Traditionally, people might only think of communities as groups of people in the same neighborhood or town, but communities expand to include particular cultures, people who share a hobby, parents at a school or even children at a park. Communities are made up of diverse groups of people, and it is the job of a community social worker to unite all of these groups to work toward a common goal. Community members are different ages, races, religions, socio-economic classes and genders. They may have different backgrounds and life experiences, opinions and ideas, but the job of a community social worker is to use community organization, planning and administration to establish a common bond between community members.
Community social work is unique because it encourages the community to be actively involved with the social worker. The assumption is that the people being affected by whatever issue the social worker is trying to solve are going to be naturally more invested and passionate.
Where Can You Find Community Social Workers?
Community social workers lead the charge when problems occur that involve community members. They work with existing organizations or groups of concerned citizens to improve living conditions, solve a problem and bring the people they’re working with to the forefront of the political action. They might work with a school board to set up a charter school or help fight a toxic landfill placement. Other groups that employ community social workers include community centers, governmental agencies and advocacy groups. The work of a community social worker may vary, but the goals are always the same.
What Does a Community Social Worker Do?
Just as the groups employing a community social worker vary, so do the day-to-day responsibilities. Much of what a community social worker does depends on the type of organization he or she works for. Generally, responsibilities fall under the banner of community organization or outreach. For example, a social worker employed by an advocacy group might spend time applying for grants, while someone employed to oppose the development of a waste treatment plant might spend more time researching alternatives and talking to local politicians and citizens. If a community social worker works internationally, he or she might create programs to help the local community and offer insight into infrastructures that could shape the future of the area. Job titles also vary immensely, but generally include director, coordinator or specialist.
What’s the Difference Between a BSW and an MSW for Community Social Workers?
Depending on long-term career goals, community social workers need either a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or a Master of Social Work (MSW). Both are acceptable degrees in the field, but there are some differences in what types of jobs someone with a BSW is eligible for versus someone with an MSW. Generally, a BSW allows you to work in entry-level jobs. The degree allows students to become generalists in the field and they might end up working for a nonprofit, for the government or for a community.
An MSW is required for students interested in specialized fields, work that is more advanced, or working abroad. Those with a master’s degree are able to offer advanced mental health services to the community — assuming the program has a clinical focus and the graduate obtains a license to practice. They also study community social work on a higher level via programs that offer studies in community empowerment and program development. Those with MSWs are often the leaders of movements and use their expertise to guide the community in the right direction while someone with a BSW may play a valuable role within the movement.
What Kind of Salary Will a Community Social Worker Earn?
Salaries depend on a social worker’s employer, geographical area, experience and role. For example, administrative roles often pay the highest salaries, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a median salary of $44,200 per year or $21.25 per hour for a community social worker. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) notes that a social worker with a BSW can expect a median salary of $41,300 while someone with an MSW will have a median of about $54,000. As with most jobs, experience is key and the NASW lists a median salary of $63,000 for those with 20 or more years of service.