Discover five shifts that are transforming social work delivery in the way social workers practice and communicate in today’s fast changing environment.
Shifts in Social Work Delivery… and What You Need To Know
The career outlook for social workers is good, with the promise of many new opportunities driven by changes in how not-for-profits and government agencies are structured and funded, the impact of changing technology and ripple effects of transformation in the healthcare industry.
So what are the most profound changes taking place right now? And how are they expected to affect the work environment of a social worker over the next five to 10 years?
1. Greater Integration of Social Work Delivery with Other Human Services
Government agencies and not-for-profit community organizations are under increasing pressure to deliver services more efficiently by working more cooperatively with one another.
These partnerships aim to maximize resource use, reduce duplication of services and realign each agency’s core competencies toward the achievement of shared goals.
This increased cross-fertilization of information, resources and expertise will provide more scope for comprehensive, community- and individual-focused social services and social work careers.
2. Increased Focus on Community Health Intervention and Prevention
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures, demand for social workers is projected to grow by 12 percent between 2014 and 2024. The number of healthcare social workers will increase by 19 percent over the same period, fueled by more people seeking treatment for mental illness and substance abuse.
As more drug offenders are directed to treatment programs rather than jail, social workers can expect to play a greater role in the development and delivery of community education programs, early interventions and drug and mental health counseling.
3. Greater Adoption of Leading Practices from Outside Organizations
Social workers have much to learn from exploring the differences between how public and private organizations deliver social work services and build client relationships.
Customer-centered organizations, in particular, use customer segmentation, multichannel touchpoints and self-service options to improve the client experience.
By looking at how customer needs are met in retail, insurance, telecommunications and other industries, social work agencies are learning how to better meet their own service expectations. Possible outcomes include faster eligibility determination, improved job skill development, increased support and easing pressure on in-house agency staff.
4. Pay-for-success Investment in Social Outcomes
Growing demand for social services is going to translate into more pressure on social workers to show exactly how their work benefits the greater good. This has led to “pay-for-success” contracts gaining in popularity, whereby private investors fund preventative or interventional social services upfront, and are reimbursed using money that the government otherwise would have spent fixing problems later.
A recent example is South Carolina’s Nurse Family Partnership program, which has been able to significantly reduce parenting problems through nurses making home visits for up to two years after a child’s birth.
5. Use of Data to Drive Better Outcomes in Social Work Delivery
Information technology has already led to major improvements in how social workers process and share information, allocate resources, anticipate and react to trending needs, and even promote available social services to the public.
In today’s data-rich environment, the next frontier is data analytics — using data to examine current situations and predict results. Analytics is already being used by human services agencies to detect noncompliance, but it will have a potentially much greater impact when it is routinely used to predict the relative effectiveness of different social work delivery, hopefully leading to better targeting of resources and improved client outcomes.
Over the next decade, more social workers will be needed across a variety of settings, including schools, child welfare agencies, hospitals, community-development organizations and private practices. More will also be needed to support aging populations, with the U.S. predicted to hit 83.7 million people over the age of 65 by 2050.
As the sector continues to innovate and grow, social workers in all specialties can look forward to an exciting and fulfilling career in the long term.
Social workers play an important role in helping people solve and cope with problems in their lives. Invest in your own education and keep up to date with a Master’s in Social Work or other advanced degree.