How to choose the right social work specialization

Choosing a specialization in social work is not easy. When selecting a field in social work, students should think about which part of the discipline they would like to concentrate on. Prior to making a decision about a specialization, social work students should investigate the possible job avenues for social work and understand the roles of the field they want to focus on. Some of the fields in social work include working in a community setting, with family and children, with military personnel, as a school social worker, or specializing in gerontological issues.

When considering a career in social work, it is essential to contemplate the mission, tasks, environment, education required, and the advantages and disadvantages of each specialty. Let’s take a look at what’s involved in the different fields of social work to help you make a decision.

Working as a community social worker

Social workers within a community provide assistance for both individuals and groups in order to maintain the wellbeing of the community. The goal of a community social worker is to improve the situation in their area by helping individuals and families find and access the necessary social services.


In community social work, frequent direct contact is made with people and groups in need. Some take a whole community as their client, such as the citizens of a small town, while others are more focused, such as LGBTQ+, youths, women, unemployed people, or older adults.

The duties of a community social worker are contingent on where they are employed and the size of the community. In a small town, their obligations could be extensive, such as studying whether vocational social service programs are successful in avoiding homelessness.

In an urban landscape where populations are dense, social workers may be inclined to focus on a smaller, more particular area to meet the requirements of the community. They can work in local, state and federal government buildings, drug abuse treatment facilities, homeless shelters, NGOs and nonprofit organizations.

Education background

Those with a bachelor’s degree in social work can set out doing community social work. They can organize events, manage programs, monitor and evaluate programs, and do community outreach. To gain more experience as a community social worker, getting a master’s in social work (MSW) will give you advanced education beyond a bachelor’s degree. This specialized knowledge can lead to a higher salary. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has reported that MSW social workers’ annual salaries are $13,000 higher than bachelor’s of social work (BSW) salaries.

Working with children and families

In comparison to community social work, human services social workers, known as child and family social workers, aid families in navigating difficult transitions, including adoptions, rehoming and reunifying families.

They offer a service to both children and families. They link families to crucial resources, while also guarding those who may be vulnerable within the family. The main purpose of this position is to assist individuals and their families in providing for their basic needs. Social services personnel strive to encourage self-sufficiency in children and families.


Social workers working with children and families have an essential role to play in their communities. They investigate abuse and neglect cases in children, organize adoptions and foster homes, guide families going through fostering and adoption proceedings, and connect families in need with resources. They also keep track of the welfare of at-risk children and young people, ensure that children are in safe settings, and reunite siblings and families who have been separated.

This type of social worker is typically found in environments that involve direct interaction with children, adolescents and their respective families. They can work in agencies dedicated to child welfare, organizations that handle adoptions, government offices responsible for the wellbeing of children and families, nonprofits advocating for kids, and community-based youth initiatives.

Child and family social workers may fulfill various functions in organizations of this type, including case manager, caseworker, delinquency prevention counselor, mediator, prevention educator and adoption specialist.

Education background

In order to be a child, family or school social worker, it is necessary to have a BSW, though there are some entry-level positions that will accept a degree in psychology, sociology or similar subjects. Pursuing MSW career paths will open doors for supervisory, administrative and staff training roles. Each state has specific mandates concerning certification, licensing and registration that must be met by child and family social workers, normally involving the completion of two years, or 3,000 hours, of supervised clinical experience. Prospective candidates interested in this line of work should take the time to familiarize themselves with their state’s requirements.

Working with mental health patients

Mental health social workers are advocates who provide support to those who have difficulties functioning optimally due to mental health issues. Mental health social workers provide assistance and access to resources to people who are dealing with psychological issues to help them begin the process of healing. They typically support clients by supplying treatment and referring them to different services that may be beneficial.


The duties of mental health social workers usually encompass administering interviews appraising their clients’ advantages, handicaps and aspirations. These social workers may supply instruction regarding mental health, such as the value of mindfulness and the necessity of getting sufficient rest, healthy foods and hydration.

Social workers specializing in mental health can refer clients with more serious mental health issues to therapists, psychologists and other mental health specialists. They can also help clients attend to their everyday needs, such as remembering to pay their bills or buying groceries.

In circumstances where an emotionally disturbed individual faces discrimination, a mental health social worker may speak up for their client during a legal process. They will also check in with their clients to make sure that they are capable of following prescribed treatment plans and offer supplemental support whenever necessary.

They can work in mental health-focused organizations in the community, detention facilities, medical establishments, psychiatric treatment centers, rehabilitative programs and educational institutions.

Education background

In order to be able to offer direct mental health services to clients, it is necessary for students to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as psychology or social work. After that, they must finish an MSW program and a social work internship or practice that provides them with the necessary experience.

The regulations for becoming a certified social worker differ according to state. To receive a license in clinical social work, the majority of MSW graduates need to go through two more years of clinical training after receiving their MSW and pass the Association of Social Work Board licensing test.

Working with military personnel

Social workers employed in the military provide direct assistance to individual members of the military and their families, in addition to creating programs to serve military and veteran demographics on a broader level.

They can be a voice for those in the military who may not have an advocate. They offer aid to members of the military and veterans to gain knowledge of and access to benefits, connect them with relevant resources, and help them build endurance in the face of mental health issues.


At a local level, social work practitioners can assist military service personnel and veterans who experience standard mental health issues, including depression, sleep disturbances, drug abuse, physical impairment and even those struggling with financial difficulties.

