Careers in Social Work

Recent graduates have found employment in the following agencies:

  • Big Brother/Big Sisters - Cape Girardeau
  • Bootheel Counseling Services - Sikeston
  • Bootheel Healthy Start - Charleston
  • Boys & Girls Club of Poplar Bluff - Poplar Bluff
  • Community Caring Council - Cape Girardeau
  • Community Counseling Center - Cape Girardeau
  • Department of Health & Senior Services - Cape Girardeau
  • Family Counseling Center - Cape Girardeau
  • Girardot Center - Cape Girardeau
  • Life Care Center - Cape Girardeau
  • The Lutheran Home - Cape Girardeau
  • Missouri Children's Division - Bloomfield, Cape Girardeau, Caruthersville, Park Hills, Sikeston
  • Missouri Delta Medical Center - Sikeston
  • Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center - Poplar Bluff
  • SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence, Inc. - Cape Girardeau

What can I do with this degree?



-Family service agencies
-Child welfare departments
-School pupil personnel departments
-Area agencies on aging
-State mental health departments
-Employee assistance programs
-Probation departments

Administrators are involved with planning, budgeting, public relations, marketing, supervising, operations management, fund raising, to name a few.

Obtain an MSW and gain management experience.

Family preservation
Child protection
Group care
Advocacy and intervention

-Adoption agencies
-Child day care
-Foster care agencies
-Family preservation agencies
-Public and private child welfare organizations

Child welfare social workers strive to ensure the safety and well-being of children through treatment of the whole family.

Volunteer at daycares, child shelters, camps YMCA, Scouts, or other agencies that aid youth

Community and Program Development
Consumer advocacy
Economic developemnt
Neighborhood organizing

-Advocacy organizations
-Development corporations
-Community action agencies
-Neighborhood and community centers
-Local, state, & federal governments

Social workers in this area work with existing organizations for specific groups, enhance quality of living, and involve community members in the political process.

Get involved with grassroots causes and community agencies.

Youth Services

-Police departments
-Victim services programs

Social workers in corrections focus on rehabilitation of clients.

Obtain experience by volunteering at a corrections facility or victims' program such as a rape crisis center.

Case management
Planning and Program evaluation
-Community-based living arrangements
-State and local agencies
-Medical facilities

Social workers in this area help people with disabilities to adjust and to lead productive lives.

Volunteer at special needs camps, daycares, schools, or hospitals to gain experience.

Information and referral
Geriatric case management
Home Health Care
Public Policy
-Hospitals and medical centers
-Nursing homes
-Senior centers
-Senior housing facilities
-Senior volunteer programs

Gerontology involves working with older adults, healthy or ill, and their families.

Get involved with programs or organizations designed for senior citizens.

AIDS counseling & education
Public health
Home health care
Maternal and child health
Physical rehabilitation
Chemical dependency
-Health maintenance organizations (HMOs)
-Nursing home
-Group homes

Social workers in health care facilitate medical and emotional treatment of patients.

Choose volunteer settings such as hospitals, the American Red Cross or AIDS agencies to get experience.

Individual/Family psychotherapy and counseling
Grief counseling
Victim services
Group work
Group therapy

-Community mental health centers
-Psychiatric hospitals
-Residential treatment centers
-Employee assistance programs
-Family service agencies

Clinical social workers are found in a variety of settings that provide therapeutic counseling to clients.

Master of Social Work (MSW) is required.

Clinical social work
Alcohol and other drug abuse treatment
Health and wellness education
Grass roots organizing

-Employee assistance programs
-Labor unions
-Organizational development

Occupational social workers help employees to be more productive and satisfied.

Income maintenance
Housing services
Administration & Supervision
Public Policy

-Public welfare agencies
-Private social service agencies

Public welfare is designed to provide services and support for poor, disabled, ill, elderly, or juvenile clients.

Volunteer at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, battered women homes, literacy programs, or other social service agencies to get experience.

