Imagine a life in which you have a physical or mental disability, or in which you experience violence in your home. Perhaps you’re a single parent struggling to find the resources you need to care for your children, or you might even have a child that is in need of mental health care. Accessing resources to help you lighten your load may be difficult as well. Maybe the health clinic is too far away, or the substance abuse program your loved one needs to get clean is too expensive.
Thousands and thousands of people experience life difficulties such as these each and every day. Helping those people find the assistance they need to overcome their problems is a variety of outreach workers who dedicate themselves to improving the lives of others.
What is an Outreach Worker?
Outreach workers are social services employees that do their work in the field. That is, rather than working primarily in an office or clinical setting, outreach workers instead often go to their clients to provide services. This is because, typically, the clientele of outreach workers are not able to access services they need in the traditional manner. They may be homeless or have run away from home. There might be a medical or mental health issue that prevents people in need of help from getting the assistance they require.
Often, the people in most need don’t have the money to pay for the services they need, so they don’t seek them out. As a result, outreach workers endeavor to make these services as accessible as possible.
Outreach workers help people with a variety of life difficulties, from abuse to family issues and substance abuse to juvenile delinquency. Their primary duties revolve around connecting their clients with local professionals, organizations, charities, and the like, so they can overcome their current life obstacles and lead a happy, healthy life. In this regard, outreach workers offer many of the same services that social workers do. However, outreach workers are usually not as highly trained as social workers in providing counseling and therapy services.
What Does an Outreach Worker Do?
The particular day-to-day job duties of an outreach worker will depend largely on the type of clientele they serve and the specific employment setting. Some outreach workers address the needs of families and children while others work exclusively with individuals that have been abused or that have a mental health issue. Regardless of these differences, outreach workers of all types exist to help their clients overcome the stressors in their lives such that they can function at a higher level. This is accomplished in a variety of ways, including offering educational courses and skill-building exercises, organizing community events, advocacy, and mentorship.
Family Outreach Worker
Essentially, family outreach workers function to help families become more responsible and independent. The support that family outreach workers provide serves as a bridge between a family’s current state of disarray to one of success.
Individuals employed as a family outreach worker help families through both short-term and long-term difficulties. Providing emotional support, such as listening empathically as a family describes their problems, is a highly common task for family outreach workers. However, because they are typically not trained in counseling techniques, family outreach workers tend to provide moral support more than they provide therapy.
Another primary duty of family outreach workers is to address the practical needs of the family. This can take a variety of forms, and will depend on the specific needs of each client. For example, an outreach worker in this field might help a father struggling with a drug addiction to get into rehab. They would make calls to local facilities, make appointments for evaluations, and arrange transportation to the chosen facility on behalf of the client. The outreach worker would also work with the spouse, children, or other loved ones to develop appropriate skills such that they can support their loved one as he makes progress toward sobriety. This could include anything from improved communication skills to reinforcement strategies to encourage continued sobriety.
Family outreach workers also seek to help families with day-to-day issues, such as financial struggles. For example, an outreach worker might teach a family about basic budgeting such that they have adequate funds to pay for necessities such as housing, food, and clothing for their children. Outreach workers might offer these educational services themselves, or they might refer clients to another local resource to get the help they need. Outreach workers often take on a supervisory role in such situations as well, checking in on their clients to go over monthly budgets and discuss how well the clients are doing in progressing toward their financial goals.
Child and Youth Outreach Worker
Much like family outreach workers, child and youth outreach workers seek to help their clients overcome difficult circumstances in their lives. Because their clients have often dropped out of school, run away from home, are homeless, or are facing another serious life situation, child and youth outreach workers most often assist young people in finding resources or developing skills for daily functioning.
For example, if a teenage client has run away from home, a child and youth outreach worker would connect their client with an appropriate shelter so he or she has a safe place to stay. Once their client’s living situation has been settled, an outreach worker would then work with the client to develop the necessary skills to live on their own, such as how to find employment, how to do laundry, or even how to cook.
Child and youth outreach workers also seek to keep their clients in the educational system, although this can be exceptionally difficult, particularly if their client is homeless or has run away from home. Outreach workers will team up with local education officials to determine the best course of action for their client’s education. This might include taking virtual classes or attending an alternative school so the child has the most robust support to continue his or her education.
