Social work is a complex profession that can be difficult to define. In the past, social workers were called upon to work with the most vulnerable members of our society; children. While many social workers still work with children, the field of social work has expanded well beyond the walls of the local orphanage. Today, you can find social workers everywhere from healthcare centers to homeless shelters. And while the broadness of the field can make the role of social workers difficult to define it also makes social work an extremely versatile and marketable profession.
Though often a source of confusion, it is important to understand that social work is meant to be broad and ambiguous; Social work is necessarily as complicated as the society in which it operates. For those who are considering social work as a career, but are not quite sure what that entails, I urge you to think of social work as a mission instead of a job. As briefly discussed above, social workers can do many “jobs” that may not appear to have anything in common. For example, careers in the legal field call for vastly different skills than careers in the medical field, yet social workers are active in both of these disciplines and many others.
Personally, I have worked in a school, a law office, a behavioral health center, and as an investigator for the state of Kentucky. In all of these “jobs” my official title was social worker. Confused yet? Not if you understand the mission of social work. My personal definition of the social work mission is “to empower individuals to achieve well-being while helping to provide safety and stability to those experiencing hardship or vulnerability”. Your mission statement may vary, slightly, but the goals are probably the same: autonomy, safety and well-being. To achieve these goals, social workers must be present in the environments that are meant to foster the same ideals. These environments include, but are not limited to, hospitals, schools, shelters, food banks, advocacy centers, government buildings, and judiciary centers. These environments are also places people go when they are at their most vulnerable.
In short, social work is not as much a “what” as it is a “how”. “How can we address homelessness, mental health, educational inequality, and other social injustices?” If you have an answer then maybe you are a “who”! So, what do you think? Could social work be for you?