Who is a Social Worker?
A social work can be defined as a profession that seeks to improve the quality of life for individuals and to effect system-wide change through the pursuit of social justice. Just like any helping profession, such as nursing and teaching, social work seeks to help people overcome some of life’s most difficult challenges. What separates social work from other helping professions is its focus on the person-in-environment model and its emphasis on social justice. Social workers not only consider individuals’ internal struggles, as a counselor might, they also work with people to examine their relationships, family structure, community environment, and the systems and policies that impact them in order to identify ways to help address challenges. Examples of social workers in Nigeria include social and community service managers, school and career counselors, healthcare social workers, probation officers, correctional treatment specialists, and marriage/family therapists.
Social work also emphasizes a strengths-based approach in which all individuals have strengths and resources and the social worker’s role is to help build upon a person’s skills and support systems. The profession of social work is varied serving people young and old, from every walk of life, in a number of settings such as hospitals, schools, neighborhoods and community organizations. It involves work with families, couples, groups, organizations, and communities. Social work is dedicated to the pursuit of social justice through direct service and through advocacy on the local, national, and global levels. These areas of practice are also referred to as the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. You can read more about specific careers in social work as well as the differences and intersections between micro, mezzo, and macro social work on our careers page.
What Do Social Workers Do?
Many social workers work directly with individuals, couples, families or small groups. These social workers help clients cope with problems such as poverty, abuse, addiction, unemployment, educational problems, disability, trauma and mental illness. Social workers provide individual, family and group counseling, case management services connecting clients with resources and service providers, and other services to empower clients to meet their own needs.
Social workers often work within nonprofit organizations, schools, hospitals and government agencies working toward the common good. These social workers may work directly with individual clients or be involved in program development, program evaluation, and human services management. Many social workers choose to work with communities, organizations or governments to address social problems on a systems level. These workers advocate for vulnerable populations, fighting to end the inequalities and injustices they see in their communities. They engage in legislative advocacy, policy analysis, and community organizing to break down barriers and drive reform. In Nigeria, the Nigeria Association of Social Workers, is the umbrella for all professional Social Workers in Nigeria. It is a medium for interaction and sharing of ideas among social workers in the country.
Types of Social Workers
Social workers are found in every facet of community life, including schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, senior centers, elected office, private practices, prisons, military, corporations, and in numerous public and private agencies. Some social workers help clients who face a disability or a life-threatening disease or a social problem, such as inadequate housing, unemployment, or substance abuse. Social workers also assist families that have serious domestic conflicts, sometimes involving child or spousal abuse.
Some social workers conduct research, advocate for improved services, engage in systems design or are involved in planning or policy development. Many social workers specialize in serving a particular population or working in a specific setting.
Social work administrators: are proactive leaders in public and private agencies that provide services to clients. Many elements of this area of social work practice are common to administration in other organizations. However, administration and management also require knowledge about social policy and the delivery of social services, vision for future planning, an understanding of human behavior, and commitment to social work ethics and values.
Advocacy and Community Organization: Advocacy is one of the keystones of social work practice. Social work advocates champion the rights of individuals and communities with the goal of achieving social justice. Community organizing and advocacy work with the power of numbers—many people thinking, working, and acting together to counterbalance wealthy and powerful groups and the means they have to protect and extend themselves. Historically, community organizing and social work were responses to the many forces that created inequality in our society. They remain as necessary and effective as ever today.
Aging: Social workers link older adults with services that help them live independently and with dignity, thereby maximizing their quality of life and participation in society. Social work with older adults focuses on the physical, psychological, social, and economic aspects of daily living.
Child welfare social workers: serve some of the most vulnerable children, youths, and families. Social workers specialize in building on the strengths of families and helping them to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children and youths. However, when families are unable to do this, social workers must intervene to protect the children from harm. Child welfare social workers ensure that children and youths who have experienced abuse or neglect are supported through a range of services.
Developmental Disabilities: Social workers also help parents of children with developmental disabilities understand their legal rights. They help parents learn to be advocates and find special services that enable their children to be as independent as possible.
Health Care: Since the early 1900s, professionally trained social workers have helped people deal with personal and social factors that affect health and wellness. Some health care social workers are in direct services and concentrate on individuals, families, and small groups. Others work in settings where the focus is on planning, administration, and policy. In the health care setting, social workers may conduct research, develop programs, and administer social work and other departments.
International Social Work: The functions of social work in international development are diverse. They include direct services in communities, refugee camps, orphanages, hospitals, and schools, as well as supporting the efforts of national governments, intergovernmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations to enhance social well-being.
Justice and Corrections: Social workers who work in justice and corrections can be found in courts, rape crisis centers, police departments, and correctional facilities.
Mental Health and Clinical Social Work: Clinical social workers are one of the nation’s largest groups of providers of mental health services. They provide mental health services in both urban and rural settings, where they may be the only licensed provider of mental health services available.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Work: Social workers help individuals, families, and communities find ways to recover from substance use. They provide a much-needed ecological perspective to treatment that focuses on the client in relation to family and neighborhood environments, community support systems, cultural attitudes, and policies.
Consequently, social workers trained in treating alcohol, tobacco, and other drug addictions can be found doing case management, group and individual therapy, family counseling, advocacy for jobs and housing needs, community resource development, education, and policy making.
