Choose to work with people of a certain age or cultural group, or with those facing a specific type of challenge. With an abundance of fields on offer, which one resonates with you?
Social workers in this field work with individuals and their significant others, affected by addiction. These people might be addicted to substances such as alcohol and drugs, or to activities such as sex and gambling. Workers will facilitate groups, provide counselling and therapy, work in prevention and community awareness roles or in multidisciplinary teams at outpatient facilities.
As people get older they commonly experience health concerns, a decreasing capacity to care for themselves, a loss of social connection and independence, and issues adjusting to the changes in their lives. Social workers work in homes, community organisations, aged care facilities and hospitals to ensure the elderly are adequately supported. Tasks may include completing home risk assessments and providing information and advice to other services connected to the client.
Here social workers aim to protect children who are at risk of, or currently experiencing, neglect, abuse or exploitation. Workers investigate claims of children at risk, connect families to support systems, provide evidence to courts, and remove children from situations where parents/carers/guardians are unable or unwilling to keep their children safe. Other areas of work in this field include rehousing and settling children into temporary homes, foster families and permanent adoption arrangements.
Some social workers are drawn to working with people of a specific cultural group. This might be because they have a keen interest in the challenges that group face, or because they identify partly or wholly with the group. Examples include working with an organisation that supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, or specialising in refugee support for Chinese families. Workers can draw upon their own heritage, religious beliefs, cultural practices and even knowledge of a second or third language to aid them in this work. Australian social workers also have the opportunity to work overseas.
The disability sector requires social workers to assist people with a disability — together with their families/carers/significant others — to have access to appropriate supports and to live fulfilling lives. Tasks include providing information about the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), supporting individuals/families as they secure funding, creating and overseeing social and skill-building recreation services, managing respite support, advocating for client rights, counselling services and more.
A role in this field involves counselling, putting in place safety plans, providing referrals, facilitating support groups, organising emergency housing and raising awareness of domestic violence within communities. Although both men and women experience domestic violence, women experience it at a higher rate and therefore social workers are more likely to work with female survivors in this area. Some workers may also choose to work with perpetrators of domestic violence in rehabilitation programs.
Workers provide assistance to develop stronger relationships and families with a focus on prevention and early intervention services. Tasks involve educating parents, encouraging them to strengthen their skills and networks, providing information, and ensuring that families disadvantaged by issues such as violence, social isolation and poverty are accessing the services they need. It also involves providing counselling and mediation services where there are relationship breakdowns. Workers may need to ensure the safe transition of children from one parent to another during shared custody arrangements, or collaborate with families to form strategies for effective communication. Some social workers will work in relationship counselling that is separate to family counselling.
Social workers in hospital settings assist individuals and their families as they come to terms with injuries and illnesses, and the effects these have on all of their lives. They can also support a family through palliative care. Another important area for social workers is providing counselling, information and support to those who have experienced assault, including sexual assaults. These workers may work specifically with the hospital, or closely with law enforcement and other services, supporting individuals through their trauma and any legal proceedings.
When people lose their housing, they are usually facing compounding issues: unemployment, poverty, relationship breakdowns, criminal behaviour, disability needs, mental health concerns and/or challenges with looking after children. They are typically at a point of crisis. Social workers provide housing information and advice, assist people to submit applications and try to secure temporary or longer-term housing solutions. They will work with other services to alleviate the multiple stressors, and work with communities and governments to reduce homelessness at a broader level.
Social workers are called in to assess and support criminal offenders, and to assist families as they cope with the changes in all of their lives. Based on their findings, social workers will give advice and recommendations to both courts and prisons. They may be required to undertake suicide assessments, run rehabilitation or support groups, supervise/support individuals as they reintegrate back into society, and provide referrals to other services.
Workers specialising in this area typically work for community mental health organisations or hospitals providing acute care. Their aim is to ensure people experiencing mental health concerns are not putting themselves or others in the community at risk, and are increasingly able to take responsibility for their own lives. Tasks may include assessing individuals referred from other services (or admitted to hospital), providing counselling, working in multidisciplinary teams to formulate mental health care plans, and providing short or long-term support to enhance the individual’s capacity to live a safe and meaningful life.
At intake, much of this work revolves around determining what resources an individual or family has, and what they still need in order to achieve a basic standard of living. It involves connecting people to housing, financial support, interpreter & language services, employment, training, schools, healthcare and transport. Workers also ensure that individuals understand any legal proceedings that are occurring in their lives, and support them through this process. Once critical issues are taken care of, social workers provide counselling services, support groups, and run programs to promote social inclusion.
Youth work involves supporting young people typically 12 - 25 years old, with a variety of issues. It is carried out in settings such as youth centres, schools or training programs. Within youth work there is a strong focus on the development and facilitation of recreation services aimed to build confidence, skills and friendships, and direct counselling services to support issues such as family breakdowns, relationships and sexual health. It also involves re-engagement programs to get young people back into education or work, support to transition between schools, mentoring programs, and the provision of information. Social workers who enjoy working with young children or youth may also choose to become a school counsellor.
There are various fields of social work that you can be a part of, and many more that we haven’t covered too. It’s also worth considering whether you’d prefer to work one-on-one, with small groups, or on larger-scale community projects.
As discussed here, it’s possible to find employment in many of these areas without a formal social work degree, however the social work qualification will typically put you ahead of the competition, providing you with broader career opportunities down the track.
If you’re ready to start the job hunt, make sure you check out our tips on Choosing which social or community work employer suits you. Once you’ve got that sorted, head here to impress recruiters and nail that interview!