understand the value of a social work degree, it is time to look at the bigger picture. Why are social workers essential for a thriving community?
- They help an aging population: The rapidly aging global population is bringing more issues to the forefront. As people live longer lives, they need more complex healthcare services. They are also more vulnerable to degenerative diseases like dementia. Furthermore, fewer people are working and contributing to the economy. These factors strain a crumbling social welfare structure. Nursing homes cannot provide support to a burgeoning population. Geriatrics living under care are at risk of elderly abuse and neglect. Gerontological social workers can bridge the gap in healthcare. They can provide counseling to geriatrics and provide emotional support. Geriatric social workers can also address the issue of elder justice by monitoring retirement homes and hospices.
- A voice for the voiceless: For the past 100 years, social workers have been the voice for vulnerable and disadvantaged masses. They represent people who are weak and helpless in committees. Social workers fight for the rights of oppressed populations and bring policy changes. For example, social welfare laws are built and enforced by the efforts of these courageous people. Social workers tackle challenging issues such as drug addiction, homelessness, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, etc. Sometimes families and individuals fall through the cracks of social welfare schemes and safety nets. That is when social workers come to their rescue and uplift them from a life of hopelessness and despair.
- Help poor people: More than 13.6 percent of Americans live below the poverty line. Eating a warm meal and finding a safe space to sleep is a luxury for these people. They also have to struggle with the issues of malnutrition, unemployment, and sexual abuse. Social workers help poor populations on the macro level by spearheading policy changes. They also help them on a smaller scale through food drives and soup kitchens. Therefore, social workers play a seminal role in the fight against poverty.
- Guide people towards rehabilitation: Social workers help with rehabilitating and recovering patients. They help victims deal with complex issues and guide their families about treatment options. Sometimes patients cannot speak up for themselves. Patients may also find it difficult to adjust to hospital procedures. Social workers step in to act as patient advocates. They open lines of communication and encourage patients to use their strengths. Patient advocates improve patient outcomes and save hospitals money from avoidable litigation.
- Identify child abuse: Children are vulnerable to abuse and neglect. There is an epidemic of child abuse in America. According to Child Help, more than four children die because of abuse every day. These children may suffer physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. These children need help to distance themselves from traumatic situations, which at times might even require distancing them from their parents/guardians. Social workers can assist children living in violent circumstances through education and foster care. They can identify cases of abuse by looking for signs such as poor hygiene, aggressive behavior, and signs of bruises. They may also provide therapy for children and visit families to assess living conditions.
- Fight racial injustice: in 2020, the whole world saw that racism is still an issue in modern society. The pandemic also highlighted the effects of systematic racism when people of color suffered more casualties than any other group. Not only this, there is a disproportionate number of people in detention centers. These figures allude to the fact that the current societal structure is against people of color. Social workers study racial justice and provide solutions to this issue. They beseech legislative bodies to pass laws to address social injustice and oppression. Social workers also offer anti-racism training to individuals and educate them on cultural competence, which is crucial to overcome racial intolerance.
- Mental health care: More than 20 percent of American adults suffer from mental illnesses. Previously mental illnesses were a “death sentence.” Patients were either sent to asylums or incarcerated for crimes they had unknowingly committed. Social workers petitioned to change the way societies treat these patients. They fought an uphill battle to introduce humane laws and regulations to reform the healthcare system. Mental health still carries a stigma in the 21st century. But, social workers are working to help these patients live productive lives.
- Substance Abuse: Before the covid pandemic, there was the U.S opioid epidemic. This epidemic accounts for more than 50,000 deaths per year because of overdoses. Thousands of newborns born to addicted mothers experience withdrawal symptoms in early adolescence. Most of these patients need treatment and unfailing support to overcome addiction. Social workers are helping people suffering from substance abuse by providing support systems and offering counseling services.
- Bridging the gap in healthcare: The pandemic identified several gaps in our healthcare system. The bloated healthcare system cannot provide services during crises. Fortunately, social workers provided in-home services to clients. They helped geriatric patients with activities of daily living. Millions of people lost their livelihood because of COVID-19. Social workers organized food drives to help these people put food on the table. Some social workers worked on public health education and informed the public about physical distancing protocols. Counselors were invaluable support during a global crisis.
In a nutshell, social work is all about helping people. Professional and volunteer social workers empower people to take charge of their lives. Most people suffer because of systemic injustices and abuses. Social workers give these people a helping hand and help them lead fulfilling lives. As the world recovers from a pandemic, social workers will have to work twice as much. They will have to provide innovative solutions to emerging problems. With the right attitude, we can come out of the fog of the past year.