Planning and Policy
Social planning
-Colleges and universities
-Research institutes
-Advocacy organizations
-Local, state and federal government

Research provides data and statistics important in program implementation and policy development.

Doctor of Social Work (DSW) or Ph.D. usually required.

Clinical social work
Pupil personnel services
Student Advocacy
-Elementary & secondary schools
-Head start centers
-Counseling centers
-Early intervention programs

School systems may employ social workers to help students cope with and resolve emotional, developmental, or educational difficulties.

Gain experience with children at daycare centers, camps, or Scouts.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social work is one of the fastest growing careers in the United States. The profession is expected to grow by 30% by 2010; currently, nearly 600,000 people hold social work degrees.
  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), professional social workers are the nation's largest group of mental health services providers.
  • There are more clinically trained social workers - over 190,000 in 1998 - than psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses combined.
  • Federal law and the National Institutes of Health recognize social work as one of five core mental health professions.
  • The BSW is widely recognized as the entry-level professional degree for practice in public and private social agencies, in hospitals and other supervised health care settings, as in a wide variety of other agency settings. There are over 300 CSWE-accredited BSW programs across the country.
  • The MSW is the graduate level degree for professional social work practice, and is often pursued after some work experience. Social work has increasingly become a second career for many. Many BSW graduates soon enter MSW programs in order to further develop additional skills and practice knowledge. There are about 90 schools of social work offering accredited MSW programs.

Since the first social work class was offered in the summer of 1898 at Columbia University, social workers have led the way developing private and charitable organizations to serve people in need. Social workers continue to address the needs of society and bring our nation's social problems to the public's attention.

Social workers are unique among the helping professionals in the way they consider the individual within the context of the family and the larger social environment. They people overcome some of life's most difficult challenges: poverty, discrimination, abuse, addiction, physical illness, marital problems, divorce, loss, unemployment, educational problems, disability, emotional stress, and mental illness. They help prevent crises and counsel individuals, families, and communities to cope more effectively with the stresses of every day life.

For sheer variety, few occupations can match social work, which offers the broadest range of opportunities and settings. Social workers are found in public agencies, private businesses, hospitals, clinics, schools, nursing homes, private practices, police departments, courts, and countless other interesting workplaces. They are managers, supervisors, and administrators. They serve at all levels of government. They are educators. They are therapists and researchers. More and more, they are also elected political leaders and legislators.

Today, Americans enjoy many privileges because early social workers saw miseries and injustices and took action, inspiring others along the way. Many of the benefits we take for granted came about because social workers - working with families and institutions - led the fight for child labor laws, more humane industrial conditions, voting rights for women, and other progressive milestones.

Those who seek a career in social work should be willing to commit themselves to a special way of life, as does any professional. the social work profession has its own body of knowledge, code of ethics, practice standards, credentials, state licensing, and a nationwide system of accredited education programs. These equip the professional social worker to combine the desire to help others with the knowledge, skill, and ethics needed to provide that help. A professional is often defined as one who is expected to have a sense of autonomy, belief in self-regulation, a commitment to service, and a conception of wok as a calling rather than a job. Social workers fit that description aptly.

Sense of autonomy: The decisions social workers must make often require sorting out a very complex set of relationships. In any given case, they may be responsible for negotiating a course between the needs and wants of a client, the organizational needs and social responsibility of the agency by which they are employed, ethical and legal considerations, and economic and political realities. It then becomes essential for social workers to autonomously adhere to the tenets of the profession and avoid being diverted from their chief goal - the well being of the client.

A belief in self-regulation: Professionals have traditionally assumed the responsibility of regulating themselves, a philosophy that protects both the consumer of service and the integrity of the profession. The social work profession, in keeping with this philosophy, operates national testing programs to ensure that its practitioners are prepared for independent practice; supports state social work licensing programs; conducts an adjudication process, which enforces adherence to an ethics code; and has a rigorous accrediting process for its educational institutions.

