There are some great social work documentary films that you can stream on Netflix. If you're a social worker, you'll benefit from these films.In the field of social work, new methods of intervention, program designs, theoretical models, and innovative ideas are emerging every day. This can be done with social work documentary films.

Part of all social workers’ ethical responsibility to the profession is to continue to build upon their knowledge base throughout their career, incorporating methods of lifelong learning into their work by staying up to date on innovations in the field.

If You’re a Social Worker, Why Not Watch a Social Work Documentary?

There are many ways to keep abreast of current trends in the social work profession – reading journal articles, attending professional conferences and colloquia, participating in professional associations. In addition to all of these more traditional forms of continuing our professional education, we can now look to technology for new ways to stay current on the latest social work information; apps, podcasts, Google news alerts, and audiobooks are all helpful technological tools in this pursuit.

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Another resource for continued professional education in social work comes in the form of social work documentary films. Subscription streaming sites like Netflix provide easy access to a wide selection of documentary films seeking to educate and inform viewers on political, social, and cultural topics.

The sheer quantity of documentary films available on Netflix can be overwhelming, and searching for subject-specific items can be time-consuming. Thus, the following list of films is specifically tailored to social workers, shedding light on a variety of issues relevant to the profession. All are available on Netflix.

After these — check out:

The Top 10 Social Work Documentary Films

American Promise

Running time: 2 h 14 min

Netflix description: “A detailed examination of race, education, and opportunity in America, this documentary follows two African American boys for 12 years.”

Recommended because: This film is a fascinating and intimate look into the lives of African American boys, touching on themes of black masculinity, inequality in the school system, barriers to success for African American youth, structural racism, and more. It also depicts childhood and adolescent development, following its subjects for 12 years.

Alive Inside

Running time: 1 h 17 min

Netflix description: “This moving documentary follows social worker Dan Cohen as he uses music to unlock memory in nursing-home patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

Recommended because: For any social workers interested in the aging population, this inspiring social work documentary shows a social work success story in the implementation of a new intervention method. This film is one of the most specific to social work and highlights the skill and dedication of one social work professional. This film was also written about in Social Workers Speak.

The Overnighters

Running time: 1 h 41 min

Netflix description: “This documentary follows North Dakota Pastor Jay Reinke as he tries to help the unemployed men drawn to the state’s booming shale oil industry.”

Recommended because: This award-winning social work documentary features the topics of the role of religious institutions in social service provision, migratory populations and the politics of migration, and the impact of meeting basic needs.


Running time: 1 h 29 min

Netflix description: “The courageous investigators of Human Rights Watch’s Emergencies Team risk their lives to document unlawful attacks on civilians by brutal dictators.”

Recommended because: This film is a must-see for social workers interested in an emergency response, human rights, and international social work. While the refugee crisis runs rampant in the news, it is easy to distance oneself from the realities of how human lives are impacted. This film provides a needed proximity to the volatile situations in Libya and Syria.

The Out List

Running time: 58 min

Netflix description: “Out and proud, they overcame prejudice to become some of the most influential voices in America’s LGBT community.”

Recommended because: This film explores what it means to identify as LGBT, and highlights the great diversity that exists within this population. In simple, interview format, interviewees share stories of struggle and success, providing a multi-faceted view of what it means to be “out” in U.S. society. (Also check out The Black List, The Latino List, and The Women List)

The Hand that Feeds

Running time: 1 h 23 min

Netflix description: “In a system that profits from undocumented workers, one man is raising his voice. From one voice begins a revolution.”

Recommended because: This film provides a compelling view of community organizing in action while inviting analysis of the sociopolitical themes of immigration, worker’s rights, and social justice within a capitalist society.

The Beginning of Life

Running time: 1 h 36 min

Netflix description: “Scientists, advocates, and parents around the world explore how carefully tending to kids’ earliest needs can shape the course of human society.”

Recommended because: This film takes an in-depth and long-term look at attachment theory, a common social work theoretical paradigm. The film emphasizes the fundamental importance of a child’s earliest years and their impact on childhood development.

Finding Home

Running time: 1 h 57 min

Netflix description: “Follow the lives of three Cambodian women who became victims of sex trafficking in their early teens, including their current struggles and successes.”

Recommended because: The film focuses on how the young women it follows have healed from deep-rooted trauma, building coping mechanisms and resiliency to start anew after being sold into sexual slavery. It illuminates the ongoing issue of sex trafficking in developing countries like Cambodia.

How I Got Over

Running time: 1 h 27 min

Netflix description: “The women of a Washington, D.C. recovery center take the stage at the Kennedy Center in an original play based on their harrowing personal journeys.”

Recommended because: This film delves into many important social work topics – substance abuse and recovery, alternative intervention methods, women’s issues. The film provides a look at the benefits of art therapy with a specific population.

My Beautiful Broken Brain

Running Time: 1 h 24 min

Netflix description: “After suffering a stroke at age 34, a woman documents her struggles, setbacks, and eventual breakthrough as she relearns to speak, read, and write.”

Recommended because: This film takes the form of a personal, first-person narrative and highlights the intersection of health, mental health, and social environment. Lotje’s struggle with her health impacts every other area of her life, and we see her resiliency in developing a support system and adjusting to a new way of life.

10 Documentaries on Netflix for Social Workers
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10 Documentaries on Netflix for Social Workers
There are some great social work documentary films that you can stream on Netflix. If you're a social worker, you'll benefit from these films.
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