Social workers are unsung heroes, rarely considered by members of the community that don’t require their services. And yet, they are directly involved in some of the most difficult aspects of human life. Mental illness, addiction, abuse, and yes, hunger.
Their efforts deserve celebration. In this article, we highlight what social workers do, and how you can help their efforts all year round.
What Do Social Workers Do?
You can think of social workers as professional problem solvers. They work with families, communities, and individuals at some of the most difficult moments in their lives. The goal is to help them heal and also to improve their ability to live a productive, healthy life.
These responsibilities may be carried out in hospitals, schools, prisons, social welfare offices, and onsite locations. Because the job is all about working with other people, responsibilities may vary from day to day.
Below, we highlight some of the many things that social workers do on the job.
Social workers are not psychologists but can provide a certain type of counseling to families or individuals who need it. While the psychologist may work with an individual to improve their emotional coping skills, the social worker is more interested in helping them shape their lifestyle to make it most conducive to a productive existence.
They are not qualified to make a psychological diagnosis but can work with the person to help them make better choices.
Social workers are also often involved in helping people with substance abuse problems. While treating addiction itself may be a process that requires a licensed therapist, the social worker may be able to help the person suffering from addiction find therapy or even affordable rehabilitation.
In situations where addiction puts an individual on the wrong side of the law, the person suffering from addiction may be legally required to see a social worker.
When a family experiences state intervention due to abuse or other unsuitable conditions, social workers may be one of the professionals involved in assessing the situation and helping to promote healing.
Depending on the circumstances, they may work with the family members to identify what the issues are and establish a plan that may help to right the problem.
Not everyone thinks of social workers when they hear about the problem of food insecurity. And yet it is a problem that ties directly into so much of the work that social workers do.
While the United States ranks quite high globally in terms of food security, there are still about 10% of U.S. households who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That may not sound like much, but it equates to more than thirty million people across the country.
And of course, in low-income areas, the ratio of people who are experiencing food insecurity may be much higher.
This falls within the social worker’s purview because:
- Food insecurity has a significant impact on mental health. It’s not so hard to figure out why. People who don’t have regular access to food experience higher levels of anxiety and depression. They don’t sleep well and have a harder time fulfilling basic responsibilities.
- It has a severe impact on children. Be it within family circles or at schools, social workers are often called in to protect children and make sure that they are living in a hospitable environment. Children experiencing food insecurity are uniquely vulnerable in that they lack the capacity to get themselves out of the situation.
- Extreme poverty has a strong correlation with crime. Social workers are also often called in to help people who have run into issues with the law re-adjust and live within the confines of the legal system. Food insecurity and other features of extreme poverty are associated strongly with theft and even violent crime.
There are many ways that social workers fight against food insecurity. Sometimes it can be through legal advocacy. Social workers frequently lobby and petition for new laws that they view as being conducive to their greater goal of increased social equity and inclusion.
Other times, they go grassroots, organizing food drives and nutritional supplementary programs. For example, they frequently help connect families with Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
How You Can Help Support Social Workers
One of the best ways to help support social workers is to shine your spotlight on the issues that are most important to them. Social worker awareness month is certainly a great time to do this. A simple social media post may be enough to inspire action in one of your friends or family members.
Beyond social media, you can further support social workers by physically contributing to the issues that mean the most to them. In the context of fighting against food insecurity, this could mean contributing to food banks, and other social programs that help connect underprivileged families with resources.
It could also mean voting for and spotlighting bills that make it easier for families to enjoy equal access to food.
Finally, if you really want to find ways to help and support social workers, you can always ask them what needs to be done. They will be able to point out specific issues within your community.
And keep in mind that every March it is Social Work month, making early spring a particularly great time to spotlight all of the unsung heroes in your community.