Social services are crucial to a community’s health and prosperity. Social service work goes beyond delivering essential services to individuals and their families. People who work in social services can secure a community’s access to basic needs while advocating for those who are vulnerable.
For individuals interested in making a difference in their communities, learning about sociology principles and entering a career in social services can lead to a fulfilling professional journey. A good place to begin is by learning what social services are and how to work in social services.
What Are Social Services, and Why Are They Important?
Social services’ mission is to connect people with the services they need for living a full, healthy life. These services include access to mental healthcare, alleviating food insecurity, advocating for justice for the oppressed, and aiming to relieve human suffering.
Social service workers often partner with nonprofit organizations, local governments, or charity organizations to connect families and individuals with important services. Social services are different from human services in that they are highly involved in the community with a focus on how social conditions affect those living in poverty or marginalized communities.
Without social service workers, vulnerable individuals could be overlooked and become susceptible to harm. Given the pervasive issues surrounding inadequate housing, poverty, and access to healthcare, social services have continued to draw community-minded individuals who want to positively impact the lives of others.
3 Steps for How to Work in Social Services
Social service workers take on a number of roles, in fields from psychiatry to management. Regardless of their ultimate role, social service workers typically enter their profession by pursuing a unique combination of education and experience.
1. Earn a Social Services Degree
Most entry-level social service professions require a bachelor’s degree in sociology, social work, or a related field. A bachelor’s degree in sociology will take most full-time or nearly full-time students about four years to complete. Some sociology degree programs offer concentrations in subdisciplines so students can tailor their training to the type of work they would like to do.
Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Sociology degree program allows students to select one of three 15-credit concentrations: Social Justice, Criminology, or Social Work. The Social Justice track enables students to concentrate their study on the social experiences of underrepresented groups. The Criminology track focuses on criminal justice, addressing how crime and incarceration affect a given community. Finally, the Social Work track prepares students to become resource-focused advocates for people who may struggle to have their voices and concerns heard.
Alternatively, students may personalize their degrees by choosing select courses and electives. They may also choose to participate in an internship.
2. Earn a Related Master’s Degree (Optional)
Many non-entry-level social service roles are only open to candidates with a master’s degree. For instance, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) need to have a master’s degree to gain state licensure. A master’s in social work offers leadership and interpersonal training to social workers interested in clinical roles.
Marriage and family therapist, rehabilitation counselor, and school counselors are just a few roles that require graduate education. Some social service workers who work in administration pursue graduate degrees in business administration to improve their organization’s administration of services. These degree programs typically take between one to three years to complete.
3. Gain Social Services Experience and Skills
Landing a job in social services also requires experience in a clinical or related setting. Luckily, many social service organizations offer volunteer opportunities that can equip aspiring social service workers with valuable experience and skills for specific job roles.
Social service workers should train in interpersonal skills such as counseling and communication, and in technical skills such as case management, assessing medical conditions, and creating treatment plans.
Types of Social Services Careers
Some of the most popular social services careers include:
- Social service specialists help connect people with resources and services such as medical care, counseling, or affordable housing.
- Substance abuse counselors work with clients who are working to overcome substance or alcohol use disorders.
- Family therapists help people overcome family relationship challenges.
- Social workers serve as key points of contact for those seeking help. These professionals work directly with clients, assessing their needs and connecting them to available resources while managing their cases throughout the process.
- Rehabilitation counselors help those with physical, mental, or emotional instability live independently.
Learn More About How to Work in Social Services
Few fields offer a more direct means of improving our vulnerable community members’ lives than social services. If you’re interested in learning more about how to work in social services, see how Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and its three concentrations — Social Work, Social Justice, and Criminology — can equip you with the knowledge and skills to serve people in need.
Juvenile Delinquency Statistics and Risk Factors in the U.S.
Human Services vs. Social Services
Forbes, “Careers in Social Work: What You Need to Know”
The New Social Worker, “How to Begin Your Social Work Career During the Great Resignation”
SocialWorkers, Explore Social Work
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Community and Social Service Occupations
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Community and Social Service Specialists