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If I plan on going into Social Services, what would I need to study and what exactly does it entail?

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Amber’s Answer

Hey Cathy!

I have my Masters in Social Work, and I work in the field of social services so I can share how I got here and a little of what I know from working in the field.

I got my bachelors in sociology and philosophy, both great subjects but not necessary for working in the social services. After my bachelors I did a years long term of service in AmeriCorps which helped me gain some more concrete social service skills. I then attended two more years of school to get my Masters in Social work which has ultimately allowed me to work in the field of social services.

I have colleagues who took different paths from me. For example, several of my colleagues did their bachelors in social work, which allowed them to work in social services directly out of undergrad. Others who took this path were able to knock a year off of their masters program, getting a masters degree in just one year.

Social Services is a broad field, so you might want to first explore what realm of social services you want to work in.

If you want to work in shelters, child welfare, adult protective services, etc, social work might be a good major for you. If you're interested in working in food banks, or medical clinics or things in the health field you could look at a degree in public health. If you want to work in local government services, like city planning or administration you could look at degrees in public administration. You have tons of options! So take some time to talk to professionals in places that you might be interested in working, and try to decide what direction you want to go.

Amber recommends the following next steps:

Google jobs that you might want to have and find people who work in those jobs in your town. Send those people an email and ask them questions about their job!

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Michelle’s Answer

I have worked in the Human Services field for the past 27 years. At the time I began working in a major city, the positions which I obtained weren't titled Social Worker. Today, one needs an MSW and Certification to work as a Social Worker and most are clinical therapists. You would need to study psychology and sociology and their individual areas. Some social services jobs require High School and experience. It is a very rigorous and intense course of study. Everyone I know went to a brick and mortar college for their MSW and did not receive it on line.

The non-social worker positions I have held (with a non-social work B.A. degree) have been Youth Employment Program counselor, Client Coordinator/Job Developer, Case Manager in 2 Nursing Homes , Recreation counselor in a Senior Center, Director of Case Management Services in a community action bureau and Case Manager for homeless individuals with a disability. Today, most Counselor jobs require a Certification.

You may want to explore what population you'd like to work with. Sometimes, these jobs are in beautiful, modern offices, but many times can be in the worst parts of town. Or you may have to do home visits in the worst parts of town. You have to ask yourself if that is a good fit for you. It is not always rewarding on the surface. When you work in social services, you have to be able to not take things personally, able to establish barriers with the clients and know that one bad day shouldn't cause you to quit. Your co-workers should be supportive and you should be able to have a confident feel in working independently and in groups.

You will work with a diverse group of clients so you need to have a clear understanding of all mental illnesses, drug and other addictions and you will learn as you go along about a multitude of physical illnesses. It is a special calling, I believe, because many of the people you will serve have no one. No family. No friends. You can make all the difference in the world to them, one person at a time.

Most social service agencies have ongoing in-house and off site (many times free) trainings which - in my case - was continual. You're always able to stay up-to-date with the latest trends, issues and situations.

You can probably get a head start by working part time in social services while you go to college and that way you will gain valuable, hands on experience. A person working in social services must be impartial, unbiased and leave their own opinions out of it. The ability to empower the client is of the utmost importance.

Best wishes in your future studies !

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Alyssa’s Answer

While I do not work in the Social Services space myself, I do have a lot of people in my network that do. All of my contacts in the Social Services field majored in Psychology, and most usually followed up with a Masters degree in a social services program. I hope this helps!