In the last several years, researchers from social work and related fields have set out to determine what measurable impact social workers make in a variety of settings by collecting and analyzing data that evaluates the difference their work makes. From North America all the way to Tokyo, recent studies have found qualitative and quantitative evidence of the positive impacts social workers have on vulnerable populations’ health and well-being.
The following are five inspiring examples from rigorous studies published in peer-reviewed academic journals that prove the value of the social work profession in a number of different contexts around the world.
- In Toronto, Canada, a pilot study conducted by the Ontario Association of Social Workers placed a full-time social worker in the emergency department of two of Toronto’s busiest hospitals. These full-time social workers provided care to patients with complex needs, prioritizing older adults who “presented with psychosocial issues, had a history of mental illness and/or were living with addiction.” at the hospitals connected patients to needed resources and options for care close to home, as an alternative to emergency room treatment. The study’s results revealed that the presence of social workers in such front-line roles helped prevent repeat emergency room visits, and prevent avoidable emergency room admissions. The researchers conducting the study calculated that over the course of a year, these emergency department social workers could save the hospitals $1.4 million, reducing inpatient days by approximately 1700 days.
- In Tokyo, Japan, researchers used complex quantitative methods to assess the impact of social workers on infant mortality rates during Toyko’s inter-war period. During this time, social workers used targeted outreach strategies to engage low-income households. Working with these families, social workers “were in charge of the medical casework and provided access to medical treatment for low-income households1,” which including providing childrearing and childcare guidance to families. Results of the study “suggest that the activities of social workers played a vital role in improving access to medical treatment for poor households and thus mitigating the risk of infant mortality in urban Japan1.”
- In the United States, a recent study in Cleveland, Ohio emphasizes the role that social workers cal play in alleviating economic distress in the wake of the 2008 economic recession and housing crisis. The study, conducted by researchers at Case Western Reserve University, concludes that “social workers have on-the-ground capability—and willingness—to mitigate impending financial calamity before it happens.” The study also notes that social workers’ ability to have such positive impacts on issues of foreclosure would be enhanced by further training.
- In Côte d’Ivoire, a resource poor country in sub-Saharan Africa with a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, researchers set out to investigate how community social workers and health workers “impact the provision of services and the psychosocial wellbeing and protection of vulnerable children in the community3.” Using quantitative methods to analyze data from a Save the Children program, the study found that social workers and health workers in the community improved vulnerable children’s school attendance and access to health care services. These social work and health professionals also referred vulnerable children to psychosocial support groups to improve their wellbeing. The researchers concluded that social workers’ and community health workers’ activities enhanced child protection services and healthcare access in Côte d’Ivoire.
- In a national study of the one hundred largest school districts in the United States, a team of social work researchers examined school social workers’ impact on the graduation rates of incoming high school freshmen. The study found that “the number of school social workers is positively associated with graduation rates in the 2008-09 academic year after controlling for poverty rate and district size4.” In other words, the more school social workers employed within a given school district, the more incoming freshmen graduate from high school, regardless of the poverty rate and size of the school district. This research points to the substantial contribution of social workers in bringing about positive educational outcomes for students.
As these studies show, the social work profession has proven to have positive impacts on many different populations across varying work settings in multiple countries.
- Ogasawara, K. & Kobayashi, G. Cliometrica (2015) 9: 97. https://doi-org.libproxy.tulane.edu/10.1007/s11698-014-0110-1
- Cyleste C. Collins et al. Family, Identity, and the American Dream: Service Providers’ Perspectives on Families’ Experiences With Foreclosure. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services (2018). DOI: 10.1177/1044389418756869
- Muriuki, A.M. & Moss, T. (2016). The impact of para-professional social workers and community health care workers in Côte d’Ivoire: Contributions to the protection and social support of vulnerable children in a resource poor country. Children and Youth Services Review: 67, 230-237.
- Tan, K., Battle, S. Mumm, M., Eschmann, R., & Alvarez, M. (2015). The impact of school social workers on high school freshman graduation among the one hundred largest school districts in the United States. School Social Work Journal: 39(2), 1-14.