Social workers deserve a month of celebration. Learn more about what social workers do, why you should celebrate them and how to do just that this March.
What Is a Social Worker?
A social worker uses psychology and social theories to unpack problems that people face and help them improve their lives and society as a whole. Many social workers specialize in different areas, focusing on helping children, people with addictions, people living with life-threatening diseases, families in at-risk areas and more.
Most social workers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (five out of every 10) are employed in the health care and social assistance sectors, which includes but is not limited to hospitals, mental health clinics and private practices. Meanwhile, three out of every 10 social workers work for government agencies, often conducting child welfare assessment, helping individuals who need public assistance, and working with people who've become part of the criminal justice system.
While a social worker's duties vary based on their place of employment, in general, most social workers take on the following tasks:
- Research social problems and develop remedies
- Work one-on-one with clients to divulge the issues with which they're struggling
- Educate or counsel clients and work with them to build new skills
- Advocate on behalf of clients and protect vulnerable clients to ensure that their best interests and wellbeing are observed
- Connect clients with community resources
Here's a more in-depth look at three different kinds of social workers:
1. Child, Family and School Social Workers
Child, family and school social workers, "provide social services and assistance to improve the social and psychological functioning of children and their families and to maximize the family well-being and the academic functioning of children," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These social workers may also arrange adoptions for parents and find foster homes for children, as well as address teenage problems like pregnancy, misbehavior and truancy in schools.
2. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers "assess and treat individuals with mental, emotional or substance abuse problems, including abuse of alcohol, tobacco and/or other drugs," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They may do this via "individual and group therapy, crisis intervention, case management, client advocacy, prevention and education."
3. Medical and Public Health Social Workers
Medical and Public Health Social Workers "provide individuals, families and groups with the psychosocial support needed to cope with chronic, acute or terminal illnesses," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These services may include "advising family caregivers, providing patient education and counseling, and making referrals for other services." These social workers may also help design interventions to promote health and disease prevention.
How Much Do Social Workers Earn?
Because of the variety of responsibilities, a social worker's salary is dependent upon their place of employment and specialty. It can also depend on other factors, such as their geographic location and their educational background. That said, according to the National Association of Social Workers, social workers who are just starting out with an undergraduate degree in social work, typically, earn about $30,000 per year. Those who go on to earn Master's degrees generally earn an average of $40,000 to $50,000 a year, depending upon their years of experience in the field, as well.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports the following average salaries per specialty areas in social work, as well:
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: $35,410
- Child, Family and School Social Workers: $37,480
- Medical and Public Health Social Workers: $43,040
What Is Social Worker Month?
Social Worker Month occurs in the month of March.
"Celebrated each March, National Professional Social Work Month is an opportunity for social workers across the country to turn the spotlight on the profession and highlight the important contributions they make to society," according to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). "Our nation’s more than 680,000 social workers have amazing tenacity and talent. They confront some of the most challenging issues facing individuals, families, communities and society and forge solutions that help people reach their full potential and make our nation a better place to live. We celebrate the contributions of social workers during National Social Work Month."
What Is the History of Social Worker Month?
The White House officially recognized March as the National Professional Social Work Month in 1984. And, from 1984 until 1998 (the centennial year of the profession), the NASW selected a social issue to promote each year, spanning topics such as the health care crisis, to hate crimes, to children in poverty, to homelessness and more.
Each year has a different theme.
History of Themes of National Social Work Month:
- 1984 Listen to the Children
- 1985 Work is a Family Affair
- 1986 Aging Parents: Return the Gift of Caring
- 1987 Children in Poverty
- 1988 AIDS: We Need to Know. We Need to Care.
- 1989 There’s No Place Like Home
- 1990 Strengthening America’s Families
- 1991 Vital Signs of a Healthy Nation
- 1992 Global Family Ties
- 1993 National Health Care: Vital Signs of a Healthy Nation
- 1994 Stop the Violence with Justice for All
- 1995 Stopping the Violence Starts with Me
- 1996 Hate Crimes: Not in My Life
- 1997 Racial and Ethnic Harmony: Respect, Understanding, Cooperation and Peace
- 1998 Celebrating 100 Years of Social Work
- 1999 The Business of Social Work: Helping People Help Themselves
- 2000 Social Work 2000: Change Is Our Business
- 2001 The New Face of Social Work
- 2002 The Power of Social Work: Community Needs, Human Connections
- 2003 Preserving Rights, Strengthening Voices
- 2004 The Power of Social Work: Pass It On
- 2005 Social Workers. Help Starts Here
- 2006 Life’s Journey. Help Starts Here
- 2007 Hope and Health. Help Starts Here
- 2008 Building on Strengths. Help Starts Here
- 2009 Social Work: Purpose and Possibility
- 2010 Social Workers Inspire Community Action
- 2011 Social Workers Change Futures
- 2012 Social Work Matters
- 2013 Weaving Threads of Resilience and Advocacy: The Power of Social Work
- 2014 All People Matter
- 2015 Social Work Paves the Way for Change
- 2016 Forging Solutions out of Challenges
- 2017 Social Workers Stand Up!
- 2018 Social Workers: Leaders, Advocates, Champions
The official theme for Social Work Month in March 2019 is "Social Workers: Elevate Social Work.”
"The 'Elevate Social Work' Campaign will educate the public about the contributions social workers have made to our society and why the profession is so vital to our nation," according to the campaign site. "NASW also wants to use the campaign to begin a conversation to help social workers get better compensation for the work they do. Social workers go through years of education to learn and hone their professional skills so they can help others reach their full potential. Many social workers also take continuing education courses each year to make sure their skills remain cutting edge. Yet, despite the invaluable services social workers give to others, social work salaries tend to lag behind those of others helping professions, including registered nurses, psychologists, police and detectives and teachers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is troubling, considering there is a rising need for social workers in the United States to help us cope with societal problems, including caring for our aging population."
There are tons of activities in which you can take part in order to commemorate Social Worker Month and help to educate the public about the oft-unnoticed ways in which social workers are changing the world for the better.
3 Ways to Celebrate Social Worker Month
You can celebrate Social Worker Month in many ways. Here are just three ideas!
1. Honor a Colleague
If you work in social work, consider nominating one of your colleagues for an annual prize. The NASW hosts annual award programs to recognize exemplary members, inspiring citizens, supportive policymakers and media allies. If you're a member of the NASW, you can nominate social workers you admire.
2. Help out on World Social Work Day
Get involved yourself and help social workers by lending a hand! March 20th is World Social Work Day. You can view events happening worldwide here.
3. Show Your Appreciation with a Gift
Social workers month gifts might be a letter to let the social worker in your life know that you appreciate them, or it might be anything from a coffee giftcard to a lunch on you!
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.