What is Social Work? What do Social Workers Do?

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), “the primary mission of the Social Work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” (NASW,

The primary focus of the profession is the well-being of an individual in the social context and society’s well-being. Attention to the environmental forces that create and influence problems for an individual is essential to the practice of social work. Social workers are advocates of social justice and social change. The word “clients” is used to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. People who are social workers are sensitive to diverse backgrounds and strive to end the oppression and discrimination that affect individuals and groups belonging to diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Activities that social workers use to aid clients include direct practice, community organization, supervision, consultation, administration, advocacy, political action, policy development and implementation, education, and research. (NASW)

Careers in Social Work:

Table listing categories and jobs
Category Job
Health Care Hospitals, Hospices, Nursing Homes, Home Care Agencies, Mental Health Services, Public Health Agencies
Child Welfare Adoption Agencies, Foster-Care Agencies, Child Daycare, Public and Private Child Welfare Organizations
Aging/Gerontology Area Agencies on Aging, Senior Housing Facilities, Hospitals, Senior Volunteer Programs, Nursing Homes
Justice/Corrections Substance Abuse Programs, Local, State, and Federal Government, Prisons, Courts, Treatment Facilities, Victim Services Programs
Community Development Social Action, Work with the Homeless, Battered Women, Persons with AIDS, Hunger Coalitions
International Social Work United Nations, Peace Corps, World Health Organization (part of UN), U.S. Agency for International Development
Federal Government Jobs U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Federal Prisons, Services to Native Americans, Federal Health Facilities, Administrative Agencies, U.S. Congress, Armed Forces

What can I expect to earn as a Social Worker?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (, the median annual income for social workers specializing in child, family, and school settings was $37,480 in 2006. For social workers specializing in medical and healthcare settings, $43,020 was the median annual income in 2006. During the same year, mental health and substance abuse social workers earned a median annual income of $35,410. Social workers in other settings earned a median annual income of $43,580.

What is the job outlook?

Hard Times Steer Some Toward Social Work Syracuse Post-Standard (NY) (02/09/09) Mulder, James T. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment will grow 22 percent by 2016 in social work, as the baby boom generation has already created a huge need for more social workers. This trend could influence some people to pursue social work in the current economic downturn, says Carrie J. Smith, director of Syracuse University's School of Social Work. Further, Smith says that many companies are looking to provide support to people who will be losing their jobs. Smith says more people are entering the field with different skill sets, having combined social work degrees with law, public administration, or public health degrees. "This current situation has reminded us to get back to our core values," she says. Read the full article (

What training and qualifications do I need?

The minimum requirement to practice social work in Alabama is a bachelor’s degree (BSW) in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and licensure. However, majors in psychology, sociology, and related fields may qualify for some entry-level positions. Many positions are now requiring a master’s in social work (MSW). These positions are found in health care settings and clinics, mental health facilities, nursing homes, community-based service organization, and at college and universities.

All states and the District of Columbia require social workers with MSW’s to be licensed in order to practice and use professional titles. Many states are now emphasizing communication skills, professional ethics, and sensitivity to diverse backgrounds. Most states require at least two years of supervised clinical experience before social workers are licensed as clinical social workers.

Last Updated: December 12, 2013