Social workers are responsible for helping those individuals who need intervention and assistance during crises. They are dedicated, hardworking professionals who pour their heart and soul into their communities, their clients and the organizations they represent. When the pandemic lockdown went into effect, the job of a social worker became very challenging. Domestic incidents increased, and the rules of social distancing and masking became a major impediment for the profession. The ability to check on vulnerable individuals like children and the elderly became almost impossible with the restrictions. The use of technology to communicate was in some cases impossible because of the clientele. These champions of the vulnerable had to contact their clients by phone or internet and do their best to help them with their circumstances.
The dedication of social workers the world over is a true boon to the profession. As a career, social work is a rewarding and challenging job that can throw curveballs around every corner, but what exactly do social workers do?
What are social workers?
Social workers advocate for disadvantaged individuals to attain well-being physically, emotionally and spiritually. They are champions for the underdog and tackle serious issues such as domestic violence, unemployment, discrimination, oppression and poverty. A social worker’s job can vary drastically from day to day, where they may be helping an abused woman find shelter and safety, then find themselves assisting an elderly person who is unable to live on their own anymore. Social workers are valued members of society and must go through rigorous training to deal with the public in the way they do. They work in a variety of settings, such as:
- Schools, universities and colleges
- Hospitals and other healthcare organizations
- Local, state and federal government agencies
- Community development and outreach organizations
- Veteran’s Affairs agencies and other military agencies
- County, state and federal courts and prisons
- Counseling agencies
- Self-employed as licensed clinical social workers (LCSW)
The code of ethics followed by social workers in the United States is governed by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), which is a professional organization that provides resources and guidance for all its members. The code defines policies, laws and regulations and provides a guideline of conduct for those in the field. It also sets out guidelines to hold them accountable if the rules are broken. This code is very important in maintaining checks and balances on individuals who work with vulnerable members of the public. It is estimated that this profession will grow by 9% between the years of 2021 and 2031, so a proper foundation of ethical conduct is important with this new generation coming into the field.
The framework of the code of ethics is based on these core values:
- Social justice
- Dignity and worth of the client
- The importance of human relationships
Social workers focus on providing the best in public service and help people who are in need overcome obstacles. Public service is a cornerstone of social work and must be elevated beyond an individual’s personal needs and desires. Social workers believe in this principle so strongly that many of them take on special projects and volunteer for things that provide no personal gain beyond helping their communities. It is for this reason that it is important to take a step back and take stock of what is important to you and where your passions lie before entering the field of social work. The individuals in this profession truly believe in what they do for their communities. There are some tests you can take to help you narrow down where your career interests lie.
One important aspect of social work is to provide a voice to those who have none, such as children and the elderly. Vulnerable individuals need the most help and usually suffer from issues related to poverty, harassment, discrimination and unemployment. They don’t just deal with the affected individuals but also in forums to educate the public on important social issues. Social workers provide their clients with all the resources they need to succeed in solving their problems. Where there is no resource available, they will also advocate to create one.
Dignity and worth of the individual
Social workers understand that every individual has worth and deserves to live with dignity. They are in contact with members of society who may not share in the same values socially and culturally, and it is up to the social worker to be mindful of this and respect them. In order to help clients reach their full potential, a social worker needs to work within the cultural and social values of the individual and the community they live in.
Importance of human relationships
Social workers find groups and organizations for their clients that can help them develop necessary relationships to allow them to thrive. Building positive relationships with family, friends and other members of the community can be very helpful in providing a support network for disenfranchised individuals who have nowhere else to turn. Social workers need to have an abundance of patience because they deal with people who may not want relationships or are doubtful of their benefits. Social workers also deal with issues where a parent may need to be separated from their child for a short time to work on personal issues. They understand that the number one goal is to keep a child with their parent, and they will provide support to get the parent all the help they need to keep that family unit together.
Because of their position, social workers must be trustworthy and beyond reproach. They deal with the most vulnerable people in our society, and to take advantage of that in any way would be devastating to their clients. Social workers need to have the highest integrity to work with other professionals such as police officers, lawyers and other officials on behalf of their clients. This needs to be done without expectation of any personal gain and with sensitivity, respect and patience. By being a pillar of integrity and honesty in their communities, social workers can provide a good example for those in their charge and support the important organizations they are affiliated with.
Most social workers hold a degree in social work, and some obtain master’s degrees. Professionals in related fields who want to learn more about human relationships and move into this profession can attain an online Bachelor of Social Work by taking courses with a reputable school like Spring Arbor University. Online courses offer an excellent way of furthering education while still being able to work and support yourself. These schools teach the values necessary to be a social worker and conduct yourself with integrity and compassion.
The NASW Code of Ethics states that each social worker must work within their scope of competence, but they also must increase their knowledge to benefit their clients.
The code serves six purposes:
- Provides social workers with distinct ethical standards to practice
- Provides the core values on which social work is based
- Helps social workers find answers in uncertainties when there is an ethical question
- Outlines the standards to which social workers are held liable
- Provides the mission, values and ethical principles for social workers starting out in the profession
- Shows the standards in which social workers can be assessed if a question of unethical behavior occurs
Social work ethics and core values are more than just following rules, regulations and protocols. In a profession where the clients are often vulnerable, it’s necessary for social workers to be passionate about empowering those who are defenseless, oppressed or impoverished.
While there is a diverse array of settings in which social workers practice, together social workers share the commitment to:
- Further social welfare
- Support people in overcoming challenges they are encountering
- Promote social and economic justice for diverse communities
- Represent the social work code of ethics
Who do social workers help?
- Individuals with disabilities
- Homeless people
- Medical patients
- Members of the LGBTQ community
- Those suffering from addiction
- Individuals with mental health concerns
- Those in domestic relationships
- Victims of violence or trauma
- Individuals in the justice system
Where are social workers employed?
- Schools and universities
- Healthcare organizations
- Government agencies
- Veteran’s Affairs
- Community development agencies
- Outreach agencies
- Courts and prisons
- Clinics and counseling agencies
- Private practice
Social work can be one of the most challenging and rewarding careers for an individual who strongly believes in advocating for those who can’t speak for themselves. Social workers are involved with the most vulnerable individuals in our society and have a code of ethics and standards they must follow. A social worker is considered a position where ethics, integrity, compassion and patience are of the utmost importance, and they are valued members of the community. They devote their time to helping others find the resources and programs they need to thrive.