The qualities and skills that make a good social worker

Social workers are an invaluable part of society, providing support for the people who are at their most vulnerable whatever their age and background. They help individuals from all walks of life cope with problems they may be experiencing in their everyday lives in order to have a better future.

According to the National Association of Social Workers, the overall aim of the profession is to enhance human wellbeing and meet both the basic and complex needs of the population with a focus on those who are vulnerable, living in poverty, or are oppressed.

What do social workers do?

Broadly, by focusing on both the person as well as their environment, a social worker will have to deal with the external factors that will influence an individual’s outlook as well as their situation. Also, they will help their clients deal with how they feel about what is happening to them and guide them toward solutions and strategies that will help in both the short and long term.

The roles that social workers can take on are varied, from providing outreach and long-term care in nursing homes and homeless shelters, to working as a clinical therapist to veterans, being part of a response during natural disasters, and being involved with charities and non-profit organizations.

They are employed in a variety of settings, such as healthcare providers, schools, and child welfare and human service agencies. Social workers can also be found in mental health clinics, senior centers, prisons, corporations, and public and private agencies.

Social workers may be advocating for children in foster care programs, going through the adoption process, or helping those suffering from neglect or abuse. They could be helping at-risk adolescents who live in violent or impoverished households or have emotional, developmental or behavioral problems.

Families who need support could get assistance from a social worker, whether it be, for example, dealing with problems with substance abuse, financial stress, unemployment or homelessness. Individuals who are suffering from chronic health conditions may need help from a social work professional in order to manage their day-to-day life and access the correct healthcare. Elderly clients could get guidance for any emotional, medical or social problems they may be experiencing.

Why become a social worker

The job is ideal for those who are interested in pursuing a meaningful and people-centered role, and who want to help others achieve a good quality of life. Serving at-risk or underserved people and communities, they help people access the assistance they need, identify treatment options, access social services and achieve their goals. They could be supporting adults with mental health issues, terminal illness, eating disorders and divorce, as well as helping children struggling at school, or who are going through the adoption process. The opportunities to provide help and assistance are broad and constantly evolving, and can provide a satisfying and rewarding career.

Qualities that make a good social worker

Being a social worker means that you will be part of a demanding and dynamic profession that requires a variety of skills in addition to the right qualifications to enable you to practice.

Empathy is a key ability that you will need to develop as you will be dealing with human beings who need help and guidance. It’s important to understand the point of view of all those you are interacting with in order to be able to provide effective and successful strategies and solutions. If you can show that you can ‘step into someone’s shoes’, then it will be easier to work together to move forward and raise and talk about any barriers or concerns they may have.

Listening skills are vital, as is the ability to communicate effectively, both verbally and non-verbally, as you will be talking to people from a wide range of backgrounds, from the client to the agencies that may be working with them. Social workers are expected to advocate for their clients, and in order to do this effectively, they have to understand their needs. Also, being sensitive to body language and other non-verbal clues will help move conversations forward in sometimes stressful situations.

Patience is another characteristic that will enhance your ability to be a social worker. There will be difficult situations to deal with, clients who may not be fully onboard with what you hope to achieve, and operational issues that you have to navigate in order to find solutions to both long and short-term aims. Some clients will have complex problems that they need assistance with, and therefore it’s important to cultivate the discipline to not make hasty decisions that may cause more problems in the longer term.

As well as this, you will have to be committed to lifelong learning and personal development. A successful career within the profession will require an understanding of the social work values and ethics and developments within this. You will also need to understand the wider world around you, keeping on top of clinical and social changes that affect both your clients and yourself. Reading related publications and online magazines about popular culture, news and current affairs is important in order to keep you in the loop so that you can relate well to your clients.

Social work core values and code of ethics

The National Association of Social Workers stated in 1960 in the first version of its Code of Ethics that social workers are dedicated to service for the welfare of mankind and should “promote the well-being of all without discrimination”. This still holds true even as the code has expanded from a one-page document to the current guide of ethical principles, standards and professional conduct that is regularly updated.

The six core values of the social work profession are:

  • Service: To serve people in need and work to address social problems.
  • Social justice: To challenge social injustice and work for social change on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed people.
  • Integrity: To be trustworthy and uphold the profession’s mission, values, ethical principles and standards.
  • Dignity and worth of the person: To be respectful of every person and mindful of cultural and ethnic diversity.
  • Competence: Practice within areas of competence, develop professional knowledge and expertise continuously, and contribute to the knowledge of the profession.
  • Importance of human relationships: Recognize and value the importance of human relationships and work to strengthen them to enhance the wellbeing of individuals and communities.

Employment outlook for social workers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of social workers is expected to grow 9% between 2021 and 2031, which is faster than the general average for all occupations.

Approximately 74,700 openings for the role are projected in each year over the decade.

The change in demographics within America is partly the cause of the increase in demand for social workers. For example, the population is getting older and by 2050, 88.5 million people will be aged 65 or over. As more people use the healthcare system, hospitals will need more social workers to provide care coordination. Also, the UN estimates that two million people per year will move from poorer to developed nations, half of whom will move to the US, and so social workers from diverse populations will be in demand.

How to become a social worker

Social workers will need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work from a Council on Social Work Education accredited program, and depending on the state in which they work, they may well also need a license.

There are many avenues you can pursue once you have gained your initial degree and some experience. A clinically focused social work master’s program will prepare you to advance your chosen career through specialized training.  In order to practice, as well as earning a master’s degree from an accredited program, you need to complete supervised clinical experience and pass the state board examination.

Clinical social work requires a very high level of specialized academic preparation in areas such as biological, psychological and social development; relationship dynamics; mental disorders; issues of diversity and culture; addiction; and trauma. Therefore, it is important to find the right place to study in order to gain the most from your degree.

The Florida State College of Social Work is recognized as a center of social work practice, policy and research, and its MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Its part-time flexible schedule enables students to work full-time while working toward their degree, and its curriculum and clinically focused field placements are a preparation to pursue licensure as a clinical social worker.

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