Commitment to service: This attribute is almost synonymous with the social work profession. Social work practice is often defined as “provision of service” and many of the traditional functions social workers perform are called “social services.”

Conception of work as a calling: As is the case with other helping professions, social workers in general are motivated by a desire to help, to enable those they serve to enjoy a measure of health and well-being and to be productive members of the community. While other considerations surely enter into a decision to choose a career, the decision to become a social worker is usually predicated on a belief that doing so will contribute to the greater good.

An important assignment in social work is managing when, how, to whom, and by who services are allocated. This the job of the professional administrator. Social work administration includes many elements common to administration in other organizations. But it also entails knowledge of human behaviour, social problems, social services, and values.

The Administrator's roles are diverse. They usually include policy formulation and goal setting, program design and implementation, budget development, operations management, personnel direction and supervision, fund development and resource allocations, public relations, and, perhaps most importantly, evaluation.

In the past employers simply promoted social work practitioners into administrative positions, emphasis is now being placed on background in the administrative field and technical management ability. A capacity to work with and motivate others is key to administrative success, as are creative thinking and leadership.

Child welfare social workers are advocates for America's most silent minority: our nation's youths. The social worker's job is to help ensure the health and well-being of children primarily by supporting and strengthening their families. Often, timely services to a family can forestall a crisis. Them may provide support services to the family in their home and link parents with community services such as childcare, temporary income maintenance, job training, substance abuse treatment, counseling, or parenting classes.

In cases where these measures are not enough, the social worker may recommend temporary foster care. They will advocate for the best placement for the child, whether with other relatives or recommending the child's release for adoption. Intervening when children are abused or neglected, when a family is in trouble, or when parents have problems is difficult and challenging, requiring training, skill, and sensitivity. Often a social worker's intervention makes a critical difference at a key moment in a child's life.

Helping people help themselves is a fundamental doctrine of social work. It is collective problem-solving by a group working on behalf of themselves and their community that defines community organization. A social worker in community organizing usually works with an existing organization to tackle issues that concern people in a building, neighbourhood, workplace, or community. Community organizers coordinate and facilitate activities to improve social conditions, enhance the quality of life, and bring people into the political process.

Some work directly with communities. They may help stop a toxic waste incinerator, initiate an alternative school, develop a neighbourhood-housing plan, get drug dealers off the bloc, develop senior citizen programs, or organize stockholders to promote corporate responsibility. Others work for advocacy or social change organizations to improve conditions for specific groups (such as homeless people, immigrants, or refugees) or tackle issues such as welfare reform or violence prevention.

In correctional facilities, the focus is on rehabilitation. Social workers may plan and provide drug and alcohol addiction treatment, life skills and basic competency training, and therapy to help offenders function once released into the community. Social workers can be probation and parole officers, arranging for services after an offender is released: finding group home residence, remedial classes, job training, addiction treatment, counseling, childcare, and transportation. These activities generally help raise a client's independence and self-esteem.

Social workers may also be involved in restitution programs, or victim assistance services. They may serve the court as expert witnesses or work in partnership with attorneys. In police departments, social workers may help with domestic disputes or provide trauma and critical incident services to enforcement officers. Social work activities in corrections are diverse, as are the clients, affording the chance to develop and use a broad range of skills. Corrections and justice is a field where a social worker can focus on rehabilitation and the constructive use of authority.

People with developmental disabilities, which can include mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, and other conditions, may at some time seek out social services. The goal of the social worker is to assist such people i improving their functioning and social adjustment. Usually this is accomplished through teams that include other professionals.

Social workers help parents of children with disabilities understand their legal rights, learn to be advocates for their children, and help them find special services. Social workers may work with individuals or groups as well as provide counseling for families. The social worker helps find the right services to enable each individual to be as independent as possible. For most clients, those services can mean the difference between merely surviving and leading a productive and joyful life.

