To become a social worker, you must first complete a university degree. You will then apply the theory you have learned out in the field. Social workers work with a wide variety of clients and play a key role in the legal system by providing psychosocial assessments and family mediation.
Social workers’ tasks can be divided into four main groups: counselling, investigation and expert testimony, program development and family mediation.
Social workers help families living through difficult situations (poverty, spousal abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, delinquency, etc.). The goal of a social worker is to help clients develop the skills they need to be able to solve problems on their own.
Social workers often have a preference for specific areas of social work, which is why many specialize in working with a particular group of clients. For example:
- Abused women
- Victims of crime
- Neglected children
- Drug addicts
- Investigation and expert testimony
Many social workers, like those who work with neglected children, may be required to investigate allegations of abuse or to do psychosocial evaluations of families. They can be required to testify as an expert witness in hearings; as a result, they must always be very careful when documenting their observations. They must understand the issues at play in the cases they investigate and remain objective, even in the most difficult of situations they may encounter.
- Program development
While some social workers prefer to work directly with clients, others prefer to work on finding long-term, comprehensive solutions to problems. Some social workers combine the two aspects.
Social workers who work in program development are looking for long-term and effective solutions to problems that must be addressed. The programs may also be aimed at improving the living conditions of individuals with particular needs, such as:
- Young mothers in precarious situations;
- Homeless individuals;
- Victims of violence;
- Victims of crime;
- Alcoholics; or
- New arrivals to the country.
- Family mediation
A social worker is one of several professionals who can act as a family mediator when a couple with children separates. The mediator’s role is to help the couple reach a separation agreement that takes into consideration the interest of the child or children as well as the needs of all others involved.
To be a social worker, you must:
- Complete an undergraduate or master’s degree in social work.
- Become a member of your province’s professional or regulatory body (in Ontario, the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers).
To find out more about the requirements for practising in your province and for a list of universities that offer social work programs, select your province of residence below.
- Quebec (in French only)
- British Columbia
- Alberta (professional association’s site)
- Alberta (Alberta Occupational Profiles)
- New Brunswick
A bachelor’s-level social work program is usually four years in length. A master’s program is one or two additional years.
If you are interested in working as an expert witness or in program development, you should do a master’s degree in social work.
You may opt to get a college diploma in a social service worker program instead, which runs from two to three years depending on your province. As a social service worker, you may perform tasks similar to those of a social worker. However, you may under no circumstances call yourself a “social worker.”
Social workers must be able to adapt to a society that is constantly changing. Economic, population and family changes as well as changes in the political landscape can all have a great impact on a social worker’s daily practice. As an example, the phenomenon of street gangs has changed a great deal over the past 10 years, and social workers must continually find effective ways to deal with them.
Social workers must work harder to stay on top of changes in their field. These changes represent a particular challenge for universities and colleges offering social work programs as they strive to keep their programs current.
Here are some of the key skills needed for a career as a social worker.
Ability to interact well with others
Social workers must be comfortable going to strangers’ homes and able to quickly earn their trust. Therefore, the ability to interact well with strangers is essential.
Social workers create programs to help people in difficult or distressing situations. It is critical for social workers to have excellent analytical skills in order to be able to offer solutions to their clients.
Social workers are great communicators, and listening is a key element in being an effective communicator. They must focus their attention closely on what their clients are saying to be able to identify problems and then offer solutions or suggestions in simple and clear language.
Social workers need to look at the facts without taking sides. So, for example, even though a social worker may be convinced that mothers make better parents than fathers, the social worker cannot let this belief influence their assessment of whether the children are being properly cared for.
These are just some examples of the skills you would need to be a social worker. Qualities like being able to maintain an open mind and being sympathetic as well as having good judgement would help you become an excellent social worker.