As a social worker, you will meet numerous individuals who need your assistance, and you’ll quickly realize that some of their problems are systemic. Helping communities instead of just individuals or families is one effective way of tackling this. By helping improve the social environment in which people are living and addressing disadvantages at the community level, you can improve many people’s lives. This type of work has been embedded in the social work model from its earliest days, and there are many ways today’s social workers approach it.
Supporting social engagement
Sometimes the word “community” does not seem to mean much. There are some neighborhoods where people don’t really talk to each other, and it’s not necessarily because they don’t want to. Creating greater community cohesion can solve a host of problems, making people more inter-reliant and less likely to struggle on their own. It also aids in the development of social skills, especially among young people.
Social workers can foster this process by creating or supporting community hubs such as youth centers or senior centers and making sure that people know about them. They can also create specific initiatives aimed at bringing people together, often working in partnership with charities or local businesses to develop sports events or community festivals that provide opportunities for interaction. They can use their expertise to make sure these events are safe and accessible, and they can work with the community to determine what is needed.
Providing useful advice
When people want to make a difference in their own communities and address systemic issues, they don’t always know how to go about it. Social workers are experienced in organizing and possess key knowledge, such as how to set up and fund community venues, along with an understanding of the paperwork and practicalities involved in running community groups and projects.
They can help ordinary citizens navigate bureaucracy and connect with the local officials who are best placed to help them, in addition to identifying other potential resources. They often work with specific groups in the community to identify shared needs or concerns and help them overcome them. They can also use their training to heal community divisions and find solutions to long-running feuds, making it easier for neighbors to live happily alongside one another.
Supporting the vulnerable
Even in communities where there is a widespread will to be inclusive and care for everyone, vulnerable people can end up being left out all too easily. Neighbors may not be aware of their circumstances or even know that they exist. They might find it difficult to access community spaces or get out of the house due to the condition of buildings or streets.
Social workers can use health and family data to identify those who are most at risk and assess their needs. When numerous people face the same disadvantages in their environment, they can push for improvements in infrastructure to reduce the barriers they face to community participation.
Social workers can also work with local community organizations to set up hot meal delivery services or arrange help with daily tasks like shopping. They can coordinate volunteers in befriending services to reduce isolation and help people in the community build connections with others who share their interests.
Tackling problematic behaviors
All too often, communities fail to thrive because of the problematic behavior of small groups of residents who intimidate or criminally endanger others or who simply cause a persistent nuisance that interrupts the ability of others to go about their business. This is most common in poor communities where high unemployment means some people have nothing to do, but it can happen anywhere. Although the police might be called in to try to resolve such situations, it doesn’t necessarily lead to any improvement.
Social workers specializing in this type of problem take a different approach, looking at the root causes of the disruptive behavior. Sometimes they work in connection with the police or the court system, and sometimes they undertake independent initiatives aimed at helping those causing the problem to re-engage with the rest of the community and understand its value. The long-term support they can offer includes helping young people stay away from trouble and creating a renewed sense of opportunity.
Advocating for the community
When it isn’t possible to solve all of a community’s problems internally because it has been financially neglected or deprived of resources, social workers can take on another role by becoming advocates. They can help community members lobby for change, showing them who to contact and how to go about it while helping them access influential people in local government. They can teach people how to run effective community surveys and petitions or use social media to push for change, and they can ensure that proper legal considerations are in place during lobbying efforts.
Online clinical social work programs deliver the breadth of knowledge and skills needed to perform this work effectively. Keuka College in New York runs an accredited program that offers field placements so students can enjoy hands-on learning in the field. It also sets students up with the skills and knowledge needed for mental health treatment and social work in communities.
If you want to make a difference in the world, training as a social worker is a great approach. By working in the community, you can turn around the lives of some of society’s most disadvantaged people and transform neighborhoods facing despair into places with real hope and opportunity.
You can empower people to continue creating positive changes for themselves long after you have moved on to apply your skills elsewhere, and you can help ensure that everybody in a community gets a chance to participate and be heard. Social work is a wonderful way to use your talents, and it is a career choice you’ll always be proud of.
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