Military social workers can collaborate with charities and advocacy organizations to address the issues of service members and veterans. They help advocate for those in the military who need aid from the state and their community.

They can work in organizations that provide assistance to the community, facilities operated by the armed forces, various divisions in the military, private physician offices, and Veterans Affairs healthcare sites. The objective of military social workers is consistent despite changes in the working environment. They serve those in the military by helping them balance their duties with a healthy lifestyle and aid veterans with acclimatizing to civilian life.

Education background

Holders of a BSW can deliver generalist services to military personnel, veterans and their families. If someone with a BSW has aspirations of diagnosing and treating psychological problems, they should concentrate on clinical social work during their master’s program in order to be eligible for a license in this domain.

Working with senior citizens

Gerontology is a branch of study that focuses on the aging process and its associated social, psychological, cognitive and biological aspects. Therefore, gerontological social work is a profession that focuses on providing services to older adults to improve their quality of life. Social workers focusing on gerontology are dedicated to providing care to elderly patients.

It is estimated that approximately a third of Americans aged 65 and older require geriatric care services, and the demand for geriatric healthcare workers is expected to grow steeply from now until 2030.


Gerontological social workers provide support to elderly people who experience difficulties such as financial constraints, bereavement, deteriorating health and other issues. They establish a connection between clients and medical personnel and address issues (social, psychological and emotional) with therapy.

They also help connect clients with different services – for example, when they transition from in-home care to inpatient treatment – and guide the families of clients on how to provide care for their aging relatives.

Those who specialize in geriatric social work are equipped with the knowledge to support elderly people. Issues such as abuse, neglect and other forms of mistreatment can cause serious harm to the elderly, so social workers specializing in geriatric care are constantly searching for ways to remove any obstacles that may be preventing their clients from getting help.

Geriatric social workers can work in medical institutions such as hospitals and hospices, long-term healthcare establishments, outpatient and daytime healthcare sites, health clinics in the community and residences that provide care services.

Education background

Those who want to work with the elderly need to possess a bachelor’s degree. Those seeking to specialize in gerontological social work may choose to gain an MSW with a clinical focus. This can equip them to provide individual therapeutic services to their clients.

Working in a school setting

To work in schools, you need special skills and knowledge to effectively assist students in need, as well as families and teachers. School social work focuses on the interactions between students, their families, the school and the community. They ensure that students have access to a safe and supportive learning environment while maintaining a good parent-teacher relationship. The primary goal of school social work is to promote the academic, social and emotional success of students.


School social workers, trained to provide mental health services, must fulfill several duties, including:

  • Facilitating mental health counseling for students.
  • Taking part in special education assessment sessions, including individualized educational planning gatherings.
  • Assisting in creating and executing behavioral modification strategies to help children and youths learn appropriate socialization abilities.
  • Cooperating with families to maximize the use of school and community resources.
  • Spotting and reporting any cases of neglect or child abuse.

They can work in special education classrooms, counseling offices and other areas of school administration. School social workers team up with teachers to work together.

Education background

A bachelor’s degree is a significant component for a career in school social work, though a higher degree is required to work in many school settings. According to the NASW Standards for Social Work Services, the minimum requirement for an entry-level school social worker is an MSW.

Other types of social work

  • Research

If you are interested in pursuing an academic career in the field of social work, one option is to do research after obtaining a relevant postgraduate degree. In this role, you will be responsible for collecting data about various strategies, methods and interactions, and using this information to determine the effectiveness of different social work approaches. By analyzing the data, you can make suggestions about how to modify and improve existing programs to promote sustainable and positive social change. Employment opportunities for social work researchers may be found in various organizations such as government agencies, universities, research foundations and healthcare centers.

  • Healthcare

Healthcare social workers help people to cope with the social and individual elements that are related to their health and welfare. This can involve working one-on-one with individuals, groups or families to meet their physical and mental health needs. They may also be involved in creating research-based programs, providing social work services to the community and collecting data for research purposes.

You could also be a clinical social worker who provides mental health services to their communities, including offering direct care to individuals, groups and families. These social workers may be the only access to mental health services in rural areas, and may have their own private practice or work with other mental health professionals. Common roles for clinical social workers include mental health social worker, behavioral health counselor and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

  • International social worker

Social workers who specialize in international work may assist refugees, immigrants and international health organizations. They are tasked with helping people become self-sufficient and independent to increase their quality of life, as well as providing them with religious, social and institutional connections. Potential job titles in this field include immigration social worker, equality and social justice social worker, and community outreach social worker.

  • Planning and policy social work

Social workers who specialize in policy and planning can have a significant impact on social change by identifying issues that affect many people and working with lawmakers, policymakers and members of the media to create sustainable and substantial change.

  • Administration and management social work

Those who work in social work administration and management may be responsible for ensuring that a company or institution adheres to its values and mission, as well as providing staff with adequate compensation and benefits. These professionals can work in both public and private settings, and be employed in healthcare clinics, hospitals and community-based agencies. Administration and management positions include program director, social services manager and director of social services.

  • Employee assistance and occupational social work

Finally, those who specialize in occupational and employee assistance social work may assist organizations in modifying their operations and strategies to improve employee creativity and satisfaction. They offer services related to single parenting, substance use and vocational rehabilitation issues. Potential roles include employee assistance program (EAP) managerial consultant, EAP licensed clinical social worker and EAP counselor.

Social workers provide assistance to the disadvantaged by giving guidance, linking people to beneficial resources, and uncovering the root causes of social inequality. If you’re passionate about social work, why not consider enrolling on a course?