Anyone considering a career in social work should understand the breadth of the professional operations now incorporated into the field. People who have earned a degree in social work might find themselves working in a health clinic, a school, in one of many child and family support agencies, or in an element of the criminal justice system.

Social workers intervene in situations where a child is at risk due to problems at home. They work with seniors who are enrolled in a public day care facility, or in the home environment. Troubled kids caught up in the juvenile justice system and families who are threatened with the loss of shelter wind up in a social worker’s office. Drug addicts and alcoholics who have fallen into the government safety net are often counseled by social workers trained in substance abuse work.

Cities, counties and the federal government all have social service agencies and criminal justice systems that employ large numbers of social workers. However there are also many non-profits that work in the fields of substance abuse, child abuse and family support; many social workers have found careers in the non-profit sector as well. About thirty percent of all social workers are employed by a state or local agency.

There are three rough divisions in the social work field, and at some point your interest in one area over another may dictate academic choices that come before you. The first area has to do with children, families and schools; the second large area of focus is in mental health and substance abuse; and the third is in medical services and health care.

There are professionals that hold a degree in a health care profession, in the criminal justice field or as licensed counselors who work in social service agencies. However it is the professional with the social work degree who can find meaningful employment in all of these sectors and who can choose classes while studying for that degree making it possible to work in any one of them. Many undergraduates with a social work major seek out internships through local agencies in order to get a feel for the environment.

A bachelor’s degree in the field provides entry level status in many agencies, and in many of the non-profits that do not have to meet regulatory or civil service job codes. However it is the master’s degree in social work that allows social workers to move into the health care fields and into clinical counseling. Management positions in these agencies may require a master’s in social services policy or administration. At the supervisorial level social work requires thorough understanding of agency management and the ability to juggle regulatory issues that can be fairly intrusive and that can change often.

Medical and public health social workers may be employed in public health clinics, at hospitals, or in senior centers. In many cases an illness can become a family issue, and social workers may find themselves counseling family members on how to deal with AIDs, Alzheimer’s, or a terminal illness. Visitors to public health facilities that may have questionable support at home are often brought to a social worker’s attention, who may then engage in a series of home visits to ensure that proper care and nutrition is being provided.

Workers in the mental health and substance abuse fields will also find themselves in clinical settings, family service centers or in hospitals. People who work in these fields are known as clinical social workers and often have a case load assigned to them by a supervisor. Those who work in homeless shelters provide counseling as well, but in a very different environment and with more immediate goals.

All states have some sort of licensure for social workers, which can vary based on the type of professional responsibility involved. Most States require 2 full work years, or three thousand hours, of clinical experience for licensure of clinical social workers. Social work at the core of our social problems is not earned without a great deal of classroom and clinical study.

That’s why many social workers seek out an entry level job upon completion of the bachelor’s degree and continue on with graduate work, either locally or through an online university. An entry level job may also facilitate the clinical student hours necessary for full licensure. It’s a rewarding career, and a field that will grow rapidly for some time to come.

Author's Bio: 

Bob Hartzell is a freelane writer who specializes in education and careers.