Social workers play an important role in people’s lives by empowering them to cope with their everyday challenges while at the same time advocating improved conditions within entire communities. Their role within a community is to unite the people to work towards a common goal of improving the lives of everyone involved.
Caring for individuals in the community
On an individual level, social workers provide counseling and, where necessary, will get a multi-disciplinary team going to provide the necessary treatment for their clients. When working with individuals, the social worker aims to strengthen them both physically and mentally, getting assistance where needed from organizations that can provide support in terms of food, housing, and healthcare. In this way, the client will eventually be able to fend for themselves, and the community will benefit from one more socially functional member.
A social worker would have trained for this through a master’s degree in social work (MSW). There are even opportunities to do a MSW degree online, with universities like Cleveland State offering courses that allow for a balanced professional and personal life while training.
What constitutes a community?
The type of work that social workers get involved in differs from one community to another. A community may consist of a group of people in a specific geographical area, a group from the same ethnic background, or, on a smaller scale, a home for the elderly or disabled.
Geographical locations are often limited when it comes to access to basic healthcare services, and this is something that social workers must advocate in outlying areas. Economic factors also play a large role in the wellbeing of communities, often affecting their access to basic services such as schools and clinics.
Getting involved with the community
When a social worker starts working in a specific area, they are likely to begin by providing counseling for individuals and families, getting to know their community one person at a time, and gradually gaining the confidence of their clients and family members. They start piecing together their knowledge of the social norms and problems within the community and working out how best to make a positive impact.
Aside from their counseling skills, social workers are trained to carefully assess the needs of communities, how to engage the members, how to plan for changes, and when and how to advocate the important needs and issues within a community. They may get involved with other organizations in the community, and they are often involved in the drafting of new policies in order to make changes.
Organizations that employ community social workers include advocacy groups, government departments, and community centers. Whether it is a small-scale project like educating their community on healthy eating habits or, on a larger scale, advocating improved housing, the social worker will know how to enlist the help of organizations that can get involved.
In time, community social workers can begin to set up support structures such as feeding and housing schemes in poorer areas, collections of clothes for the needy, or the establishment of daycare centers for children who need supervision while their parents go out to work.
Education and training
An important part of the social worker’s role is to educate their clients and members of the community. On both individual and group levels, they may educate people about financial management, health-based lifestyles, or childcare. Vocational education and guidance are often lacking in less fortunate communities, and training and encouragement in this area are crucial to the survival of families and communities.
Social workers see to the educational needs of the children, organizing teaching supplies and improved facilities in the form of new books or gym equipment, and in some cases, the building of new schools. They are also trained in counseling and are often involved in educating the community on subjects like substance abuse or how to care for the elderly or mentally infirm, advising the community of these special needs and how they should be handled. Part of the social worker’s role in a community is to respond to emergencies such as physical abuse cases or mental health issues.
When advocating for large changes in the community, such as housing subsidies or the establishment of a community center, the social worker will enlist the help of community members, appointing leaders to help with the management of projects. Community centers provide recreational projects such as exercise classes, clinic facilities for vaccinations and primary healthcare, and a children’s daycare center. The management of these projects helps to nurture a community spirit by giving people a purpose in their lives and often teaching them valuable skills that they can use in the workplace.
The benefits of social work in the community
Social workers follow up on cases until they are satisfied that there has been a positive outcome. They may find it necessary to change their method of treatment during the process. Everything is documented to make sure that there are records of treatments administered and progress reports. In this way, social workers can refer back to cases as part of an evidence-based program for further work in the community.
Whether through individual or group counseling sessions, the community benefits from the counseling. They learn to take care of themselves and often pick up skills that they can use later in life. They are taught the value of education and training and are in a better position to find work to support their families. This, in turn, gives people confidence and helps strengthen family bonds and build friendships within the community.
Social workers, too, must surely benefit from seeing their efforts rewarded with a group of socially adaptable and happy people going about their lives with confidence and knowing that there is always a social worker they can turn to for a bit of advice.