This March we celebrate Social Work Month, dedicated to increasing the knowledge and awareness of the social work profession nationwide. While social workers are commonly stereotyped as child protective service workers, this profession is much more than that. In fact, social workers work with a diverse population of individuals, representing various cultures, socio-economic groups, and age ranges. Social workers can also be found in a number of settings from schools, hospitals, non-profit organizations, corporations, to various government agencies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 640,000 social workers in the United States.
Social workers perform a number of vital tasks. According to a study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), social workers comprise the largest group of mental health services providers in the United States, outnumbering psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses combined. The Departments of Veterans Affairs employs over 6,000 social workers to provide counseling, substance abuse treatment, post-combat readjustment assistance, and other services to veterans and family members. Additionally, over 40 percent of American Red Cross volunteers are social workers. When it comes to the country's most vulnerable populations, social workers are always there to assist and empower.
Becoming a social worker typically requires an advanced degree and extensive work experience. According to a study conducted by the National Association of Social Workers, about 79 percent of practicing social workers have master's of social work (MSW) degrees. Many entry level social work degrees require an MSW, with opportunities to move up if one becomes licensed. To become licensed in California, a person with an MSW much complete a minimum of 3,200 supervised work hours, 104 weeks of supervision, and 57 hours of continuing education, in addition to passing two state licensing exams. One might think that social workers are compensated well for their credentials, but this is simply not the case. While social workers could work higher paying and less stressful jobs elsewhere, many choose to stay in the field because of their passion for improving the lives of the sick, poor, and disenfranchised.
The theme for this year's Social Work Month is "Social Workers Change Futures". Indeed, social workers work to improve society by creating positive change among its most susceptible members. This month, please thank your friendly social worker for the selfless and benevolent services they provide on a daily basis.