“What exactly do social workers do?” Over the years, I’ve fielded that question a lot. As social work students learn in their courses and experience hands-on in their field placements, the profession offers incredibly varied ways to serve individuals, groups, and communities.
Every year, UMBC social work seniors at USG complete a required, year-long field placement. They take two courses, SOWK 480 and 482, which include 16 hours per week of onsite experience putting social work concepts and methods into practice at organizations in the community with the guidance of social work professionals. The courses also include assignments and seminars that provide students opportunities to process their experiences.
So, to help answer the question “what exactly do social workers do?” here are some sample student experiences from the 2020-21 academic year:
Rebecca Fink is placed at the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Aging and Disability Resource Unit. At her partially in-person and partially remote field placement, Rebecca, under the supervision and guidance of her field instructor, uses a strength-based approach to provide case management (which includes assessment, planning, coordination, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of services) and supportive counseling to vulnerable adults in Montgomery County. In her role there, she served as a student member of the HHS Disaster/Mass Care Shelter & Recovery Team — a group that earned an “Exceptional Service During the COVID-19 Pandemic” commendation from the
County Executive for their work assisting residents displaced by the Leisure World apartment complex fire. Of her experience Rebecca states, “My success is because of how amazing [my field instructors] have been this semester exposing me to different real-life experiences within the social work field!”
At EveryMind, a community non-profit organization that provides community education, direct services, and advocacy related to mental wellness, Mariandree Paiz has been working remotely under the supervision of her field instructor to develop and facilitate a “Coping with COVID-19” support group for elementary school students whose families have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. Mariandree acknowledges the challenges of connecting with students virtually and feels the loss of not having an in-person experience. Still, she has made the most of the remote setting and has been able to practice her rapport-building, active listening, and group facilitation skills while providing significant support to students and families.
Other internships this year include placements at hospitals, homeless residences, child welfare agencies, community mental health clinics, schools, nursing homes, and more. Regardless of the setting, all social work jobs are tied together by the core values of the profession – service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence.
In group seminars that meet throughout the year, students focus on processing their varied experiences through the lens of professional social work values and ethics. Students also use seminar time to offer much-needed support for one another as they manage their own pandemic-magnified stresses. In the words of one social work senior, students have shown as a group and as individuals, that they “do not give up that easily” − especially in this year of challenges which has put an extraordinary spotlight on the need for social workers in our communities.