Communities are made up of diverse groups of people. Individuals who share a culture, a hobby, attend the same school or even use the same park can all be considered types of communities. The role of a community social worker is to unite members of these groups to work toward a common goal, so the community can function effectively.
Community social workers achieve this by working alongside with individuals and groups. Those working within the field of community social work may conduct needs assessments, plan or administer programs, or allocate resources to the community.
Community social work is unique because the community often actively works alongside the social workers. The group of people who are affected by the issue in question are naturally invested and passionate in reaching a resolution.
If you’re wondering whether a role as a community social worker is the right choice for you, you might find this National Association of Social Workers (NASW) quiz helpful.
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Where Can You Find Community Social Workers?
Community social workers lead the charge when problems occur involving community members. They work with existing organizations or groups of concerned citizens to solve problems such as addressing inadequate living conditions, or helping to fight the placement of a toxic landfill.
In many cases, community social workers must be aware of policy, engaged in political advocacy, and encourage the community they’re working with to become politically aware too.
Who Employs Community Social Workers?
Organizations that employ community social workers include community centers, governmental agencies and advocacy groups. Programs that require community social workers often have titles such as organizational or community practice, community empowerment, or community development.
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 these social workers do 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 or research infrastructures that could beneficially shape the area. Job titles vary immensely, but generally include director, coordinator or specialist.
What’s the Difference Between a BSW and MSW?
Community social workers will require a minimum of a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). Those seeking more advanced positions will require a Master of Social Work (MSW). 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 their field and they might end up working for a nonprofit, for the government, or for a community. According to NASW, approximately 12.5% of BSW graduates work directly with communities.
An MSW is required for students interested in more 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 the appropriate license to practice. Individuals with MSWs are often the leaders of community movements, using their expertise to guide the community.
Graduates with a BSW more commonly play critical roles within community movements.
What Kind of Salary Can a Community Social Worker Earn?
Salaries depend on a social worker’s employer, the geographical area they work in, their experience, and the role they hold.
A 2017 workforce study conducted by the NASWnotes that a social worker with a BSW working directly with communities can expect a median salary of $43,333. An individual with an MSW will have a median of about $45,588. As with most jobs, experience is key, and those with considerable experience in their field can expect to earn significantly more per annum.