Social work practices and challenges

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Social work is a complex field that must address a myriad of issues at all levels of society. It can be helpful to define the different levels of social work to understand the structure of what goes into creating strategic solutions for the challenges faced at all levels of society.

Let’s explore the major categories of social work and some of the factors and challenges social workers face when trying to provide people the help they may need at some point in their lives.


Micro social work refers to counseling and services that are typically conducted on a one-on-one basis or possibly with just a few family members. This type of social work is what a lot of counselors and social workers provide through their agencies. Management and those with a lot of experience may be in charge of the more macro level social work most of the time.

The micro level caters to the needs of vulnerable members of the population, including children, those suffering from mental health problems and elderly citizens.

This type of social work is best suited for those who can keep a calm demeanor under very stressful and emotional circumstances. Being quick to think about solutions that are specific to the person and their family is a huge benefit. The solutions that are the best for someone may not be textbook solutions or even solutions you have heard of before. Creative thinking can lead to long-term success for individuals and small groups.

Micro level social work jobs are plentiful

From school counseling to substance abuse counseling and treatment, there are a lot of jobs that utilize micro level social work skills. If you are good at talking to others one-on-one, and have superior listening and empathy skills, then micro level social work is an area you should consider.


The macro level of social work involves finding solutions to the major problems society is facing today. This can be a very overwhelming sector of social work, so it is very common for those working in this area to limit themselves to tackling one or two larger issues that are often connected in some way.

This is very important work because it has such long-reaching effects on society as a whole. Examples of macro social work include organizations dedicated to solving hunger in the United States.

Macro social workers do not typically provide any type of one-on-one counselling. They are far more likely to work with individuals or groups that are working on legislation to change laws to support a specific cause. Some macro social workers do not maintain a license since they do not provide individual counseling services.


This level of social work concentrates more on the issues of small groups of clients. This could mean working with a specific group within a community. Mezzo social work often occurs within schools or other organizations. For example, a social work program may be implemented to teach teens about safe sex and the advantages of abstinence. This program would address all types of students regardless of their background rather than targeting a specific group within a school system.

Mezzo social work could include after school programs for youth to encourage healthy habits and hobbies. They might do workshops that benefit business owners in a community or help aging adults access transportation for healthcare appointments and daily errands.

Improving access to social services

Outreach is important to ensure that others know what resources are available to them if and when they need them. It is important to remember that not everyone will reach out for help, but if it is offered, they may be more inclined to accept it or at least hear what might be available to them.

Availability of social services can vary a lot based on factors such as location and demographics. Some populations are historically very underserved for a variety of reasons. It is important for social workers to find ways to improve accessibility and educate people throughout the community so that they are aware of the programs that are available to them in their time of need.

Here are a few ways social workers can improve access:

Non-profit agencies and groups

Social workers often work with non-profit groups that are dedicated to helping specific segments of the population. By working with these groups, they can reach some of the most vulnerable members of the communities in which they live.

Non-profit groups sometimes reach out to services on their own, but social service departments are typically welcome to reach out to them to ensure they are aware of any new programs or services.

Educate through the school system

Providing parents and loved ones with materials that are sent home with their child can help a lot. This allows information to be spread in a way that is equitable and fair. All parents, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status, receive materials, so there is an even distribution that doesn’t single out one group or cause embarrassment or offense.

Community events

Community events and workshops are a great way to distribute information to others. Just having pamphlets or cards available will do some good. Sometimes, social service departments or organizations will also plan or sponsor community events where they can encourage the population to take advantage of services when they need them.

Cultural awareness

There is no doubt that areas are becoming more diverse. As this occurs, it is important for social workers to be aware of the level of diversity in their community and find ways to advocate for those individuals and their families. Being culturally aware also allows social workers to work on ways to bring the community together and learn to appreciate each other’s differences while finding some good common ground as well.

Cultural awareness is important because it allows social workers to develop a trusting relationship with those that may not speak English or that may be cautious about approaching a government agency for help with any issues they are experiencing with work, school, health or family.

Prioritizing the most important issues

It is critical to know everything you can about the major demographics in the area where you are working as a social worker. There are many challenges people face in the modern world. This means it is important to prioritize the issues that are having the most impact on the daily lives of those around you.

Learning what these issues are can involve a lot of fieldwork, such as talking to community leaders and private citizens about what the most challenging issues are in their neighborhoods.

Creating a list of the biggest challenges is the first step in starting to form strategic plans full of realistic and achievable milestones. When there is a series of small and achievable steps that add up to major results, it is far more likely that a plan will succeed.

Advocate through hospitals and the judicial system

Unfortunately, a lot of people that need help from social workers only realize they need it after they are hospitalized or find themselves part of the judicial system either as a victim or perpetrator.

