Though social workers receive broad training, they often specialize, building expertise in one area or with specific populations. Some of the most common issues around which social workers build expertise include substance abuse, hospice work, and mental health. But there are many roles and duties a social worker can perform that are community-based.
A fundamental principle of Master of Social Work (MSW) training is that people and problems exist on a micro, or intimate, scale, within a macro, or wider, context. Community social work and community practice are typically referred to as macro. One-on-one work, on the other hand, is considered more micro.
Macro community work occurs at an organizational or institutional level, where policy and program development drive a social worker’s efforts. However, a community social worker may pivot between two roles, carrying out both macro and micro work. An example of this would be a social worker who helps victims of domestic violence secure new housing, while also running the shelter that provides them with temporary protection.
Community social work has broad applications, and those who perform it must wear many hats. As the name would indicate, these social workers often work directly with individuals in particular communities, helping them to navigate complex bureaucracies and assisting them with a range of other needs. As part of this work, they also provide resources and refer individuals to outside organizations as needed.
Alternatively, community social workers may engage in more global or wide-ranging work. In this function, social workers may be involved in such services as:
Program development and planning
Outreach and event planning
Developing grassroots opportunities for change
Social justice and advocacy
General empowerment to local agencies in need of support
Community social work may also involve helping recent immigrants assimilate and integrate into their new communities. Increasingly, this is a high need area in the United States.
For those looking for more global applications, community social workers also assist abroad, providing help in remote areas and in countries and communities that are vulnerable. War-torn countries and those facing natural and man-made disasters have a great need for social workers.
Another area in which community social workers play a vital role is in serving the immediate and long-term needs of individuals, families, and organizations during disasters and other emergencies. Their work can range from providing mental health support to those devastated by trauma, loss, or injury, to helping local communities rebuild or set up relief services that serve affected regions.
Those interested in becoming community social workers require either a Bachelor’s in Social work (BSW) or a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. BSW degree holders can have an impact, but are limited in the positions they can hold and the duties they can perform. By comparison, MSWs with the right training and licensure can become qualified to provide mental health counseling, and can take on greater leadership roles as community social workers.