Challenges Social Workers Face
- Addressing addiction
- Placing the homeless in housing
- Tackling discrimination
- Helping the incarcerated transition
- Reaching out to the socially isolated
Social work is a demanding job that includes many challenges. Some of these may be faced on a day-to-day basis; others might be ongoing. These challenges are often two-fold: they may come from the social work case itself or from outside parties. As the US population ages and the opioid crisis continues, such challenges are likely to rise.
1. Addressing Addiction
A person may be addicted to gambling, drugs, drinking, or other substances. Addiction impacts the individual, their family and friends, and the surrounding community. Social work practitioners sit at a difficult crossroads where they must help the addict get treatment and address how the addiction is affecting the wider community.
2. Placing the Homeless in Housing
There is no “typical picture” of homelessness. It can affect people from all social classes. However, as noted by researchers with the New York City chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, ongoing homelessness is sometimes related to complex psychiatric issues.
Social work staff are first and foremost working with the individual to help them obtain suitable housing. In cases where there is a mental or physical health challenge contributing to the problem, they may also work with psychiatrists and other health professionals to make sure the person has the right diagnosis and medical care.
3. Tackling Discrimination
Discrimination may be directed at a person’s race, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, or a combination of these. People may also be discriminated against for a disability. Discrimination can take the form of verbal or physical violence. In these cases, social workers may have the responsibility to intervene and mediate in the community. The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare notes that positive community development often begins at home. Tense relationships between family members may sometimes be difficult for social work staff to resolve peacefully without additional help from law enforcement.
4. Helping the Incarcerated Transition
Decarceration and preventing recidivism are a top priority when social workers are helping the incarcerated transition into society. The previously incarcerated may struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression about how their family or social circle has changed while they are in prison. In this case, it is the responsibility of social work staff to connect the individual with the right psychiatric support.
5. Reaching out to the Socially Isolated
Like homelessness or addiction, social isolation can affect people at every income level. The elderly often struggle the most. Social workers are tasked with the challenge of performing intervention to ensure that individuals have adequate housing and are connected to activities that will reduce these feelings of loneliness and depression.
Social work staff can make a lasting difference in their communities. Getting to that point involves many hours of work, interviews with their cases, and partnerships with community organizations. Cases also evolve over time. A social worker must always be up-to-date on how the case can improve and ultimately resolve.