5 Specializations in Social Work Careers

August 5, 2018

Though the appeal of a career in social work is usually the opportunity to help others and leave a lasting impact on local communities, social work positions can also reward professionals with lucrative salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the social worker job outlook is expected to grow by 12 percent—faster than the national average—from 2014 through 2024. As of September 2017, the median pay salary for a social work manager is $84,867.

To gain employment as a social worker—regardless of specialization—the minimum education requirement is a bachelor of social work (BSW). A master’s degree, however, opens doors to additional employment opportunities as well as a higher salary. Aspiring social workers may choose from a variety of specializations, depending on their personal strengths and interests.

Community Social Work

Contrary to popular belief, a community is not restricted by borders or city lines, allowing community social workers to work with individuals belonging to various socio-economic classes, cultures, religions, and ages. They may travel abroad to work with poverty-stricken populations across developing countries or work within their local communities. Community social workers can work alongside existing nonprofit organizations, concerned citizens, advocacy groups, or government agencies. They may fight against a toxic landfill placement, apply for grants, take part in establishing a charter school, or create programs benefiting a local community. Community social workers can hold positions such as director, coordinator, or specialist and can earn salaries as high as $71,040, according to BLS data.

Child, Family, and School Social Work

Child, family, and school social workers can be involved with supporting children who have been abused, have serious mental or physical illnesses, are being targeted by bullies, are exhibiting behavioral problems, or are experiencing significant stress. These professionals assist parents in securing resources for their children, conduct trainings, serve on interdisciplinary teams, testify in court, address teenage pregnancy and school truancy, and provide therapy. Work settings can include government agencies, schools, residential care facilities, social service agencies, or adoption agencies. In the school setting, they are responsible for maintaining satisfactory student academic functioning and maximizing family well-being. In 2016, social workers in the top 10 percent earned an annual salary of $75,140.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Work

With a master’s in social work, professionals specializing in mental health and substance abuse can provide psychosocial assessments, diagnose clinical disorders, develop individualized goals and plans, supplement with outside resources, and conduct ongoing counseling. They can provide therapy on a one-on-one basis or in group settings, including couples and family counseling. This specialization requires a commitment to work with clients over a long period of time, critical thinking skills, and the ability to form close relationships with clients while maintaining a professional distance. Social workers in this specialization can provide counseling for issues such as suicidal thoughts, incarceration, substance abuse, and running away or other behavioral problems. They may obtain employment in nonprofit organizations as well as private practice settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state of California has the highest employment level and the second-highest annual mean wage, $64,320 as of May 2016, for mental health and substance abuse social workers.

Social Work with Military Members and Veterans

Social workers specializing in military and veterans affairs support active service members coping with recent trauma, as well as veterans and their families during the transition to a civilian lifestyle. These professionals may find employment within the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or other social service organizations and can serve the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Department of Homeland Security. Military and veterans social workers can provide counseling, crisis intervention, and debriefing after critical events. They may also conduct research on social issues within their fields and create and implement disease prevention plans and health promotion programs. Some common challenges that social workers in this specialization help their patients address include substance abuse; post-traumatic stress disorder; and securing employment, housing, and schooling in order to transition to a civilian lifestyle. These social workers also help the families of deployed service members cope with the loss of a parent or spouse and resolve family issues. In 2016, social work professionals employed by the Veterans Health Administration earned an average salary of $71,969.

Social Work Administration

Social work administration involves working with budgets, designing and evaluating programs, working on policies, and managing a community or department strategy. Furthermore, social work administrators are required to possess an understanding of social policy, the delivery process of social services, human behavior, social problems, and business. They must also possess leadership and decision-making skills in order to effectively manage programs. They have access to job opportunities across a variety of settings, such as family service agencies, social service agencies, employee assistance programs, health care organizations, public welfare agencies, and probation departments. The median annual salary for this specialization in social work is $84,867 as of September 2017.

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