Facing a disability or an issue related to aging is difficult no matter what the circumstances may be. Hospitals often work with social workers to help advocate for those facing healthcare challenges. Victims of criminal activities that find themselves hospitalized often need access to various resources to begin to heal and get their life back on track.

When there is a major crime or a case of domestic violence or battery, social workers may need to be involved. A social worker can help victims of crimes and abuse obtain financial support, housing, protection and other resources during their recovery. They can help direct victims and their families to counseling and mental health support services so they have someone to talk to as they process what has happened to them.

Should you consider a career in social work?

If you are looking for a career change or if you are a recent high school graduate considering your options, then you might want to consider social work. Here are just a few of the reasons social work is a solid career choice:

Empowering others

Social workers help people from all walks of life. They provide counseling and support and realistic solutions to empower others to improve their lives for the long term.

Social workers help protect and advocate for some of the most vulnerable members of society, giving them a voice in cases where they did not have one before.

Rewarding career

If you are stuck in a career you do not like, then making a change to do something you find rewarding and fulfilling is important. Choosing to do something that you look forward to each and every day can lead to a long-term improvement in your own mental health and morale.

Studying on your own schedule

You can retrain to be a social worker by completing an MSW program online. Reputable institutions such as Cleveland State University offer this program in a format that allows you to maintain your job while you earn your degree. All classes are 100% online. The only time you need to attend in person is when you are required to complete your field work placement so you can qualify for a social work license in your state. Field placement services are included so you can complete your degree seamlessly with no delays in finding a suitable placement.

A cause to be passionate about

Becoming a social worker gives you the chance to pursue a job in an area that you are passionate about. Perhaps you have always wanted to work where you could do more to help underprivileged youth or help ensure that the elderly have access to the resources they need to maintain an independent lifestyle?

No matter your passion, there is probably an area of social work that will allow you to pursue it.


Committing to a career is something you must take seriously. Having flexibility in your career increases the odds that you will keep enjoying it in the future. Social workers are needed in a lot of different types of facilities and groups. This means that over the years you can change what you are concentrating on and where you work.

Challenges facing social workers

Social work poses a lot of challenges, but they are not insurmountable. Knowing the major issues that social workers are facing that can impact the level of service and care they provide clients is important. The COVID-19 pandemic changed society in many ways and had a major impact on the severity of some of the challenges presented below.

Steep rise in substance abuse

The pandemic led to a steep rise in substance abuse that has continued. The rise in addiction has led to a major need for treatment resources such as counseling, detox and medical care. With a rise in substance abuse there have also been higher rates of domestic violence and problems with homelessness.

Social workers are facing the challenge of helping a lot of addicted people using the limited resources that are available via non-profits, the medical system and other groups. Encouraging addicts that they must change can be very hard when they are in the throes of major addiction and dependence.

With substance abuse also comes declining mental health and an inability to work and hold down a job for any length of time. This has a major impact on families and their quality of life.


Varying levels of distrust in social workers and groups is present. The reasons for this can include a fear that seeking help will result in criminal charges. For example, admitting that you are a drug user might lead to charges of possession. Fear that children will be taken away and placed in foster care is another common reason for distrust among those that would benefit from help.

For some people, it is simply hard to trust anyone due to the hardship or abuse they have experienced. Breaking down barriers and being patient with those that need help the most can have significant results.


There has been a stark rise in homelessness. While a significant portion of homelessness is due to substance abuse, there are plenty of people that find themselves homeless for other reasons. The rise in the cost of living and rent combined with a lack of affordable housing in general has led to families living in very reduced circumstances. Some may be living in vehicles, while others may live in an RV or trailer and may not have access to the utilities and food they need to be healthy and productive.

Addressing homelessness is particularly challenging because it can be due to so many different circumstances. Helping those that are homeless can involve reaching out to many different agencies and helping adults train for jobs or find suitable employment.

Overstressed healthcare system

While more people than ever before have access to decent health insurance, this does not mean they have an easy time finding a primary care provider. Finding a primary care doctor and getting an appointment can take months. This can discourage some from seeking care at all. When it comes to psychiatric care and treatment, it is even harder to find the care that is needed to deal with severe mental illness or substance abuse.

Social workers face the challenge of helping people of all ages access the preventative and emergency care they need. When people have good access to healthcare, it helps them be more productive and lead more fulfilled lives.


Macro, mezzo and micro social work are all important to the quality of life of citizens throughout society. Social work is a great career for those who want a rewarding occupation where they can help people from many different backgrounds.

As a career in increasing demand, now is a great time to retrain or embark on a degree in social work and meet your career goals.

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