Community Social Worker Careers
You’ve most likely heard of social work, but you may not have heard of its close cousin, community social work. While the two stem from the same basic urge – to help others and improve the organizations and neighborhoods around us – community social work happens at a significantly broader level than its counterpart, which occurs one-on-one with clients.
Some refer to community practice as “macro practice,” while social work is referred to as occurring on a “micro” scale. That’s because the community version focuses on larger systems at the institutional, city or even state level. It may involve organizing within communities, helping to develop programs to meet the needs of underserved populations, managing organizations, helping to chance policy, advocating for large groups of people at once, and more.
Community social work pulls from a variety of disciplines. Besides the obvious social work – and the attendant fields of psychology, medical sciences, education and counseling – it always draws on urban development, public affairs, political science, sociology, nonprofit management, business administration and economic development. If any or all of these fields apply to you, this career path might be calling your name.
What Is Community Social Work?
In a nutshell, community social workers make communities better. Just as their subordinates, social workers, help to improve the lives of individual people or families, community practitioners help improve the lives of entire schools, neighborhoods, and even cities and states. They help to assess needs, refer people to services, plan or administer programs and more.
In this role, they may be employed by governmental authorities at the city, state or federal level, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profits. Community social work is far from limited to the United States; you can also do a great deal of good in this profession working abroad in underserved villages, cities and countries. Particularly in cases of war and internal displacement, social workers are in high demand.
While they frequently leave one-on-one work to regular social workers, community social workers may target individual populations, such as women, families, children or the elderly. They may also help men or women find gainful employment, assist in the administration and staffing of service institutions, direct people toward counseling or substance abuse help, and more.
The bottom line is: Wherever you see a need, you’re likely to be able to find a community social work role to fill it.
What Does a Community Social Worker Do?
Community social work, at its most fundamental, is an applied social science. This means that while experimentation and data collection may underpin some of the work, for the most part it is based on direct action with individuals, families and groups, and within communities as a whole.
Naturally roles vary from job to job, but as a whole, community social workers are responsible for overseeing the roles that social workers play on an individual basis, helping them to manage caseloads and best serve their communities. They may be involved in development of policy, or may simply advocate for it or provide the information that underlies its creation and adjustment. They are frequently involved in coalitions, task forces and sometimes lobby groups.
Community social workers constantly strive for social change, so this may be a very good career path for you if you have specific ideals toward which you are aiming. To this end, community social workers may be involved with any (and in some cases with all) of the following duties and responsibilities:
- Organization at the community level
- Social planning
- Urban planning
- Management of human services
- Development of communities and programs
- Program expansion
- Policy analysis
- Policy change
- Advocating for people or groups
- Systems interventions
- Data collection and analysis
- Social justice programs
- Grassroots movements and petitions organization
- Opportunity creation for jobs and housing
- Forming councils
- Proposals that improve the lives of people, communities and the Earth
As discussed, community social workers typically provide services as a “macro” level. However, some may operate at a level between macro and micro, which some call the “mezzo” – which translates to middle, or half – level. People in such roles usually focus on smaller organizations. If you wish to influence a single institution, educational facility or public facility in your neighborhood, this might be the best approach for you.
Typical Work Environment & Occupational Challenges
Community social workers may fill positions in any number of environments. Some help oversee programs in schools or shelters, while others work with specific departments within cities or states – think Parks and Recreation, Social Services and more. They may spend much of their time in public spaces, assessing what is needed, or organize canvassing programs to discover what is needed and where. They may also work for religious organizations or non-denominational charitable organizations, and frequently fill roles in non-profits and governmental institutions, such as child welfare departments.
Some community social workers may spend a lot of time with particular ethnic groups, helping immigrants find services and get proper documentation when moving into the country. In this way, they help populations find their identities in a new place, which can be very rewarding. However, you may face challenges with language or cultural barriers in such roles.
