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Before addressing the captioned question, it is essential to understand that many states require that you have a license. The regulatory board of each state sets the parameters regarding the practice of social work. Those that mandate a license, there are different types. From an associate’s degree to a master’s, the license can vary. Some states only provide social work licensure to professionals holding a master’s degree. Depending on where you plan to work, the license requirements can be stringent. Applicants in Florida, for example, for a clinical social worker license need two years of supervised experience post-master’s degree.

Criminal vs. Civil Cases

A primary difference, between the two, is that the state is the prosecutor in criminal cases. In contrast, civil cases involve disputes and alleged wrongs brought by one individual(s) against another person or company, organization, or other entity. The former consists of a lawyer for the government filing a case in criminal court. The attorney, in this case, can be a prosecutor, district attorney, county attorney, or state attorney.

Civil matters entail a person or persons suing another for money, property, foreclosure, child custody, child support, physical abuse, medical malpractice, and the list continues from the mundane to the bizarre.

The jury most often decides the verdict in a criminal case. In civil cases, a judge rules on liability, the award of damages, or who retains custody of a child.

The prosecutor in criminal cases must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime. In civil cases, the burden of proof is less demanding. Two opposing parties may share in some of the blame for the incident. A judge will consider these elements when determining the ruling.

Forensic Social Work

By placing the word ‘forensic’ in front of social work, it changes the dynamics of the profession. Forensic means that the cases generally involve the judicial system. Therefore, the cases can pertain to criminal and civil matters.

Here are examples of when a forensic social worker (FSW) could be assigned to criminal cases.

Corrections is one place where an FSW may work providing support services before incarceration, during prison time, and at the time of release. The social worker may perform a mental health evaluation and risk assessment of the inmate. If the criminal has substance abuse issues or specific medication needs, these can be addressed. The inmate may have suicidal tendencies that the social worker must evaluate to mitigate the chance of suicide during incarceration.

The above tasks may require conferring with corrections’ officers, judges, and medical professionals. This discussion can be an ongoing process throughout the inmates time in prison.

As release becomes imminent, the FSW would discuss the steps to reintegrate the person back into society. Housing, work, family, and mental health are just some of the concerns. After release, the FSW maintains contact with the parolee to prevent relapses into drugs, alcohol, or criminal activity. Therapy in the form of group or individual sessions and community support could be initiated.

Not all criminal activity that the forensic social worker encounters results in jail time. Minors can engage in illegal activity. It could be a minor offense, such as shoplifting or a more severe case of drug dealing. Either incident requires the FSW to be knowledgable of the juvenile court system. The latter varies by state. However, the typical ages for an individual to be referred to juvenile court is seven to fifteen.

There is a considerable amount of latitude in the prosecution of a minor. Factors affecting the judge’s decision are the perpetrator’s age, attitude, the severity of the crime, prior record, and parental intervention and support. The FSW could be assigned to such a case to argue on behalf of the minor or act as an adviser for the parents.

Civil Cases

As outlined above, civil matters might end up in court or settle through mediation or arbitration. The difference is that arbitration is usually binding, and mediation is non-binding. The latter requires only a single mediator whose role is to facilitate a resolution to the dispute. Commonly, the FSW would help the two parties understand the process during a child custody disagreement.

Crisis intervention, counseling, and legal guidance is another role of the FSW in civil matters. In the event of physical or sexual abuse, the FSW may intervene to assist the injured parties before the alleged violence escalates to a crime. In this capacity, FSWs may work at a rape crisis center or domestic violence organization.

For most people, the court system is complex. The FSW can act as an advocate by explaining how the nuances of the judicial system. The professional can elaborate on how their particular case may evolve. The criminal justice knowledge of the FSW will be an asset to console the client in the challenges of dealing with law enforcement, lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.

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