The ideological connections between social work and social justice work are strong. In fact, the main goals of social work coincide with the values of social justice, as the focus is aiding people who are experiencing unfair or challenging circumstances.
Over the years, society has progressed in building communities with more ethnic, economic and cultural diversity. Even so, there are challenges brought on by a need for more understanding and the dismantling of racism, prejudice, and fear in many communities. Social workers can help combat these issues to create a safer and more welcoming society, but much work still needs to do.
If you decide social work is a career path you want to take, it is important to consider the core principles and goals underlying the profession.
Improving relations between people
While psychologists, counselors, lawyers, and doctors may diagnose or help with problems, a social worker often meets with people in their own environment to help identify the systemic, societal or environmental causes and effects before tackling an issue.
For example, suppose a child goes to counseling and there is reason to suspect that their home life is impacting their wellbeing. In that case, a social worker may visit the family home to get a better picture of the situation. This allows them to make informed suggestions as to how improvements can made. The social worker may help the family access resources such as assistance with food, housing or more affordable counseling.
Social workers can create more fundamental change than concerned family members because they consider neutral parties and exist outside the environment of the situation. At the same time, having a social worker sent in to oversee a case is often a wake-up call to individuals and families that if changes are not made, there could be consequences that no one wants to face, such as loss of custody of a child.
Helping to foster coexistence and harmony
Modern towns and cities are a melting pot of people from a wide range of economic and ethnic backgrounds. While there are neighborhoods with higher populations of some groups over others, many areas and communities are becoming more diverse.
Social workers aim to help people within a community learn to appreciate each other’s cultural heritage and acknowledge the real challenges some may face through discrimination. Through meaningful social work, help can provided to members of a community who are marginalized or disempowered.
Helping disadvantaged people improve the quality of their lives
It is no secret that some people in modern society are treated differently and lack reasonable access to social services like healthcare, transportation, food and financial assistance, and mental or substance abuse treatment and counseling. Social workers help disadvantaged people access services and resources that will allow them to improve their lives and gain financial security and independence.
An example of this type of social work is helping migrants enroll in English language classes and apply for jobs where they can expect a fair wage and equal treatment. Social workers play a meaningful role in helping those with substance abuse problems find counseling and treatment options. This could include finding affordable housing in a safe environment that makes it less likely they will suffer a relapse.
Myths and misconceptions social workers face
When it comes to helping disadvantaged people, there are bound to be a lot of misconceptions and challenges.
Since social workers try to make sure people are aware of services and benefits that can help them, there is a misconception that the people they are doing this for are just lazy and undeserving. The truth is that hard times and bad situations can happen to anyone. Financial problems from losing a well-paid job can quickly make a household struggle to put decent food on the table or put gas in their vehicle so they can attend job interviews.
Social workers do a lot of work helping people who cannot work due to disability apply for benefits they are legally entitled to. Military veterans often must go through much hassle to get benefits if they are injured during their service and cannot work full-time. The process can be very time-consuming and denial of benefits, even when it is clear the claim is justified, is more common than not. The problem can be even worse if the person applying lacks some cognitive ability or is an ethnic minority.
There are an unfortunate number of children in foster care and elderly people in assisted living facilities. However, the goal of social workers is to find ways to improve conditions within a household and only resort to moving someone out of a home if there is no other choice.
Due to increased rates of poverty, substance abuse, and domestic violence, there have been more cases of children being at least temporarily remove from their homes. Elderly individuals trying to keep their independence often do not realize that their living situation has deteriorated to the point where they are no longer safe. A social worker can help elderly individuals acquire services that can help them stay in their homes longer.
For example, meals on wheels is a service that brings hot meals to seniors. Some insurances may cover a home health aide coming a few times a week, but an older person may need to made aware that this is an option for them. Only when it becomes impossible for someone to care for themselves or get enough help within their home will someone forcibly remove and placed in a care facility.
While social workers try to get people counseling and other services, they are not officers of the law and have no power to remove criminals from their homes or places of work. Social workers can alert law enforcement to potential situations or provide support after law enforcement has responded to a criminal incident.
By directing victims of domestic violence to support centers and shelters, social workers help provide safety and make it more likely that the cycle of violence will be broken. It is hard to determine how many violent and criminal acts prevent through brave social workers. Still, there is no doubt that by helping people gain job skills, get substance abuse treatment, and find safe housing, they work to reduce the amount of crime in the areas they work.
Some people sincerely believe they are beyond help or are not worth trying for because the ‘system’ does not help people like them. This is where social workers truly shine. A strong will and sense of determination is essential in a successful social worker. Their job is to make individuals and families believe that their lives matter. It can take time to convince someone that they can get help dealing with various issues and circumstances.
The truth is that anyone in a society has some rights and benefits that they can utilize when life throws them a curveball.
Hostility from some people is part of the job — this can be very challenging
Unfortunately, as a social worker, you must prepare for hostility. At some point in your career, you will have to deal with individuals who feel your presence being force on them. This is a particularly common problem when social workers deal with custody issues and reports of abuse. Social workers must be able to keep calm yet firm in these situations.
Social work is a fantastic career for those who want to improve the world
It is important for people to have jobs that they consider fulfilling, rewarding and enjoyable. While social work requires much emotional involvement, it is an in-demand career you can feel good about. Here are a few of the advantages of starting a career in social work:
You can earn a living as a social justice warrior
Have you often thought that you would love to help others improve their lives but need more time after all your obligations? With a career in social work, you can fight for social justice every day and paid to do it. Social workers, especially those with advanced degrees, command a good salary and benefits. The unprecedented demand for social workers expect to keep growing over the next decade.
Social workers need in many areas
If you have previously considered relocating but were hesitant due to the job market, social work can help you get a good-paying job in a different area. While salaries can vary considerably based on the economic conditions of an area, there may be some lucrative opportunities in places that need help filling positions. If you are flexible in where you are comfortable moving to and working, you may be able to advance more quickly than you would otherwise.
Earning a social work degree online while continuing to work
While undergraduate social work programs are available if you do not already hold a bachelor’s degree, those with a bachelor’s can earn an advanced degree online by enrolling in the Spalding University accelerated MSW program. Part-time and full-time enrollment options make online degrees more affordable and flexible for busy work schedules.
Placement services at the end of your studies are available even with online master’s programs, making it easy to place in a position within your local community or another area of your choice.
Social workers are needed in a variety of workplaces
Contrary to popular belief, social workers work for more than just government agencies. Social workers employe at hospitals, places of learning, non-profit groups, assisted living centers and more. You may want to change your workplace setting throughout your career as you follow your passion for social justice.
Having the authority and power to improve their communities
While social workers do not have legal authority, they work with law enforcement agencies to improve community social relations and living conditions. Becoming a social worker allows you access to the people in your community that need help the most. Consider how well received you would be in some homes if you just showed up saying you are there to help. There is a good chance that at best you would say your help not wanted and never get past the door. As a social worker, people are more likely to trust you and sometimes must consider what you can do for them.
Social work has the power to create a safer community and tackle barriers that can prevent underprivileged people from leading healthy and productive lives. Through social work, levels of crime and the abuse of vulnerable people may reduce in communities.
As our society and neighborhoods become more diverse, there will be a greater need for social workers that understand the needs and challenges of all the groups within a specific community, thus making social work a lucrative career choice.