Because community social workers operate at the macro level, they are typically free of many of the tough challenges that face social workers: the devastating effects that trauma can have on children, the aftermath of domestic violence, the pain of poverty, and more. They do not escape these challenges entirely, however, since they frequently work in close contact with social workers’ case files, with data from the populations they serve, and with groups as a whole.
They have other challenges as well. Community social workers often face opposition from political figures or groups; navigating this scene effectively can take a great deal of time and patience. Even once you have made inroads, it is important to remain moderate and open to the ideas of others, or you risk losing your clout.
Lastly, community social workers spend a great deal of their time managing social workers. This can prove challenging, especially if you don’t yet have management experience. Some people find it helpful to begin as social workers, so they build a ground-up understanding of the needs of people and communities before they take on the responsibility of overseeing many people and programs at once. Others, however, prefer to dive in to the policy and planning side, and find this a much more rewarding work environment. In the end, it is up to you.
Community Social Worker Salary & Job Outlook
As a community social worker, you may hold a number of different job titles as you progress through your career. Social community service manager, for instance, is one of them. In this role, you can expect to make around $65,000 per year, or roughly $31 an hour. These jobs are growing at a rate of 10 percent, which is faster than average – a good outlook for people coming out of school with degrees in this field.
Community health workers are a specific type of social worker, and make roughly $44,000 per year, or $21 per hour, while medical and health services manager roles are closely related but higher up, bringing in about $96,000 per year, or $46 per hour. These jobs are growing at a rate of 12 and 17 percent, respectively. No matter what path you opt for, there is a good chance you will find employment shortly after graduation from your program or deciding to change careers.
Community Social Work Jobs & Job Description
Social and community service managers play a huge role in the coordination of service programs and resource distribution within organizations, neighborhoods and cities – and as discussed, sometimes at even higher levels. You may work for a variety of different institutions, but your job duties will generally fall under one or more of the following headings:
- Assisting with unemployment programs
- Assessing and catering to mental health needs
- Working with families, the homeless, children or other challenged populations
- Addressing chronic hunger or lack of nutrition
- Creating or running programs that address these needs
- Reporting to policymakers
- Supervising programs set up by public officials or other stakeholders
- Supervising staff who provide social programs to the public
- Identifying areas that need improvement and make suggestions about programs to address these needs
- Overseeing fundraisers to supply money to these causes
- Providing mentorship in the field
- Training social workers or other employees
- Analyzing data to determine which programs are effective, and what might make them more so
- Developing and stick to budgets, then report on them
- Managing outreach activities to increase awareness of social programs
- Writing proposals for grants and other funding
No matter what you do, a community social worker’s job description is built on a foundation of finding and addressing the needs of the community at all times. This involves listening to both subordinates and superiors, and making the best possible choice for the most possible people in that moment, then seeing plans through to get maximum results.
Social Work Degrees & Education
In order to work as a community social worker or manager, you will need either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in social work. You are more likely to find a good job as a community social worker if you get a master’s, however. Coursework in these programs will expand your knowledge of social work and add in courses on business administration, community organization, public planning and policy, and more. The master’s will set you up nicely for roles in nonprofits, government agencies and other community settings.
Advanced practice of any kind usually requires a master’s degree. If you wish to work in mental health services, for instance, you will need more than a bachelor’s. This includes counseling, therapy, substance abuse and addiction treatment and more. On the other hand, you only need a bachelor’s degree to work as a community organizer or a social work manager, overseeing the day-to-day tasks of other social workers – though you will likely need to pay your dues working those jobs yourself first.
Depending on your goals, you may also require a license. Mental health and related fields typically require that you pass board examinations and get either licensed or certified. You can talk to your school or the related governing body to find out more about the requirements in your field. Your license will impact which words you can use in your job title and which roles you may be able to take on.
No matter what you decide, this is an exciting and rewarding career with a strong chance of helping people make a difference in their lives. Indeed, it would be quite challenging for a community social worker not to make a difference – good news for anyone who wants to better the world and its peoples.