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Ask a Social Worker: On the Future of Social Work


The chaotic events of 2020 have forced many professions to rapidly adapt to changing working conditions, including social work. One major factor transforming the industry is, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social work has traditionally involved meeting with clients and patients in person to help them find the help they need. However, that practice can now put people at risk of spreading and catching coronavirus. Additionally, social workers are considered essential workers, which means they carry out their job regardless of the ongoing health crisis. As a result, social workers have learned to follow strict guidelines to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, especially in places with at-risk populations, such as nursing homes. Social workers also now meet with clients virtually through video calls.

The pandemic isn't the only factor changing social work. This summer, demands for police reform and social justice have resulted in greater calls for health and social services like social work. This could lead to a greater demand for social workers overall. If you're interested in learning more, our interview with a social worker explores how the industry is in the midst of responding to these ongoing changes.

Briana Hollis

Briana Hollis, interviewed below, is a licensed social worker and self-care coach. She earned her master of science in social administration from Case Western Reserve University in 2014 and her master of education from Tiffin University in 2019. Briana has spent the last six years working in crisis intervention.

Q&A With a Licensed Social Worker

In recent months, there have been demands from the public to begin divesting from police and investing more in health and social services like social work. Do you see this gaining traction, and does it make you hopeful?

I believe that it is gaining a lot of traction, and I'm pretty hopeful for the future. Just in my own organization (and in other organizations) I'm seeing a lot more conversations between social workers, other mental health professionals, and police on how we can work best together.

How do police and social workers work together now? How could you see this relationship potentially evolving?

From my point of view, police and social workers have a tenuous relationship. We both need each other's support in various circumstances, but often don't see eye-to-eye on how exactly it would be best to work together. In my personal experience with police officers, especially as it relates to actively suicidal individuals, it can be hard to guide them to understanding how to best help these individuals.

In what other ways could you see the role of social workers/the field of social work evolving with the right investments and distribution of resources?

I would love to see more teamwork between social workers and police officers in more cities across the country. For example, the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority has a program called Police Assisted Referrals, in which police officers receive more training in identifying mental health and social issues and help to connect individuals and families to social workers and other mental health professionals.

I would also love to see more social workers housed in police departments that both provide assistance to individuals who have been arrested or jailed and provide training to police officers and others in police departments about best practices.

The social worker's role has also changed recently as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, leading many to begin working remotely and meeting patients through video calls. How do you see this changing the way people are able to access similar services in the future?

I think that this is an interesting and exciting change. I've worked most of my career in social work remotely, and I believe that telehealth can be extremely helpful for a lot of people, especially for people that have a harder time accessing services (like those who live in more rural areas).

I think it has its place but also believe that social workers still need to be out in the community as much as is safely possible. There are some things that you just can't understand or see from just looking at a person on a screen.

What can be done now to better support social workers and the field as a whole (e.g., at the school program level, hiring for more diversity, etc.)?

From what I've experienced as well as what I've heard from other social workers, what would be really supportive is better pay and benefits and more support from the federal government. One thing that the federal government in collaboration with the various social work boards would be increased reciprocity with licences or even better, a national licensing board that is similar to the medical field.

Covid has shown us that, as a field, we need to be able to be more cooperative because we never know when we will be called on to assist in other areas of the country.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in social work?

The best advice I could give is to learn as much as you can about the field, especially about the population or issue that you want to focus on, and also to learn how to be an advocate for yourself. So much of our work is focused on advocating for others, we forget about being advocates for ourselves.

So ask for the raise. Ask for the promotion. Ask for the time off that you deserve. Keep singing your own praises.