An essential feature of this job is to function as a liaison, in which child and youth outreach workers facilitate communication between various entities involved in the delivery of services to their client. This might include monthly check-ins with their client’s caseworker at the Department of Workforce Services, weekly meetings with the director of the shelter where their client lives, and daily discussions with the child’s family to ensure they are apprised of their child’s safety and progress towards their goals.
Many child and youth outreach workers also work with perfectly healthy and well-adjusted clients. In this capacity, outreach workers might deliver after-school programs designed to promote health, fitness, positive personal relationships, or effective decision-making. Child and youth outreach workers commonly organize educational and extracurricular activities, such as arts programs, as well. Outreach workers in this field also often serve as mentors, and spend time with their clients supporting their intellectual, social, and emotional development.
Mental Health Outreach Worker
The primary function of mental health outreach workers is to support child and adult populations who are experiencing a mental health issue. Outreach services run the gamut from providing psychoeducational groups for individuals struggling with an addiction, to providing grief services to families after the death of a loved one, to working with groups of children that are at risk of engaging in unhealthy behaviors.
For example, a mental health outreach worker might conduct an after-school group for teenage students that are at-risk of gang activity. The group might focus on decision-making practices or refusal skills. Improved communication and identification and expression of emotions in a healthy manner might be topics of discussion as well. Groups such as these serve two primary functions. First, to teach children about the dangers of making risky decisions, and two, offering a safe place for kids to talk about their struggles and find strength in the experiences of their peers.
Therapeutic services are often a part of mental health outreach as well. For example, a mental health outreach worker in a rural area might make home visits to check on the progress of a client with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia. The outreach worker would check in with the client, discuss his or her feelings and emotions, do a review of his or her behavior in recent days or weeks, and outline goals for continued improvement. In this capacity, mental health outreach work is essentially an extension of the work done in a clinical environment.
Raising community awareness of mental health issues is another primary function of mental health outreach workers. For example, an outreach worker in this field might develop, organize, and implement a community-based event to educate the public about Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, mental health outreach workers serve to promote healthy mental functioning. An example would be devising an advertising campaign that encourages parents to talk openly and honestly to their children about common mental health concerns, like depression and anxiety.
Community Outreach Worker
Community outreach workers primarily develop, organize, and implement events that benefit the local community, particularly for members of the community that are underserved or disenfranchised. Typically, outreach workers in this capacity promote programs having to do with education, family issues, or community needs. For example, a community outreach worker might endeavor to promote an after-school program for children in a neighborhood in which there is a high level of juvenile delinquency. Likewise, a community outreach worker in a neighborhood with high rates of crimes against women might offer courses in self-defense.
Community outreach workers also seek to recruit and organize volunteers. An example might be recruiting young people to help clean up trash and graffiti in the community, or forming a corps of students to do yard work for elderly residents in the autumn. Organizing volunteers for larger scale operations is also common.
For example, community outreach workers might organize volunteers to address a community-wide concern, such as high unemployment. In this context, a community outreach worker would hold community meetings about the issue, at which they provide information to community members about what they can do to help resolve the issue. From there, a community outreach worker might organize additional local events, such as a town hall meeting with members of the local government, at which recruited volunteers would work to ensure the event runs smoothly.
A large part of this career is working on improving health care and social services for community members as well. Outreach workers might help single mothers find resources to help pay for their child’s health care expenses, or they might work with recent immigrants to help them identify social service programs that will help them find adequate housing and employment. Community outreach workers played a pivotal role in educating community members about their coverage options under the Affordable Care Act.
Domestic Violence Outreach Worker
As the job title indicates, domestic violence outreach workers serve clients that have suffered abuse. This includes victims of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. The primary duties of outreach workers in this field include ensuring the safety of the victim, connecting the victim to appropriate resources, and collaborating with local organizations to develop domestic violence education programs.
Much of the work of domestic violence outreach workers is done either in the home of the abused, a shelter, or another safe place, such as a church. Outreach workers typically begin by conducting a risk assessment with the victim. This involves asking questions about the situation, such as the nature of the relationship with the abuser, the type of abuse that has been inflicted, and if there are any other victims, such as children. From there, outreach workers help victims develop safety plans, such as how to avoid contact with their abuser, and puts victims in touch with a safe place to stay.
