Social Work Assistant Career

What is a Social Work Assistant?

A social work assistant works with licensed social workers to help people cope with challenging problems. Social work assistants advise people who are dealing with issues like unemployment, divorce, adoption or a diagnosis of a serious illness. They may counsel clients about governmental programs and help people arrange for transportation or personal aides.

Some social work assistants focus on families who need assistance in dealing with problems like addiction, while others deal primarily with people suffering from disabilities or the elderly. Other areas of specialization for social work assistants include working with veterans to help them reenter civilian life, helping immigrants adjust to a new home, guiding former inmates as they integrate into society, and providing assistance to homeless people in need of food and shelter.

What Does a Social Work Assistant Do?

A social work assistant works under the supervision of a lichened social worker to improve people’s lives. They help assess their client’s needs and assist in determining how they can be helped. Social work assistants contribute to a treatment plan, and they advise clients about resources and programs, set up interviews to establish a need, and follow up to make sure the services are provided.

Social work assistants help their clients with ordinary activities of daily life like bathing, eating and dressing. They research and coordinate appropriate governmental and private sector services like Medicaid and food stamps, they determine their client’s eligibility and they guide them in filling out applications for these assistance programs. Once the required programs are in place, the social worker assistant may be responsible for monitoring clients to make sure that they are receiving the services, and that the services provided are meeting their current needs.

Working with Families

Social work assistants work with children and their families to make sure parents are providing a safe environment. If needed, they can assist families in getting the proper resources to care for their children, like child care or food stamps. Social work assistants who work with people dealing with addictions like substance abuse, gambling and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can help by finding the proper program, rehabilitation center or 12-step support groups for their clients.

Helping the Mentally Ill

Workers who deal with individuals who have mental illness assist their clients by locating resources that allow them to cope with their illness, such as support groups and self-help programs. If necessary, they may secure group housing and/or personal care services for people suffering from severe mental illness who cannot provide these services for themselves.

Providing Care for the Elderly

Social work assistants who work with the elderly typically help their clients stay at home and care for themselves for as long as possible. This may entail finding personal care aides to assist with cooking, bathing and errands, and coordinating meal deliveries. When clients are in need of a residential care facility, the social work assistant may assist with finding an assisted living or nursing home.

Assisting People with Disabilities

People with disabilities count on social work assistants to help them find jobs that suit their condition. Assistants may cooperate with an employer to adapt the position so that it is accessible to the client. Workers may also secure personal care services for clients with disabilities to help with activities of daily life including cooking, dressing and bathing.

Meeting the Needs of Specific Populations

Some social work assistants deal with people in populations like veterans, immigrants, former prison inmates and the homeless. Social work assistants help veterans with housing and employment by transferring their skills to civilian jobs, and they coordinate veterans services.

Social work assistants who work with immigrants help them adjust to their new life by encouraging them to learn a new language, finding legal assistance to complete necessary paperwork and finding housing and employment. Former prisoners turn to social work assistants to help find employment or receive job training. They also help with housing, and they recommend programs to assist the former inmates with their new life. Social work assistants help the homeless meet basic, everyday needs by securing housing and connecting them with soup kitchens and other facilities for meals.

What is the Difference Between a Social Work Assistant and a Social Worker?

Like social workers, social work assistants help people solve problems and cope with situations in their daily lives. However, social work assistants work under the direction of licensed social workers, who have a higher level of education.

A social work assistant may require only a high school diploma or its equivalent for an entry level job. On the other hand, social workers require a bachelor’s degree in social work for an entry level position. Clinical social workers need a master’s degree and two years of supervised post graduate experience in a clinical setting. In addition, clinical social workers must be licensed in their state.

Unlike social work assistants, licensed social workers can also diagnose and treat behavioral, mental and emotional issues. They counsel patients in a group, family or individual basis and help them develop strategies to cope with difficult issues. Social workers may also provide couples therapy.

Why Do We Need Social Work Assistants?

Social work assistants help social workers perform many of their duties to help people resolve or deal with their problems. Children who are raised in a happy home have a good chance of becoming productive and stable adults. However, in a home with problems like neglect, unemployment, alcoholism or mental illness, parents may experience severe problems that limit their ability to care for their children properly. Social work assistants can connect families with job training programs, substance abuse counseling, support groups and rehabilitation centers to overcome problems.

Social work assistants are also needed to provide support for the elderly and for people with disabilities. Often, older people and those with disabilities that limit their physical ability are in need of personal care services to help them with the chores of daily life. The social work assistant can find an appropriate personal care aid to help with hygiene, meals, bathing and running errands like food shopping. The assistant can arrange for meal deliveries and help with placement in a residential facility like a nursing home when necessary. For clients with disabilities, the social worker assistant can work with employers to find a job that is appropriate for the individual.

