15 Common Misconceptions About Social Work

The misconceptions about social work and social workers seem to be the same across the board, but with some variations. Mostly, the focus is on social workers and their connections to welfare, to “child robbing” (taking kids from homes), and an association between social work and socialism or sociology. While some misconceptions may seem funny or downright ludicrous to some readers, the harm comes when individuals who believe these myths want to hurt social workers. The only way to stop this type of harm to social workers is to continually educate the public about what social workers really do in their professions. This list may help you to spread the word.

    Social Work Studies
  1. If you have a kind heart, that’s all you need to become a social worker. Having a kind heart is great for anyone, but social workers need much more than this to get through a day. Social workers are highly-trained professionals who hold a degree in social work at the bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral level. Additionally, a social service employee, caseworker, assistant, or volunteer community worker is not a “social worker” unless he or she has a social work degree.
  2. Anyone who does any kind of service for the public is a social worker. It is true that many people want to better the world they live in, but not all those folks are social workers. They may be politicians, volunteers, psychologists and more; but, social work is a “professional service based upon scientific knowledge and skill in human relations, which assists individuals, alone or in groups, to obtain social and personal satisfaction and independence.”
  3. Social workers are bleeding hearts and meddlers. What is it with the heart and social work? Nothing wrong with the strong desire to help improve lives, but many factors affect the health and well-being of any community. Think about early childhood education and care; literacy and education; employment and working conditions; income and its distribution; housing; social inclusion, and a multitude of other factors. Those items are the social worker’s focus. The aim of social work practice is to promote social change, problem solving in human relationships, and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being — not to meddle.
  4. Social workers can take your kids away. Social workers are dedicated to strengthening families in the interests of creating safe, nurturing environments in which children can grow and develop. When there is reason to believe that a child is being harmed and in need of protection, social workers in all areas of practice, like all other professionals, are obligated, under provincial legislation and mandatory requirement, to report their concerns to the proper authorities. Social workers who are employed by Children’s Aid Societies have as the exclusive focus of their work the protection of children, as mandated by provincial legislation.
  5. Most social workers are employed in public welfare or child welfare or work with welfare recipients. About one-quarter of all child welfare cases are handled by professional social workers. About one percent of National Association of Social Workers (NASW) members work in the public sector. Professional social workers practice in many settings: family service agencies, mental health centers, schools, hospitals, corporations, courts, police departments, prisons, public and private agencies, and private practice. More than 200 professional social workers hold elective office, including one U.S. Senator and four Representatives.
  6. For mental health services, you need to see a psychologist or psychiatrist. Social workers are the largest group of practitioners providing psychotherapy and other mental health services. In fact, social workers are often the only mental health care providers in many rural and remote communities. Social work is unique among the helping professions because it looks at people’s problems within the context of their families, workplace, and communities and considers the connection between personal problems and larger social issues. Social work is designated as one of the four core mental health professions under federal legislation that established the National Institute of Mental Health. For more information, read about the differences among counselors, therapists, psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and marriage and family therapists.
  7. Master in Social Work Degree

  8. Most social workers work for the government. Fewer than three percent of all professional social workers work for the government. About a third of all professional social workers are employed by federal, state, and local governments combined. Social workers are employed in a variety of settings, including hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, nonprofit agencies and government offices.
  9. You can’t specialize in social work. The majority of the social workers choose specialties in this field. School, family, and child social workers strive to help make the lives of kids and families better, and to assist them with doing better in their school as well as society. Some social workers work with the adoption agencies and work to locate foster homes for children. Sometimes they are employed by schools and help with things like truancy and teen pregnancy. Some social workers are specialists in working with the elderly. They work together with caregivers, patients, and families, and help with arranging for services at home. There are social workers, too, who are specialized in substance abuse, such as drug, alcohol, or tobacco.
  10. You don’t need a social worker unless you’re down on your luck. Social workers [PDF] deal with people from all backgrounds and at all levels of society. It doesn’t matter what your educational status, financial status, or employment status is, you could find yourself in need of a social worker at some point.
  11. Social workers carry magic wands. Social workers connect people to resources, but they don’t carry magic wands — although some social workers might wish for one! They don’t hand out cash, they don’t have homes waiting for you, and they don’t provide welfare. They are not attorneys, nor do they lend money. Nor do they have an unlimited amount of time (hence the mystery behind the time available for “meddling”). But, they can — with your help — give you a leg up on obtaining help if you help them with your information.
  12. Social work is a 24/7 job. It’s very easy to become engaged in helping others, but there has to be a line between work and personal life. In order to avoid burnout, social workers must learn how to distance work from personal life to maintain a healthy life balance. The average work week is 40 hours, and salaried employees can possibly be paid overtime for more hours.
  13. Social work is a dangerous job. We won’t lie that social work can be a dangerous job. But, the NASW is working to try and improve the situation through more social work safety laws. Most of the danger comes from misconceptions about the profession (meddling, taking children away, etc.). Other dangers come from working with people who may be unstable because of stressful situations.
  14. Elderly

  15. Social workers are socialists. Socialism is an economic or political theory that has to do with workers owning the means of production. Social work is a paying profession having to do with helping individuals, groups and larger communities develop to their best potential level within a society. The only commonality between the two is the word “social,” which refers to the interactions of people in and within groups.
  16. If you study sociology, you can become a social worker. Sociology is a very broad field that focuses on the scientific study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society. It also focuses on the study of social problems. While this study can benefit and inform any social worker, social work courses often focus on discovering resources for current social issues in any given community.
  17. Basically, social work is volunteer work. Although social work has been linked to volunteerism historically [PDF], that notion has changed. If a person earns a social work degree, and is working 40 or more hours per week for an employer, that person is not a volunteer. Social workers may volunteer for other events or work, but — hopefully — it has nothing to do with social work (see above for 24/7 and a healthy life balance).
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