The Social Worker Career Ladder: How to Plan for Your Success

Social work is one of the best and most effective tools society has. When social workers, psychologists, and other support services are boosted

The Social Worker Career Ladder: How to Plan for Your Success

Social work is one of the best and most effective tools society has. When social workers, psychologists, and other support services are boosted, they can help prevent a lot of hardship in their communities. Crime often only occurs, after all, when people feel like they have hit rock bottom and there is no way out. If there are support services full of passionate people who are and want to help you improve and become stable, then there is always a light at the end of the tunnel available. This does not mean that with a fully funded support network that crime will never happen, but it will be far less common, especially if we can start to untangle the threads of generational trauma.

Social workers help those in a myriad of situations, from families all the way to mental health and addiction centres. Their work is essential to a thriving, positive society. There are also many different kinds of social workers and different methods to advance your career. If you are interested in helping others and that passion has led you to look into social work, then use this guide to help you plan out your career:

Types of Social Workers

Social workers are found throughout the community. You will find them in schools and hospitals. In clinics and elected offices, in senior centres and even in the military. They are essential both for the work they do directly for others, and the work they do indirectly through policy recommendation and change.

There are many different types of social workers as well, meaning you can find the right fit for you and your interests. Do not feel like you have ever let anyone down, either. Social work is important everywhere, and it is far more important that you can do a better job wherever you are, then trying to help prop up a portion of the system that you see as needing it the most.

Administration and Management

Administrative social workers provide services to clients in both private and public sectors. They do things like help finding housing for their clients or working to get their clients on the benefits that they are entitled to. They need to be highly organised and also need to have a firm understanding of social policy as well as the delivery system for their social services. Understanding future planning goals, human behaviour, and of course ethics is a must for this role.

Advocacy and Community Organisation

Advocacy social workers fight to improve the social justice in their community. They organise their community and work to counterbalance systems that work to create inequality. They may work directly to provide support to those who had support taken from them, or they might fight for policy change to create a more equal and fair society for all.

Aging Social Work

Many struggle as they get older. Aging social workers help bridge the gap, ensuring that their clients live independently and with dignity. Their goal is to maximize the quality of life that their clients experience, and of course also help encourage their clients to participate more within their community. They work with older adults to improve all areas of daily living, including physical, psychological, social, and even the economic aspects.

Child Welfare and Social Work

Vulnerable children need caring adults not just to be there for them, but to help them legally in ways that they often do not feel they have access to. Law and order, community support, and often society at large is often something “for grown-ups”. When children need help, they go to an adult, and as a child welfare social worker it is your job to help them. Though social workers often work with CPS, their work is not just about removing children from their families. They instead work to improve family dynamics and the quality of life at home. If that cannot be achieved, then drastic action will be taken.

School Social Worker

School social workers help children with their developmental, social, and even emotional needs at school. You will find them in both public and private schools as guidance counsellors. Not all guidance counsellors, however, need to have completed BSW to MSW programs. The best do and are far more equipped to help children from a variety of backgrounds achieve and succeed.

Development Challenges and Disabilities Social Worker

The school board and independent organizations often hire social workers to advocate and provide support for children with developmental disabilities. They will work to connect parents and the student in question with the resources and special services necessary so that the child can be as independent as possible.

Health Care Social Worker

Being hit with a terminal diagnosis is mentally and emotionally difficult. Social workers in hospitals work to provide the mental and emotional support that these patients (and any other patient that would benefit from the care and guidance a social worker can offer). Their work can be individual, with the whole family, or through support groups. They also work on the administrative side and work to develop programs that help a larger number of patients and their loved ones.

Justice and Corrections Social Workers

These social workers work within prison systems and for court houses. They are there to help victims and even defendants through the process emotionally and mentally. These social workers see a lot of difficult cases, for example rape, attempted murder, and abuse. Their work is very important, especially during high-stress situations.

Mental Health and Clinical Social Work


Those who complete BSW to MSW programs can go on to become a clinical social worker or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). These social workers definitely have a more hands-on approach than others in this list. Rather than just providing administrative support they provide guidance and one-on-one support for those with mental illnesses, disorders, and trauma.