Working with older adults can mean involvement with active, healthy clients as well as those who are ill. Often, social workers will have direct contact with elderly people, providing counseling; helping them maintain their independence at home; arranging income assistance, transportation, and medical treatment; organizing recreational activities an support groups; and generally improving their quality of life. Social workers may also work with family members caring for elderly members and may help them obtain services and make plans for future care.

Social workers are needed in hospitals, clinics, and other medical and health care settings to facilitate medical and emotional treatment. These social workers assess a patient's needs, manage the many services a patient may require for recovery, plan for care after hospitalizations, educate patients and their families, and help them cope with the personal and emotional problems related to the illness.

Social workers are vital members of the health care team, working in concert with doctors, nurses, and other health and mental health professionals. They sensitise other health care providers to the social and emotional aspects of illness. In health settings social workers also conduct research, develop programs, administer social work departments, lead support groups, and coordinate community resources. The health care field offers a variety of employment opportunities in homes, community health centers, outpatient clinics, and public health programs, as well as in hospitals.

Many people at certain times in their lives need mental health services to get the most out of life. Clinical social workers are the largest group of professionally trained mental health providers in the United States, supplying more than half of counseling and therapy services. These mental health professionals help people find solutions to problems ranging from inability to cope with day-to-day stress to severe mental illness.

The social worker's emphasis is on helping clients help themselves. Clinical social work services include aiding a client in understanding the causes of emotional distress, developing and implementing methods to resolve the situation, and connecting the client with appropriate community resources.

With the ever-increasing competitiveness of our economy, the quality of the workforce often determines an enterprise's success or failure. Occupational social workers are a boon to our nations' businesses, helping workers with problems that affect their job performance and satisfactions. Social workers may help corporations re-engineer their structure and methods to improve efficiency, creativity, productivity, and morale. Or social workers in this field may work for a union and might be involved in job counseling or organizing.

For more than four decades, public welfare has provided income and support services to society's most vulnerable people - children, the ill, the elderly, and the disabled. Although some of these people will always need services, traditional thinking about how to help is changing as the nation debates welfare reform. How to foster self-sufficiency and move people in to mainstream is today's challenge, complicated by an increase in social problems and a general decrease in funds.

One of the most absorbing roles in professional social work involves expanding the profession's knowledge. Social work researchers achieve this by investigating the effectiveness of approaches, methods, or programs in assisting clients. Social work researchers also help agencies provide services more effectively and contribute to efforts to support and promote social change. Research points the way for improved social policies or legislation and can be the underpinning of successful social policy advocacy.

Research entails a scientific process involving quantitative and qualitative techniques. Data are collected in a variety of ways, then analysed and reported. Problems for study may include virtually every facet of social work. Social workers may investigate the effectiveness of a particular service program or treatment approach or study broader, societal concerns. Social work research is a satisfying way to turn intellectual curiosity into results that contribute to the practice of social work and the betterment of life

Working with teams of other school personnel, social workers help children with physical or learning disabilities or emotional problems or who face child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, poverty, or other problems. Social workers may assess student needs, assist in discipline hearings, serve on policymaking committees, or help develop alternative programs. Other functions include facilitating school-community relations and providing a variety of services to students in special education programs.

School social workers may be the first to spot difficulties a child is confronting at home or in the community and the first to intervene. They often provide services or find services in the areas that prevent more serious problems from developing.

To be a social worker, one must have a degree in social work from a college or university program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). The undergraduate degree is the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). Graduate degrees include the Master of Social Work (MSW) and the Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) or PhD. An MSW is required to provide therapy.

Degree programs involve classroom study as well as practical field experience. The bachelor's degree prepares graduates for generalist entry-level work, whereas the master's degree is for more advanced clinical practice. A DSW or PhD is useful for doing research or teaching at the university level.

