What is social work?

Social work is a profession concerned with helping individuals, families, groups and communities to enhance their individual and collective well-being. It aims at helping them develop their skills and the ability to use their own resources and those of the community to resolve problems. Social work is concerned with individual and personal problems but also with broader social issues such as poverty, unemployment and domestic violence.

In a socio-political-economic context which increasingly generates insecurity and social tensions, social workers play an important and essential role.

Where do social workers work?

Social workers work in a variety of settings: family services agencies, children’s aid agencies, general and psychiatric hospitals, school boards, correctional institutions, welfare administration agencies, federal and provincial departments. An increasing number of social workers work in private practice.

What do social workers do?

Social workers provide services as members of a multi-disciplinary team or on one-to-one basis with the client. The duties performed by social workers vary depending on the settings in which they work.

Social workers employed by Children’s Aid Societies investigate cases of family violence, child abuse and neglect and take protective action as required. They may recruit foster parents or supervise the placement of children in protective care. Others work on adoption cases.

Many school boards hire social workers to help students adjust to the school environment. They help students, parents and teachers to deal with problems such as aggressive behaviour, truancy and family problems which affect the students’ performance.

In general and psychiatric hospitals, social workers are members of the treatment team. They provide a link between the team and the family as well as with community resources. In these settings they contribute to the care, treatment and rehabilitation of the aged, physically or mentally ill individuals, and disabled persons.

In health and community services centres, social workers are involved in the provision of counselling to individuals or families and in providing services to seniors. Some work as community developers helping citizens to identify their needs and proposing ways of meeting these needs. Those working in family services agencies may assist with parent-child relationships and marriage counselling. The services may be offered on an individual basis or in groups.

In the correctional field, social workers may be part of a team concerned with the social rehabilitation of young or adult offenders. They may work as classification officers. Others work as probation officers or as parole officers. Parole officers help ex-prisoners adjust to life in the community while conforming to the conditions of their parole.

Social workers in private practice offer their services on a fee-for-service basis to individuals, families and organizations. Their services include counselling, psychotherapy, mediation, sex therapy, policy and program development, organizational development employee assistance program and other specialties.

Social workers involved in policy analysis, policy development and planning are usually working in federal and provincial departments or social planning councils. Researchers are found in universities and governments. Others are teaching in universities and community colleges.

Working Conditions

Most social workers work full-time although it is possible to work part-time. Recent graduates in social work practice under supervision for administrative and professional development purposes. Many employers offer staff development training. Social workers providing direct services spend most of their time with clients in their offices or in the client’s home. They also spend time in consultation with other professionals such as psychologists, teachers, physicians, lawyers or ether persons concerned in a specific case.


Social work education consists of theoretical courses and practical training at the undergraduate or graduate level. The bachelor of social work is the minimum educational requirement for entry into the profession in Nova Scotia. Postgraduate education leading to a masters or doctoral degree is also available.

A three or four year undergraduate program is required for a bachelor’s degree. Persons who have bachelor of social work degree may obtain a master’s degree after one year of post graduate studies. Those who have a degree in another discipline would require a two year post graduate program in social work to obtain a master’s degree in social work. Most social work programs are accredited by the Canadian-Association of Schools of Social Work. This association publishes a directory of accredited programs. As admission requirements and program orientation vary between schools, interested persons should consult the directory or communicate with the school of their choice.

As a preparation at the secondary school level, courses in sociology, psychology and philosophy are useful. Voluntary work in a social service agency is a plus.