Domestic violence outreach workers also help victims rebuild their confidence, self-esteem, and independence. This is often done through a mixture of one-on-one counseling, group counseling, and educational groups. For example, a woman that has been physically abused would participate in counseling sessions to work through the feelings associated with her victimization. Group therapy might be utilized such that several victims can develop support for one another as a result of their shared experience. Trainings and courses, on topics like self-defense and expressing emotions, might also be part of a treatment plan.
Assistance with practical issues is a primary function of domestic violence outreach workers as well. They assist their clients in finding permanent housing and employment. They might also help victims enroll their children in school. Guidance with budgeting and paying bills is also often provided. Outreach workers refer their clients to other professionals and organizations in the community that can be of assistance as well. Domestic violence outreach workers will also assist clients through the legal process by connecting their client with an attorney and court advocate, and will sometimes accompany their client to court proceedings as well.
Why Do We Need Outreach Workers?
Outreach workers fulfill a much-needed void when it comes to the organization and delivery of social and health services to individuals in need. Whether people lack access to services because of their socioeconomic status, cultural or ethnic background, a language barrier, or a physical or mental health difficulty, outreach workers represent their link to a better life.
There are many positive results of outreach work. First, communities are better informed about issues that impact them directly, such as poverty or violence. Second, individuals and families develop a better understanding of the social, medical, and mental health services that are available to them in their area. Third, people gain improved knowledge and skills that help them overcome obstacles in their lives, such as improved career or communication skills. Lastly, outreach workers provide their clients with much-needed social and emotional support, mentorship, and advocacy. These personal and practical supports make it possible for individuals, families, and communities to get on a pathway to better living.
On another level, outreach workers help build up populations that have historically been underserved. Minority groups, immigrant groups, and the poor are among the most commonly served groups of outreach workers. The work that these professionals do to increase access to quality care is important for these groups to achieve their highest level of potential.
What are the Career Opportunities for an Outreach Worker?
Most outreach workers are employed by government agencies, such as the Department of Family Services or the Department of Social Services, or non-profit organizations, such as homeless shelters, mental health care facilities, or churches. Some outreach workers might be employed by for-profit entities as well, such as hospitals or insurance companies. Other outreach workers are employed by judicial bodies, particularly workers whose clients are children, juveniles, or adults that have had a run in with the law.
As discussed above, the primary duties of an outreach worker are to ensure their client is informed about the resources available to them, to improve access to those resources for their clients, and in many cases, to deliver those services to clients either directly or indirectly. However, outreach workers have many other functions as part of their career.
For example, outreach workers often engage advocacy services for their clients. A domestic violence outreach worker might advocate on their client’s behalf with local law enforcement to ensure a protective order is issued and enforced against the perpetrator of the abuse. Likewise, a child and youth outreach worker might advocate on their client’s behalf to ensure the client has continued access to educational services after being kicked out of their home.
Mentorship is another aspect of this career, regardless of the type of employment setting. For example, an outreach worker employed by a non-profit organization might develop and oversee the implementation of an after-school mentoring and tutoring program for English language learning students. An outreach worker whose clients have a developmental disability might mentor their clients and help them develop skills for daily living, such as how to grocery shop and clean their home, such that the client has an increased level of independence.
Veteran outreach workers also have the opportunity to expand their career opportunities into other areas of work. Serving as a consultant to an organization that does outreach work is a possibility. So too is entrance into an educational or training capacity. Outreach workers with many years of experience on the job might find opportunities to teach courses for new outreach workers or lead continuing education classes for outreach workers. There may even be the option to work in academia, particularly for well-qualified outreach workers that have a master’s degree or doctorate.
How to Become an Outreach Worker?
Fortunately for people that wish to work as an outreach worker, there are many educational avenues to entering this field of work. Some outreach workers find entry-level employment with just an associate’s degree in a human services field, such as sociology, psychology, or education. Associate’s degree programs are plentiful across the U.S., both on campus and online. These programs typically require 60 semester credits of coursework and take two years to complete.
