Who’s Who Series: Social Work

I feel like social workers are often under-appreciated as well as misunderstood. So many people hear social worker and associate their job with either only one aspect of it, or just something that is not exactly correct.

Social workers could be involved in your life at any point really – even pregnancy and postpartum. There seems to be a negative connotation with “needing a social work consult” that I’ve seen online and heard in person. For some reason families often associate this with child welfare or child services only, when this is only one role a social worker can play in regards to maternal, child, and family health. That’s why I decided to cover this topic next – to clarify and dispel some myths. Social workers are amazing resources & professionals!

There is another post in this series so far, on dietitians and nutritionists! Click here to access it.

What is a social worker?

This is both simple and complex to answer because social workers can work in so many different areas, and can provide a variety of support services depending on where they work.

To keep it simple, the field of social work is focused on the support and improvement of society – our health and our general well-being. Similar to most other health professionals, they are advocates for social justice – meaning they support and believe in the equitable distribution of things like wealth and resources throughout society. They are often the ones to help facilitate this at different levels.

Here is a good graphic to demonstrate equity, and therefore better explain social justice (it’s one of my all time favourite images).

Social workers work with a variety of people throughout the lifespan and in different living scenarios. They help them navigate their world with the aim of reducing risks and threats to their well-being and health. They look at both the “close up” picture and the “zoomed out” one – direct health issues as well as systemic challenges people may face. If there is an issue, a social worker may help you cope or deal with it, or connect you with supports/resources that can help facilitate this.

In Ontario, a social worker has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and most will also have their Masters of Social Work. So you’re looking at 5 to 6 years of education on average. Social work is a regulated profession in Ontario, like many other allied health professions (nursing, physiotherapy, dietetics, occupational therapy, etc.). This means they have a regulatory body or college that makes sure they are practicing within their scope and to a certain standard.

What kind of services do they offer?

Since this is a blog aimed at women’s health, I’m going to focus on areas where social work might be applicable to women and their families. However, keep in mind that social work is embedded in almost every area of healthcare and social support services.

Services that a social worker may offer include counselling/psychotherapy and connecting people to vital resources. The second point encompasses a vast array of different services and supports. They can also be involved in community development; delivery of different health or social service programs with other professionals; and research. This is not an extensive review – like I said, their role is complex and they are involved in so many different areas of practice.

In regards to families – a social worker may be involved in helping families stay safe and together, or quite the opposite – by supporting families through difficult times and challenges. As I mentioned earlier, they are often involved in child welfare or child services cases as well.

They can help support people through counselling when it comes to mental health issues, trauma, or other struggles – so you can see how a social worker may be involved with your case in pregnancy, postpartum and beyond.

They can help connect mothers and families to resources they may need in a variety of different circumstances – this can refer to basic needs, or it can be just helping a family complete a form/application for a particular support or service.

They are often involved to help with infant loss, miscarriage, or other grief support as well – again through assessment and delivery of services such as counselling, or connecting patients to resources and helping them get the supports they need.

The social workers I work with do so much – they are often one of my go to services when I’m not quite sure “who” can help because of that. I don’t feel that I can do them justice in a short blog post, but what I can say is that they are amazing and do so much good in our society! They don’t get enough credit for the amazing support and services they offer.