The field of forensics concerning social work involves clients who have interacted with the justice system. They could be the recipient of violence, assault, or neglect, for example, or the perpetrator. Therefore, the social worker in this capacity must have an education or training in criminal justice. He/she should be knowledgeable of the American law system and legal proceedings. Clients could be a serial killer, an abusive spouse, or sexually abused child.
What is Clinical Social Work?
It is a specialty area that concentrates on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental illness and behavioral problems. Typically, the clinical social worker (CSW) provides psychotherapy and counseling in a clinical setting. These settings could be a private practice, hospital, mental health facility, or community agency that offers social services.
Clinical social work takes a more in-depth approach through discussion with the client to determine what the mental problems may be and how to treat them. The non-clinical worker may only counsel clients with a job search, recommend treatment facilities for substance abuse, or rehabilitation programs. In contrast, the CSW focuses on behavioral and psychosocial disorders and issues.
Employment opportunities will expand with the level of education in social work. You may obtain an entry-level position in social work with a bachelor’s degree. Your role may not exceed the duties of an assistant to a licensed social worker with a Master of Social Work (MSW). Licensing is another matter that differs by state. Some states require a minimum of a master’s degree to be a licensed social worker. There are also different types of licensure, depending on your degree. For example, a Licensed Social Work Associate (LSWA) requires an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in social work, psychology, or related field.
As a CSW, there are venues where your skills and training as a clinician bring you into the realm of forensics. As mentioned, forensic social workers provide a service to clients entering the judicial system. The CSW could also be involved in the same arena after conducting a psychological assessment of the client. Their diagnosis may help the defense attorney argue temporary insanity for the client. The person-to-person interaction of the CSW and the client, in this situation, creates a rapport and trust between the two. The process may also involve consultation with psychologists, psychiatrists, and other medical professionals.
The corrections system is another area where forensics and clinical work mesh. Forensic social work can venture into prisons to interview inmates before release. The purpose is to plan for their reintegration into the community. Similarly, the CSW uses his/her bio-psychological expertise to assess what problems that inmate may encounter upon release. The clinician evaluates to determine what services the parolee may need to avoid the pitfalls that incarcerated him or her. Will the person benefit from substance abuse treatment, group therapy, additional counseling, or mentoring?
Victims of assault, abuse, domestic violence, and rape need the services of a CSW. In these cases, the person may require a victim advocate, conflict mediator, or transitional case manager. A degree in social work is an avenue to seek a job as a victim’s advocate. Their role serves the criminal justice system, namely the prosecutor’s offices, probation, courts, and sexual assault centers.
As a victim’s advocate, the social worker uses his/her clinical skills to provide information to the court on victimization, counsel victim on legal rights, provide emotional support and explain the justice system. Their investigation can be in written form for law enforcement, prosecutors, and defense lawyers.
A specialty with the position of an advocate is the child advocate. This person is also known as a Guardian Ad Litem or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Again, as a clinician, the social worker works with the child to assess and diagnosis the extent of their abuse. The advocate helps the child understand the legal system and remains with them, as an advisor, throughout the process. Other services for the child include placing them in an adoptive or foster home. Some states require additional training and submit to a criminal background check.
Case management is a potential job opportunity for those with a degree in psychology, nursing, or social work. The social worker’s skills as a clinician come into play. The CSW interviews clients, reviews medical records and formulates a care plan for the individual. The individualized program for the patient might include securing a physician or location appropriate housing. As with most positions in social work, you need to have excellent communication and presentations skills. Interpersonal qualities, such as the ability to negotiate and influence, will be an asset in dealing with co-workers, clients, and colleagues.