A bachelor’s degree is required for additional employment opportunities. Undergraduate studies can focus on any of the areas above, in addition to social work, cultural anthropology, or rehabilitation services. These programs help students prepare for work in the human services field by focusing on why and how humans behave and interact, how to deliver social services, advocacy, leadership, and other associated areas of study. Bachelor’s degree programs usually require four years to complete and include approximately 60 credit hours of general education requirements, such as science, humanities, and language courses, as well as 60 credits of coursework in one’s major.
Further career paths are opened for individuals that obtain a master’s degree. Outreach workers with a graduate education have advanced knowledge and skills that allow them to work in supervisory or managerial positions. One’s knowledge and skill set will depend on the type of studies undertaken. For example, a mental health outreach worker could pursue a graduate degree in a mental health field, such as counseling or psychology, and study human behavior, therapeutic techniques, assessment, and diagnosis. Conversely, a community outreach worker might study public policy development, economics, or human services, and take courses on advocacy techniques, grant writing, community organization, and the like.
Because of the diverse educational background of outreach workers, and the various careers in which outreach workers can be employed, some employer training is likely to be required once a job is procured. Oftentimes, generalized training is required and focuses on practical skills like accessing health information, conducting client assessments, devising and implementing health promotion programs, and methods of coordinating services.
The employer will also determine the type, extent, and frequency of any specific training. For example, a domestic violence outreach worker might be required by his or her employer to participate in sensitivity training in order to deliver services to clients in the most empathic manner possible. Similarly, a child and youth outreach worker might be required by his or her employer to be trained in methods of effective communication with children.
Some employers require outreach workers to be fluent in a second language as well. This is because outreach workers often assist families that have recently immigrated to the United States from elsewhere. For example, for an outreach worker that lives in Texas, Florida, or Southern California, where there are large Spanish-speaking communities, having a knowledge and understanding of Spanish might be required in order to enter this field of work.
Continuing education training is often required as well, especially if an outreach worker is licensed. This type of training can take many forms, from participating in educational classes to attending workshops to completing online courses and exams. Again, the type and frequency of continuing education will be determined in large part by the employer. However, the state in which an outreach worker is employed will also have specific requirements regarding continued training.
Licensure requirements for outreach workers will depend on the type of job they perform as well as the career area in which they are employed. Entry-level outreach workers, such as a family liaison or mental health services aide, generally do not need to be licensed because their positions do not require a high enough level of education. And since many outreach workers do not offer formal counseling services, many positions may not have a licensure requirement. However, individuals with bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees might need to be licensed in certain cases.
For example, a child and youth outreach worker that has a master’s degree in social work may need to be licensed as a clinical social worker by the state in which they reside. Similarly, a mental health outreach worker with a master’s degree in counseling might need to be licensed as a professional counselor by their state of residence.
Licensure requirements are determined by individual states, so the specific requirements that must be met can vary wildly. However, the general standards for licensure typically require an individual to have at least a master’s degree from an accredited institution, a passing score on a national exam, and several thousand hours of supervised practice.
What Skills Does an Outreach Worker Need?
Because of their close work with individuals in need who are facing great life difficulties, outreach workers must be well equipped to handle stressful situations. This includes having the following skills:
Communication – Outreach workers interact with many different people from diverse backgrounds. As a result, having the skills to communicate effectively are absolutely essential. This includes being able to speak clearly and listen actively. And, as mentioned above, this often includes having the ability to communicate in more than one language.
Empathy – Clients that seek the services of an outreach worker are often facing incredibly difficult life situations, from abuse or addiction to poverty or lack of education. This requires outreach workers to have the capacity for empathy and compassion, even if they have never been in a similar situation as their client.
Organization – Outreach workers typically have a large caseload. This means keeping track of the progress of potentially dozens of clients. With a lot of their work taking place in the field, as opposed to an office, the need to be highly organized is that much more important.
Problem solving – The essential feature of this job is to assist clients in identifying methods to overcome life’s obstacles. As a result, it is imperative that outreach workers have the ability to analyze problems, identify possible solutions, and implement those solutions in an efficient manner. Having the capacity to evaluate the effectiveness of implemented solutions is an important skill to have as well.