Substance Abuse Social Work

Those who are suffering with addiction need a combined approach. They need you to help them tackle their addiction, and more importantly they need mental health support to develop healthier coping mechanisms. Those who complete BSW to MSW programs are qualified to provide these services, and often work to provide a holistic perspective to treatment that takes into account the client’s relationship with their family, environment, support systems, and of course the cultural attitudes and policies that affect them. They guide individual and group therapies, provide family counselling, and of course also work to improve the cultural and governmental support for recovering addicts.

Policy Planning and Politics

Most social workers will work directly with their community, but there is also a great demand for social workers to work in public policy and even in politics. Work to improve public policy will help the greatest number of people. You will need to identify issues, develop a suitable response, and then work to get that response through legislation.

Public Welfare

Public welfare social workers are also behind the scenes. They work to actually get and deliver the social services that help communities. They are the administration that plans, finances, and organizes a variety of social services. They are also the ones who manage other social workers.

Research Social Work

Finally, there are the researchers. These are often those who have completed their BSW to MSW programs and may even be working or have achieved a PhD. They, like policy planning social workers, aim to develop new approaches and better the understanding we have of mental, emotional, and community health.

Education Necessary to Become a Social Worker

The best way to go into social work is to earn BSW to MSW programs. These programs are full degrees, though when it comes to the MSW you do have the option to complete it online. As such it takes an average of three years to complete, but as you can juggle your career and your degree, it is often the preferred method for social workers.

Bachelor of Social Work

It is ideal if you get a BSW to become a social worker, though it is important to remember that it is not always necessary. BSW to MSW programs teach you what you need to know to become a great social worker, but there are alternative ways into the position. For example, some employers may accept related degrees. If you have a psychology degree, or even a public planning and resources degree, then you may be hired into entry-level positions in administrative social work.

Do check your local area, however, before you commit to another degree. You may need to be licensed as a social worker after you have received your BSW. If that is the case, then you will need to qualify for that exam and license, regardless of what an employer may think is necessary.

Masters of Social Work


You will not, however, be able to become a clinical social worker or licensed clinical social worker without an MSW. While there are many BSW to MSW programs out there, there are also many programs that do not require you to have a BSW. Check what your local area requires social workers to have, and then find the best BSW to MSW programs for your background.

Clinical Training

After you have finished your BSW to MSW programs you will need clinical training. However, this is specifically to become a LCSW so if you are going into administration the chances are you will not need to wait. These clinical training programs often last around 2 years, though can differ depending on where you live. Once you are finished with that clinical training, you will then need to take the licensing exam to become an LCSW and start working in clinical settings.

Ongoing Education

There are always new theories and new approaches. As a social worker it is up to you to continue your education to keep your methods and approach in line with the best practices of the day. You can do this by subscribing to newsletters, attending conferences, and even listening in on talks (digital or in person). This is the best way to keep your BSW to MSW programs relevant throughout your career. They are not the end of your education, but they do make up an essential foundation.

Where You Can Work as a Social Worker

You can work almost everywhere as a social worker because people are everywhere. Social workers those in their community, wherever they are needed.

  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Offices
  • Government buildings
  • And more

There will of course be big differences from one workplace to another. Do not be afraid to leave if you do not like the company culture at the clinic you are working with. There are many options out there and finding a place where you feel supported is where you will do your best work.

Health and Wellness Tips to Be a Better Social Worker

Knowing your options and what degrees you will need in order to find your ideal place in social work is just the start. To really get to where your goals are you will need to be able to compartmentalize, manage your stress, and put self-care first. Being healthy, well, and feeling safe will do wonders for your ability to be an effective social worker, especially if you work with particularly difficult cases.

Social workers often experience compassion fatigue. This secondary stress is normal when dealing with clients who have been through a rough time. Treating those with mental illness, or who have suffered from any kind of abuse, or have lost a loved one, can all cause compassion fatigue.

Putting your health first, having a strong support network, and of course having your own therapist is how you can stay well and fortify your mental health. You need to be at the top of your game to provide the best services for your clients, and you will not be able to do this on your own. The best thing you can do for your own health as a social worker is to accept help from others.

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