While a stereotypical perception of social workers may be one involving intervention in child care situations, the job entails far more.
They are counsellors, advocates, educators, policy analysts, administrators, activists, facilitators, mediators, organizers and researchers.
Social workers deal with intricate issues in a variety of settings, including hospitals, mental health clinics, seniors programs, child welfare agencies, family service organizations, schools, treatment programs, correctional facilities, and various private and public agencies.
This complex role is the focus of Social Work Week in B.C., March 7-12.
“Social work is kind of an under-recognized profession,” said Adrienne Chan, professor of social work at the University of the Fraser Valley.
“It’s important to recognize that the role we do is very important to prevention of problems as well as helping people when they have problems.”
Social workers employed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development investigate cases of family violence, child abuse and neglect, and take protective action as required. However, Chan points out that the removal of children isn’t as common as historically seen. Social workers first try to determine the problem and find ways to support families to keep children at home.
They are involved in other ministry roles such as adoption, foster care and working with special needs children.
In the correctional field, social workers are concerned with the rehabilitation of young and adult offenders. They mainly work as probation and parole officers.
Social workers are also part of the hospital treatment team, providing a link between the family, doctors, nurses and community resources. Social workers are in the hospital, from emergency to medicine, surgical, intensive care, maternity, pediatrics and psychiatry.
About 25 workers cover cases at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, Mission Memorial Hospital, and rehabilitation and residential care at Worthington Cottage.
“The most important thing that social workers are doing is completing psycho, social and emotional assessments,” said Shannon Torhjelm, social work practice leader at Abbotsford and Mission hospitals. “They can help with making plans for people around either trying to reduce issues of risk that might be occurring for people, distress or just helping them understand the medical system and accessing resources.”
All workers have a university degree, but those working in specialized areas like palliative care require a higher level of training in counselling.
As of Dec. 31, 2009, there were 2,358 social workers in B.C. Most are employed by health and social services (61 per cent), followed by the provincial government (31 per cent).
About 79 per cent of social workers in B.C. are women.