Community social workers help communities function. Some work directly with individuals, conducting needs assessments and making referrals to resources in the community. Others assess needs on a larger scale. They may plan and administer programs.
One type of community social work practice is community organization. Social workers may be community builders or community organizers. They may be employed by various nonprofits and grassroots organizations to raise funds, write grants, drum up support, plan infrastructure. Dr. Mizrahi of the Hunter College School of Social Work (CUNY) has written that many people don’t realize they can work on these sorts of projects as a living (not just in their spare time). A social work degree is not a requirement for community organizing, but does provide a direct path into the field. Jane Addams, Mirzahi notes, could be considered a community organizer.
Service transcends borders. Social workers may work for international organizations and even travel to distant lands. There is a particular need for social workers when traditional support structures fail in the wake of war or natural disaster. Social workers not only help people with immediate needs, but set up systems that will endure after they leave. The situations they encounter can be heartbreaking: children who have become mute or otherwise regressed because of atrocities they have witnessed, adults who think they are seeing the results of witchcraft… or that there is simply no help to be offered.
A professional can do community social work with either a BSW or MSW, but the job role will often be different. BSW programs are considered generalist and entry level; they typically include, within the practice methods, community organization and community referral. BSW field experiences may take place in nonprofits, government agencies, or other community settings.
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Advanced practice, either macro or micro, generally requires a master’s. If a person wants to deliver mental health services within a community setting, they will want to choose a master’s program with a clinical focus. If the end goal is something very different, they might look for a master’s in macro community practice. Such programs go by various names including organizational and community practice or community empowerment and program development. They teach social workers to provide a variety of services for organizations, including needs assessment and advocacy. It is even possible to find a program with a focus on international community.
Job titles for MSW community social workers are varied, but may include words like director, coordinator, or specialist. MSW social workers may be employed by the very same organizations as entry level workers, but in higher positions. (An example: A person may help individuals find United Way services while they’re still working toward their BSW, but will need a good deal more on their resume to take on a directorial role.)
Professional affiliations can help a social worker stay current. Community social workers may look into membership with The Association for Community Organization and Social Administration.
A prospective social worker should be aware that future licensing will be tied to program accreditation. While the curriculum may draw from more than one discipline, it should develop the core competencies of advanced practice social work – and hold CSWE accreditation. Most states do license master’s level social workers who do macro work, and many license bachelor’s social workers as well. At the minimum, licensing is generally tied to the privilege of using certain words in one’s job title.
NASW has collected detailed salary information for social workers in different practice areas. As expected, salaries for social workers employed by social service agencies vary greatly by education, experience, and job role. For a BSW, the median is $41,300; for an MSW, it is $54,000. For social workers with less than 9 years of experience, it is $42,000, for those with 20 or more, $63,000. Those who listed administration as their primary practice area reported the highest salaries: $74,200.