  • American Association of Schools of Social Work
  • American Association of Medical Social Workers
  • American Association of Social Workers
  • American Hospitals Associations
  • American Public Welfare Association
  • Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • National Association of Commission for Women
  • National Association of Social Workers
  • National Conference on Social Welfare
  • National Council on Aging
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
  • National Urban League
  • Society for Hospital Social Work Directors
  • U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1915~1902) Pioneer with Susan Anthony in women's rights movement.
  • Susan B. Anthony (1820~1906) Social activist who lobbied against slavery and for women's rights. She is most notably know for her involvement in suffragist movement (women's right to vote).
  • John Muir (1838~1914) One of the founders of the environmentalist movement; first President of Sierra Club.
  • Elanor Roosevelt (1884~1962) First Lady of the United States (1933~1945); head of U.N. Human Rights Commission that drafts Declaration of Human Rights (1946~1947); civil rights and human rights activist.
  • Rachel Carson (1907~1964) Exposed how chemicals used in agriculture were polluting the water supply and ourselves.
  • MotherTeresa (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu) (1910~1997) Devoted life to working among the poorest of the poor. 1979 Recipient of Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Rosa Parks (1913~2005) Civil rights activist who challenged racial segregation in 1955 by refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white man.
  • Betty Friedan (1921~2006) Feminist activist; co-founder of National Organization for Women (NOW). Wrote influential 1963 book The Feminine Mystique.
  • Howard Zinn (1922~) Historian and social justice activist. His most famous book is A People's History of the United States. Some of his essays are collected in the Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy.
  • Malcom X (1925~1966) Activist for African American pride and empowerment.
  • Cesar Chavez (1927~1993) Farm worker rights organizer; founded United Farm Workers (UFW).
  • Maya Angelou (1928~) Author, civil-rights activist, and feminist. Confronts themes of racism and classism in her writings and speeches.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929~1986) Civil Rights Leader. 1964 Recipient of Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Frances Fox Piven (1932~) Political scientist whose work has addressed the role of welfare as a form of political and economic control over the poor and the working class. Two of her notable books include Regulating the Poor andWhy Americans Don't Vote.
  • Audre Lorder (1934~1992) Poet; activist for gay and lesbian right; advocate for celebration of African American culture.
  • Ralph Nader (1934~) Consumer advocate, environmentalist,critic of corporate abuse; founder of Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).
  • Dennis Banks (1937~) Native American leader, activist, teacher, lecturer, and author. He founded the Sacred Run and co-founded the American Indian Movement (AIM).
  • Marian Wright Edelman (1939~) Founder of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), which advocates for right of children.
  • Russell Means (1939~) Activist for Native American rights; first national director of American Indian Movement (AIM).
  • Jesse Jackson (1941~) Civil rights activist and religious leader; founder of Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), now known as the Rainbow/Push Coalition (RPC).
  • Aung San Suu Kyi (1945~) Nonviolent activist for democracy and human rights in Myanmar (Burma). Under house arrest since 1990. 1991 Recipient of Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Wilma Mankiller (1945~) The first woman elected as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Advocate for the Cherokee Nation; established the Cherokee Community Development Department.
  • Rigoberta MenchÚ Tum (1959~) Human Rights Activist for Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 1992 Recipient of Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Bono (Paul Hewson) (1960~) Singer/songwriter and social activist. Has lobbied for Third World debt relief, human rights, and the environment.

"America's future will be determined by the home and the school. The child becomes largely what he is taught; hence we must watch what we teach, and how we live." Jane Addams

"Civilization is a method of living, an attitude of equal respect for all men." Jane Addams

"Simple kindness may be the most vital key to the riddle of how human beings can live with each other in peace, and care properly for this planet we all share." Bo Lozoff

"How do we create a harmonious society out of so many kinds of people? The key is tolerance -- the one value that is indispensable in creating community. One thing is clear to me: We, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves." Barbara Jordan

*Note: Much of this information was adapted from Choices: Careers in Social Work by the National Association of Social Workers.


Phone: 573.651.2004
Fax: 573.986.7315

Crisp Hall 201
Department of Social Work
One University Plaza, MS 8400
Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701