Smiling female social worker with clipboard at the doorstep to a house

What are the different types of social worker?

Social work jobs are all about making a difference. When you choose a career in this field, you are committing to helping people and helping communities. And that’s amazing. Want to make positive change – you can as a social worker! What’s more, social work jobs cover many parts of life. You can choose where you want to take your career – secure in the knowledge that you will be helping people and that you’ll be in demand. The Australian government predicts that demand for qualified social workers will be strong over the next five years – with approximately 4600 extra social work jobs being created each year.

Dr Belinda Cash, lecturer in Social Work and Human Services at Charles Sturt University, helps us look at some different types of social work.

Healthcare social worker

Social workers can work in health and care settings, where they support people of all ages who might be experiencing a health condition, been involved in an accident or sustained an injury. Social workers in health settings often provide specialist support as part of a bigger healthcare team and that means they do a really wide range of tasks. These might include assessments, counselling and helping to connect individuals and families to the supports they need to manage their health and social needs.

As Dr Cash explains, there are ‘no two days the same’ when it comes to social work jobs in healthcare!

“Health and hospital social work roles are often busy and interesting environments to work in. There’s always something different happening, so it’s a great career choice for people who love to keep busy, think on their feet and want to work with lots of different types of people right across the life span.”

Community social workers

As a social worker, you can work at the heart of your community, and help it flourish. Community social workers manage support programs. That may be as part of a non-profit, a charity or a government agency. In community social work, you’ll play a key role in advocating for, devising and delivering outreach programs in the community – whether that’s providing aid in the wake of a tragedy, tackling inequality, or making essential daily services more effective.

It’s something that Dr Cash believes gives meaning to your career.

“One of the great things about community work is that it can have such a big impact on changing the opportunities and supports available to so many people in that area. We know that a lot of disadvantage comes from the areas that people live and grow up in, so being able to improve things for whole sections of the community can be a really powerful way to make changes for a lot of people.”

Child, school and family social workers

Working with children and families is another area of social work that comes with a wide range of opportunities to make a difference. Especially, as Dr Cash points out, because every family is unique.

“Families are all very different and there’s lots of things that can impact on the safety and wellbeing of both children and adults in tricky family situations. Social workers play an essential role in helping to provide children and families with the supports they need to ensure that everyone is safe and well. This can involve working with children who are at risk and their families. In some situations helping to provide out of home care options, such as foster care or kinship care for kids who can’t continue to stay at home.”

As a school social worker, you’ll work with kids to help them get the most out of their learning. That might mean working on behavioural issues with them or developing strategies that align their unique needs to specific study outcomes. It could include providing counselling to students to help them with all kinds of personal, family or school related stressors and challenges that can impact on their learning and performance at school.

Mental health and addictions social worker

Having a mental illness or managing – or recovering from – substance misuse should not mean individuals can’t strive to live their best life. As a social worker, you can play a role in helping them do just that.

You could help people access the services they need, or develop strategies with them to navigate the social factors in their life – whether that’s working or finding housing, managing stress or even developing healthy relationships. Help people build their resilience so they can survive – and thrive. You will also, as Dr Cash knows from her experience working in mental health social work, address structural and social issues that affect the individual.

“There are so many things that can impact on an individual’s mental health. Social workers play a key role in working with the individual, but also in understanding and responding to the various things going on around them that might impact their mental health and wellbeing.”

Eco social worker

Helping people with mental health concerns could also be part of your role if you work in eco social work. This field – also referred to as ‘green social work’ or ‘environmental social work’ – is concerned with how environmental issues, such as extreme weather events and climate change, affect the wellbeing of people and communities. In Australia specifically, the devastating bushfires that have become more frequent in recent years have increased the need for social workers with this kind of knowledge.

What type of social work job do you want?

However you want to help people, you can here. Explore our social work courses and find the right social work job for you.