Community plays a large role in the profession of social work. From our previous blog posts about Social Work Month, we learned about how a defining feature of the social work field is its focus on the well-being of society. This is accomplished by paying attention to the environmental forces that contribute to issues such as social injustice and poverty. Community social work is one of many paths in the social work field.
Communities are typically made up of diverse groups of people. "Individuals who share a culture, a hobby, attend the same school or even use the same park can all be considered types of communities." (Social Work License Map). Community social workers aim to bring together members of these various groups to work toward a common goal so that the community can serve its people more efficiently and effectively. In other words, "community social workers help communities function" (Social Work Licensure).
Some community social workers focus on the individual-level by conducting needs assessments and making referrals to resources in the community. Others assess needs on a larger scale by planning and administering programs that target specific communities and populations. Along the same lines, social workers may also engage international communities and organizations. "There is a particular need for social workers when traditional support structures fail in the wake of war or natural disaster. Social workers not only help people with immediate needs, but set up systems that will endure after they leave." (Community Social Workers)
Community organizing is another common route in social work that is focused on community empowerment and program development in particular. "By most definitions, community organizing is a specialized field in social work that is devoted to restoring democracy at the grassroots level and energizing citizens to become a more active member of their society. Community organizing focuses on fixing broken social systems, bringing about meaningful changes to peoples' lives, and empowering vulnerable or oppressed populations. Community organizing has the goal of uniting local citizens around a common concern, ranging from preventing crime and reducing toxic wastes to fighting prejudice and creating community-building projects." (Social Work Degree Guide)
In order to help communities come together to work towards a common goal, community organizers have to be well-versed in really listening to people's concerns and fears, especially for marginalized populations. Organizers aim to build social organizations, ask questions and seek out alternative solutions to community challenges and barriers, and develop organizing strategies. Both community social workers and community organizers may be found advocating for social justice in environments such as non-profit organizations, social service agencies, public health departments, religious organizations, government organizations and many other realms of society.