Flexibility – Outreach workers tend to have unpredictable schedules, with work required not just during normal daytime hours, but also on nights, weekends, and holidays. Being willing and able to be flexible with one’s schedule and prepared to deliver the appropriate services to clients regardless of the time of day is essential for success in this field of work.
What Qualities Make a Good Outreach Worker?
There are many personal qualities that good outreach workers must possess if they are to be optimally successful in this career. These qualities include:
Desire to Help Others – At the heart of outreach work should be a strong desire to help others. Outreach work can be a thankless job at times, so being willing to work for the benefit of others, often without recognition for that work, is essential.
Emotional Strength – Because their clients are often in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances, it is essential that outreach workers have the emotional strength to help their clients face their problems head on. With large caseloads common, it is necessary for outreach workers to have the skills to deal with very heavy emotions from multiple clients and find time for themselves to work through those emotions effectively.
Friendliness – Outreach workers often conduct their work in unfamiliar places, including the homes of clients. Being friendly and outgoing will help outreach workers go into these unknown environments and build strong relationships with the individuals that need their help.
Trustworthy – Like many people employed in the humans services field, outreach workers are relied upon by their clients to protect their interests, keep their information confidential, and to act on their behalf in a professional manner. To do so, outreach workers must demonstrate to their clients that they are individuals that can be trusted.
Openness – Because they work with a variety of stakeholders, as well as a wide range of clients, outreach workers must have the quality of openness – to compromise, to new ideas, and to doing things differently. While an outreach worker might have specific plans for a client, another professional may have a better way to approach that client’s problem. Likewise, it is important for outreach workers to be open to input from their client and accept them as a partner in the process of making decisions.
What are the Pros and Cons of Being an Outreach Worker?
As with all jobs in the human services field, there is the potential for outreach workers to have a highly rewarding career with many benefits. At the same time, it is an extremely stressful field of work that can be mentally and emotionally draining. These are just two of many pros and cons of employment in this field of work.
- Among the primary benefits of being an outreach worker is seeing the lives of downtrodden clients take a turn for the better.
- The personal growth that clients experience, their improved relationships and level of functioning, and the goals that they achieve can give outreach workers a strong sense of pride for the work they have done.
- Helping people make positive changes in their lives, and being a source of positive change, leads to a high level of job satisfaction for people employed as outreach workers.
- Another benefit of working in this field is that outreach workers can work in a wide variety of settings with many different types of clients. Outreach work can be extremely exciting because people of all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds require assistance at some point.
- Likewise, outreach workers can find jobs in many different settings, be that in a mental health clinic, a community center, a homeless shelter, or even a church. Again, the number of possible employment settings mean that outreach workers can have a job that offers them a different type of work experience from day to day and week to week.
- Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people in need of social support. But this means that outreach workers have many opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people in need. In other words, this is a career field with excellent potential for job growth.
- There are many non-profits, government agencies, and private companies that require the help of outreach workers, so job prospects should remain strong for the foreseeable future.
- Many outreach worker jobs don’t require advanced degrees, so people with an associate’s degree or even a certificate can find a decent and rewarding job.
There are downsides to outreach work, however. Primary among them is the level of stress that many outreach workers experience. Stress comes from various sources.
- The clients of outreach workers are usually facing great barriers in their lives, and the experiences and struggles of their clients can cause outreach workers great anxiety.
- Likewise, the sheer volume of clients on a typical outreach worker’s caseload serves to increase the pressure as they try to deliver appropriate services to a large number of people.
- Stress can also be caused by the unpredictable working hours that outreach workers must hold.
- While it can be a positive aspect of the job to work in a variety of settings with many different types of people, it can also be a disadvantage. The constant travel from one client’s home or community to another, the overwhelmingly diverse needs of each client, and the potential for language or cultural barriers can contribute to a negative opinion of outreach work.
- Outreach workers must also undertake a massive amount of paperwork – a task that can be both tedious and boring.
- Outreach work is also not for the impatient. Organizing services for clients through many different agencies means that outreach workers spend a lot of time making phone calls, sending emails, and otherwise checking on the progress of service delivery.
- With so many stakeholders involved, it can become a waiting game for all entities to do their part, which can be extremely frustrating.
- Another frustrating aspect of the job is when clients are unable or unwilling to make the changes they need to improve their life situation. For example, a child and youth outreach worker whose client continues to skip school and get in trouble with law enforcement can grow tired of not making much progress with their client.
