What is Social Work?
The profession of social work provides a service to a cross-section of clients in society. The purpose of the interaction between a client(s) and the social worker is to help the person or group cope with societal issues and problems. The social difficulties extend to addiction, crime, poverty, violence, and unemployment. One or a combination of these afflictions has the potential to affect an individual’s well-being and quality of life.
The forensic social worker concentrates on matters involving the legal system. That is the primary difference between the regular social worker and the forensic social worker. Therefore, the latter specialty, in addition to involving sociology, psychology, health, and counseling, also requires knowledge of the law, criminology, victimology, and criminal justice.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker
Drug and alcohol abuse is pervasive in our nation. Statistics show that drugs and crime are frequent companions. Approximately 70% of the male prison population in the U.S. was drug and/or alcohol abusers. A 2018 article in Psychology Today magazine stated that 80% of individuals in the justice system have a substance abuse problem.
The effects of substance abuse on society are compounded by the fact that the disorder is often passed from one generation to the next. Research studies found that a child’s chances of abusing alcohol quadruple if the parent is an alcoholic. As referenced, abuse leads to crime, which leads to the legal system, which can lead to the involvement of a forensic social worker.
The graduate with a Master of Social Work (MSW) with classes in criminal justice and the American legal process would have the qualifications to work in this field of mental health and substance abuse. You may conduct individual or group therapy sessions. Other duties may include crisis intervention – talking to family members to determine the relationships and family dynamics. Through the interview process, you may discover incidents of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or neglect. The result might lead to interaction with law enforcement and legal advisers.
The next step from the scenario present above is that the substance abuser has committed a crime, and the deed has lead to incarceration. Working in Corrections is another career possibility. Those about to enter the prison system, as well as those in prison and those about to be released need the service of a forensic social worker.
Individuals with a background and training in criminal justice and social work could be of value to the more than 600,000 inmates released from U.S. prisons annually. Again, an MSW with a concentration in courses in mental health, psychology, criminal, and juvenile justice are advantageous.
In the event of the pending release of a prisoner, the social worker would visit the facility to evaluate the inmate. The purpose is to determine how to integrate the parolee into society. What additional resources will he/she require to become a productive citizen? The newly acquired freedom can be a daunting experience. The social worker wants to prevent the client from slipping back into a life of crime and drug usage.
A Child Advocate is a specialist whose work involves the placement of children into adoptive and foster homes. This branch of social work requires those whose education included the study of topics related to the judicial system. Often, child placement may be the result of abusive parents. The family setting has become a threat to the health and welfare of a child. Therefore, law enforcement intervenes to place the child with the local Child Protect Services agency. Ultimately, this could escalate to the permanent removal of the child from the parents. Consequently, the child becomes a resident of a foster home.
Not all child advocates have a degree in social work, psychology, or criminal justice. However, to seek a career in this field, at least a BSW is beneficial. The tragic events, outlined above, typically involve advocacy lawyers, judges, and psychologists. Your foundation in the forensic aspect of social work will improve your chances of being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)-if that is your ambition.
There are other career opportunities within the legal system. Although few law firms have a clinical or forensic social worker on staff, some public defenders use their expertise. In cases involving child custody, neglect, divorce, accusations of child or spousal abuse, and evidence of drug and alcohol abuse may require a social worker. A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) coupled with courses or certificate in forensics may suffice to secure an entry-level job in a law firm or public defenders’ offices.
Individuals interested in enhancing or obtaining the skills for forensic work should review the certificate program School of Social Work at the University of Maryland and Long Island University’s Department of Health and Human Services.