Public Welfare: Social work in public welfare entails planning, administering, and financing programs, training and supervising staff, and setting and evaluating standards and criteria for service delivery. Public welfare offers many challenges that require creative thinking and leadership from professional social workers.
Research: Social workers in research typically tend to be academics with postgraduate degrees in social work. Research provides the framework for effective practice. Although considered an art by some, social work is also a science based on evidence.
School Social Work: School social workers act as the connection for school, home, and community services to help children with emotional, developmental, and educational needs. Most school social workers practice in public and private schools, although a small percentage may work in social services agencies or other service sites such as a preschool program or residential treatment center for children who are emotionally disturbed.
Why Become a Social Worker?
There are many reasons you may be drawn to a career in social work. Some people become interested in social work because they have been helped by a social worker in the past or they have experienced hardship and would like to help others overcome similar struggles. You may be drawn to the field by a particular interest in addressing problems such as addiction, abuse, or mental illness. You may have a strong interest in working with children or with elders. Despite the varied paths that lead social workers to the profession, most social workers enjoy working with people and are driven by their desire to help others and make the world a better place.
How can I learn about the social work field before making a decision?
The best way to learn about social work is to volunteer! There are volunteer opportunities in every community that can give you a sense of life as a social worker. Many social workers are tasked with volunteer management and are actively seeking volunteers to help out in hospitals, schools, and community organizations around the country. Volunteering not only allows you to meet social workers and learn about what social workers do, it may also provide you with some experience working directly with individuals, families or groups and/or advocating for community-wide change. To look for volunteer opportunities, you can start by contacting local schools, churches, or community centers.
Steps for Becoming a Social Worker
The guide below will outline the general steps to become a social worker. The first step in becoming a social worker is obtaining the necessary education. There are a number of educational paths to consider on the road to become a social worker.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in social work.
The first step for many people interested in becoming a social worker is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from a college or university. Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs prepare students for entry-level, professional, generalist social work practice and for graduate social work education. Students learn to practice as professional social workers with individuals, families, groups and communities. Students learn a great deal about the profession while earning their BSWs since bachelor’s of social work programs combine classroom learning with field education. Students gain work experience while applying their classroom training to real-world work settings. Once you receive your BSW, you will be eligible to begin working as a social worker. In Nigeria, those with school certificates spend five years in the course of studying, while those with diploma and Ordinary National Diploma spend four years to obtain a BSW.
- Earn a master’s degree in social work.
Whether you received your bachelor’s degree in social work or in any other field, you may apply to earn your Master of Social Work (MSW) on campus or online. If you receive a BSW prior to applying to graduate school, you may be eligible for advanced standing allowing you to receive an MSW in one year rather than the traditional two-year program. While all accredited social work graduate programs follow similar curricula combining classroom learning with field education, some schools of social work have strong clinical programs while others focus on systemic issues such as poverty reduction and social justice. Choosing a clinical focus or a macro concentration may determine electives and field education placements but all graduates receive the same degree.
A few points to keep in mind when deciding which degree path is best for you:
If you are considering working toward your first bachelor’s degree, a BSW may be a good choice. A BSW gives you a solid foundation to begin work as an entry-level social worker. If you decide to continue your education with a master’s degree, you may apply for advanced standing. This way, you may receive both your BSW and MSW in only five years.
If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, there is no need to seek out a BSW. You may find a position you enjoy in the social services field with a bachelor’s degree from another discipline. If you would like to become a social worker, you should apply to a CSWE-accredited MSW program.
If you are interested in moving to a supervisory role and advancing in your career in social work, you should consider obtaining an MSW. Increasingly, employers are seeking master’s level social workers for any position above entry-level. Even those searching for entry level positions are likely to find that an MSW opens more doors than a BSW.
- Make the most of your time in school.
Choose courses and consider specialized certifications based on careers that may interest you. If you plan to work as a clinical social worker, take as many clinical classes as possible. If you are more interested in macro social work, choose an elective in advocacy or nonprofit management that will help you build marketable skills.
Make the most of your practicum placements and internship experiences. As a social work student working at a field placement, capitalize on the opportunity to position yourself for future employment. Always treat your placement experience just as you would paid employment. During your field placements, push yourself to gain new skills and experiences that will prepare you for employment and keep in mind: you never know when a job may open up at your practicum site. A hardworking, energetic student who already understands organizational policies and procedures is a great candidate for the next opening. Even if you are not interested in working at your field site, be sure to build connections with supervisors and colleagues who can alert you to other job prospects and serve as references during the interview process.
Begin your job search well before graduation. Many employers planning to hire in the summer start interviewing candidates in the spring. Research your state’s licensing process; you may be able to start the application process early too. Remember many people graduate at the same time. It is important to position yourself ahead of the pack as your graduation date nears.
List of universities In Nigeria that offer Social Work as a course
The following are the list of universities that offer Social Work as a course:
- Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo
- Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State
- Nigerian Police Academy, Wudil, Kano State
- Redeemers University
- University Of Benin, Benin City
- University Of Calabar, Calabar
- University Of Ilorin, Ilorin
- University Of Lagos
- University Of Nigeria Nsukka