How Much Does an Outreach Worker Earn?
Salaries for outreach workers vary significantly. The type of employment, place of employment, and educational level of the worker are all significant factors that influence income. For example, employment with a government agency may garner a higher annual income than employment with a grant-funded non-profit agency, because government entities have a guaranteed source of funding, whereas non-profits may offer less compensation because of the year-to-year fluctuations in funding.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer wage estimates for outreach workers. However, the BLS notes that a closely related field, Social and Community Service Managers, have an average annual wage of $67,730, as of May 2014. This figure is comparable to the earnings estimates for outreach workers from other organizations.
According to Salary.com, the median annual income for a community outreach worker is $58,455. This income level is usually achieved after acquiring an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree, and having a number of years of experience in the field.
Indeed.com reports that youth outreach workers make significantly less each year, at $48,000, on average, as of July 2015. Again, this income level is commensurate with a worker that has an advanced education and a decent level of experience in the field. Salaries for other specialties in outreach work are comparable to those listed above.
What Careers are Similar to an Outreach Worker?
There are a wide variety of careers that are comparable to outreach work. Among them are:
Health Educator and Community Health Worker
The essential duty of workers in this field is to educate the community about wellness. This work is done both on an individual level with specific clients, as well as on a community level. Like outreach workers, health educators and community health workers devise improvement plans and work with various stakeholders to help people lead a healthier life.
Entrance into this career field requires a bachelor’s degree in health promotion or health education. Higher paying positions often require a minimum of a master’s degree.
Much like outreach workers, social workers help people address everyday problems as well as more chronic issues such as poverty, abuse, or lack of access to essential services such as health care. However, with clinical training, social workers are qualified to also provide counseling services to their clients, including assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health issues. Entry-level social work jobs can be had with a bachelor’s degree in social work. To be a clinical social worker, one must have a master’s degree in social work and complete two years of supervised practice.
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor
Counselors in this field work with clients that have an addiction to alcohol or other drugs, or who have a mental illness that interferes with their ability to lead a healthy, fulfilling life. Whereas outreach workers in the mental health field serve to develop and coordinate services for their clients, counselors have advanced training and education to administer those services as well. Assessment and diagnosis are common duties, as is conducting therapy. Substance abuse counselors often oversee educational groups and support groups as well, such as a 12-step program.
To become a counselor, one must have at least a master’s degree in a related field. Depending on the employment setting, a doctorate may be required as well.
Social and Human Services Assistant
Social and human services assistants work directly with other human services professionals, such as social workers and counselors, to help clients procure the services they need to make positive changes in their lives. Workers in this field operate much like outreach workers do in that they coordinate and oversee service implementation, monitor clients to keep track of their progress, and help clients with daily activities.
A high school diploma is all that is needed to enter this field of work. However, for greater employment opportunities, it is recommended that workers pursue a certificate program, associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree.
What are the Opportunities for Advancement for an Outreach Worker?
As mentioned above, the demand for outreach workers is expected to be strong in the coming years, as many people in the U.S. continue to need assistance finding services to help improve their lot in life. From this point of view, there is an expectation that there would be robust opportunities for advancement in this field, particularly for outreach workers that are able and willing to get additional training or education.
Undertaking further training and education is likely the greatest key to advancement in this field. While many entry-level positions require only an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, positions with more responsibility usually come with the requirement of having at least a master’s degree, and in some situations, may warrant a doctorate. At the very least, career advancement requires workers to engage in continuing education or trainings in order to be qualified for a job with increased responsibilities.
For example, outreach worker managers, social service managers, and community service managers are often required to have a master’s degree in counseling, social work, public health, or public administration. Additionally, these positions often require workers to have at least five years of experience working in the field to even be considered for advancement. But with advancement comes greater opportunities to impact change, such as through public policy development. There are financial benefits of advancement in this field, as management occupations garner an annual wage of $93,910.
Many people who start in outreach work eventually advance into a related career field, such as those listed above. Outreach work is great experience for someone that seeks to become a social worker, counselor, or psychologist. Outreach work is also good preparation for individuals that wish to work in public policy development or community organization.