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by Sarah Daren | April 07, 2020

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The coronavirus pandemic is affecting the lives of nearly everyone on the planet. Social distancing has become the new norm for daily life everywhere, making it difficult to serve vulnerable populations. Schools are closing all over the country, leaving at-risk children with no safe place to go during the day. And, of course, many people have become infected by the virus, which has individuals, families, and communities facing situations they’ve never faced before.

What hasn’t changed is social workers are still dedicated to the people they serve—and in high demand. Today, social workers are more crucial than ever. They’re helping vulnerable populations and children get the care they need during the global pandemic. Stress and anxiety can exacerbate abuse and neglect, and social workers across the country are helping families and communities get through this extremely challenging time.

While now might not seem like the best time to embark on a new career path, if you’ve ever wished that you could do more to help people in need, now could be the perfect time to become a social worker—especially since online degrees and programs are readily available for anyone looking to add their education.

There are many different specialties in social work. Across each specialty, however, social workers focus on providing for the needs of people in their own environment.

Making a difference in the field

There are nearly as many social work specialties as there are social ills. For example, administration, policy, and research social workers manage programs and advocate for citizens. They typically perform director duties for public service organizations and health agencies. These executives typically hold a Ph.D., and many pursue an academic career track at the university level.

Child, family, and school social workers focus on children and their families. The work they do supports youth, parents, and students. Elsewhere, community social workers oversee community programs and help constituents to access local resources.

In the criminal justice system, social workers advocate for individuals in the U.S. penal system. Their clients may include inmates, former offenders, current offenders, and their family members. In the healthcare field, social workers help individuals and families navigate health issues.

Getting started

As a social worker, you’ll help to improve the quality of life for people and communities. Additionally, you’ll help to promote systemic change throughout society.

The main difference between social work and other professions is that social work focuses on people. The field emphasizes social justice and inclusion. Social workers help people from every walk of life, young and old. They work in different communities, schools, and healthcare facilities across the nation.

Moreover, social work is about building on a person’s strengths. Everybody has strengths and available resources to help them take advantage of those talents. A social worker’s job is, in part, to identify those strengths and help people take advantage of beneficial community resources.

Just as in any profession that involves helping people—such as nursing and academia—social workers help people through some of the toughest times in their lives. They must take into account peoples’ internal struggles as well as the influence of their family, acquaintances, and community. Furthermore, social workers must consider how societal systems impact individuals and how to address obstacles.

Getting credentialed

A bachelor’s degree can prepare you with the expertise needed for a career in social work. A Bachelor of Social Work or Bachelor of Arts in Social Work program offers you a broad foundation to work in the general field of helping others. Over four years, undergraduate students learn how to offer help to groups, families, and communities. Typically, social work programs focus on working with underserved and oppressed populations. On graduation, bachelor’s degree holders are ready to work in an entry-level position in social work after obtaining their licenses.

By earning a bachelor’s degree in social work, you can improve the lives of people in your community. However, you don’t have to put your life on hold to earn a degree. Today, you can earn a quality education online.

An undergraduate social work program will empower you to launch a rewarding career and contribute to the betterment of society. What’s more, you’ll gain real-world skills and work with experts in the field. To begin your academic journey, you typically only need a strong desire to help people and a high school diploma.

Making the most out of your knowledge

If you have exceptional people skills, patience, and empathy, then a career in social work may serve you—and the public—well. Social work is an opportunity to provide support for people in need and take part in a critical and growing field.

A bachelor’s degree is a steppingstone to the many opportunities available in the field. However, some social work roles require a master’s degree. A bachelor’s degree and a license to work in your state are typically the minimum qualifications required to work in the field.

Some states will issue you a social worker license once you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree. However, you’ll need a master’s degree or higher to lead clinical service. You’ll also need to pass an additional state licensing exam to fulfill this role.

Committing to higher learning for public good

In addition to training, you also need experience in the field. Master of Social Work programs typically integrate field experience into the curriculum. After graduation, however, some states will require that you perform postgraduate hours in the community.

According to Beth Angell, PhD, MSSW, Dean and Professor in the School of Social Work and Online Master of Social Work program at Virginia Commonwealth University, “Many who pursue their MSWs are drawn to the profession because they want to provide clinical services to individuals, couples, and families—for instance, those looking to adopt. An MSW degree provides the skills needed to help people adjust to a variety of life challenges and the tools to practice independently with an LCSW license. Also, MSW students learn about the social contexts and policies that create and maintain the problems their clients experience, and how to address those challenges through advocacy and working directly with communities to create fairer laws and policies.”

MSW programs look to provide a foundation for how to intervene with individuals, families, groups, and communities. After receiving this foundation, students choose a specialization, such as Advanced Clinical Practice, where they learn in-depth principles and skills to enable them to use a range of therapeutic interventions with clients experiencing various problems and challenges.

Those who select a specialization in advanced community or policy practice learn skills in leading human service organizations, advocating for policy change, and developing and implementing new programs in the nonprofit sector, Dr. Angell adds.

Getting your MSW online

In order to apply for a Master’s of Social Work degree, you need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college. Most MSW programs take between one to two years and can be expedited in some online programs. Given the current state of higher education, getting an online degree might be the way to go. Some accredited and popular online MSW programs across the country include: Tulane University Online MSW, Virginia Commonwealth University Online MSW, Ohio University Online MSW, Regis College Online Master of Social Work, and University of Nevada, Reno Online MSW

Make sure you research the specific needs of each program before applying. It’s also important to look at the curriculum and schedule and see if an online setting will work for you. Social distancing is bound to end at some point, so an online degree is the best way to capitalize on this strange time while preparing yourself for social work careers ahead.

Looking into the future

While in the long term the demand for social workers is high, in the short term, in the wake of the pandemic, social work has taken a hit. Many social workers have been either barred from entering situations with minors or not given the proper tools if they do have to conduct an intervention. Some argue that social workers should be deemed essential businesses and allowed to continue their work. However, this mentality can put social workers in a dangerous situation with their own health.

There are some solutions in this tumultuous situation. Social work organizations are developing direct phone lines for people who need assistance and providing other digital services. The Association of Social Work Boards, the Council on Social Work Education, and the National Association of Social Workers are developing a social work workforce that can be prepared and armed to enter the workforce to deal with the social work issues that will emerge once coronavirus precautions are lifted.

The world needs social workers now more than ever to refine their skills, heighten their education, and emerge into society when society is ready and needs them the most.

Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries, including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children. When she's not watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach. 

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