Veterans who have been discharged from the military count on social work assistants to navigate the myriad of veterans programs and make recommendations to suit their needs. Social work assistants help veterans register for community programs that facilitate returning to civilian life. They also help veterans find jobs that make use of the skills they acquired in the military. Social work assistants help immigrants learn the language of new their home, and they assist with finding a home and a job. Immigrants often need social work assistants to help them fill out paperwork and find a lawyer that practices immigration law.

Social work assistants are also needed to help former prison inmates reenter society as a productive and stable citizen. This may entail helping former prisoners get the job training that they need and find employment. Workers may also recommend a community program to support the former inmate and help him with issues that arise.

Society counts on social worker assistants to help homeless people with their basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.

Where Does a Social Work Assistant Work?

A social work assistant may work for a social service agency, a non-profit organization or a local or state government. Some work in hospitals and clinics or in group homes or shelters. Other assistants work in private offices, and some travel within the community to visit their clients.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, in 2013 43 percent of social and human service assistants worked in individual and family services or in government. 16 percent worked in residential care facilities, 12 percent worked in community and vocational rehabilitation services, and the remaining 10 percent worked in religious, grant making, professional and other organizations. Social work assistants generally work full time, and may work weekends and nights.

What are the Requirements to Become a Social Work Assistant?

Education

Individuals interested in becoming a social work assistant need a high school diploma as a minimum requirement. On-the-job training is generally provided. Employers may prefer assistants with related work experience, or coursework above the high school level (i.e. associate’s and bachelor’s).

Associate degrees and certificates are available in areas including gerontology, human services and social and behavioral science. The educational background of the assistant will determine the level of responsibility on the job, with those having only a high school diploma taking on such tasks as filling out paperwork. Those with college coursework are eligible to coordinate program activities or manage a group home.

The goal of a Social Work Assistant Associate of Applied Science degree program is to have students learn to develop a client case file from intake to termination; interview clients using ethical techniques; and demonstrate skill in the client intake process of a social services program. Applicants must be high school graduates, and college transcripts are evaluated individually. Typical degree programs include fieldwork and train social work students to implement treatment plans and deal with clients suffering a crisis.

A typical curriculum includes 15 credits of general core courses like language arts and communication, social and behavioral sciences, natural sciences, humanities, mathematics and fine arts. There are 46 hours of occupational courses, including interviewing techniques, case management, human behavior, community services and interventions.

Students may also learn to work with children and the aging. A social work practicum is included in the 46 hours. Students also take 9 credit hours of leadership, community service, case management with families, and multicultural issues.

Training

Social work assistants without postsecondary education typically receive on-the-job training. Those taking courses for a postsecondary degree receive a practicum as part of their coursework.

What Skills are Required for a Social Work Assistant?

Communication: Social work assistants need communication skills to talk to clients about their lives, support them in receiving assistance, and explain program options.

Empathy: Assistants are generally compassionate people who are capable of working with people under stress by empathizing with their situation.

Interpersonal Skills: Social work assistants build relationships with their clients and with service providers. They must be able to discuss sensitive issues and find out about the best community resources to help them.

Organizational Skills: The assistant must stay organized to complete and file paperwork so that their clients get the help they deserve.

Time Management: Social work assistants juggle numerous clients by managing their time efficiently so that clients get the attention they need.

Problem Solving: Social work assistants interview clients and use their problem solving skills to find solutions for their problems.

How Much Does a Social Work Assistant Make?

According to the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for social and human service assistants in 2014 was $15.32. The top ten percent earned over $47,500 per year, while the lowest ten percent earned under $20,000. Those working in state government earned an annual median wage of $37,460, and those working in residential care facilities earned an annual median wage of $27,020.

Employment for social work assistants is projected to increase a whopping 22 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. This expected increase is due to the rising demand for social services by an aging population, and by a growing number of individuals who see treatment for addiction. There is also a growing trend to send drug offenders to treatment programs instead of jail.

What are the Opportunities for Advancement for a Social Worker Assistant?

Social work assistants with additional education have more advancement opportunities, and responsibilities of social worker assistants increase with their educational level. Social work assistants can obtain a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) that prepares students for direct service positions like a mental health assistant or a caseworker.

A master’s degree in social work (MSW) typically takes two years to complete, but some programs allow applicants with a bachelor’s degree in social work to complete the program in 1 year. The MSW degree program prepares students for a supervisory role and a specialty, and includes supervised fieldwork or an internship. Licensing and certification requirements for social workers vary by state.

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