Social and Human Services
“Social and human service assistant” is the generic term applied to people who hold many different job titles, including human-service worker, case-management aide, social-work assistant, community-support worker, mental-health aide, community-outreach worker, life-skills counselor, and gerontology aide. Each works under the direction of supervisors in many fields, including nursing, psychiatry, psychology, rehabilitative or physical therapy, and social work.
Social and human service assistants deal directly with clients to help them reach their maximum level of independence. They determine the clients' needs and establish their eligibility for benefits like food stamps, Medicaid, or welfare. They keep case records on clients and report progress to supervisors and case managers.
Social and human service assistants wear many hats. They organize and lead group activities, help clients in need of counseling or crisis intervention, and administer food banks or emergency fuel programs. In halfway houses, group homes, and government-supported housing programs, they help adults who need supervision and support. They review clients' records and try to ensure that they take correct doses of medication. They talk with family members and confer with medical personnel and other caregivers to get firm insight into their clients' needs.
Do social and human service assistants get to work with other professionals?
In rehabilitation programs and outpatient clinics, social and human service assistants work with professional psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, to help clients master everyday living skills and get along better with others.
Working conditions vary. Some social and human service assistants work in offices, clinics, and hospitals, while others work in group homes, shelters, sheltered workshops, and day programs. Many work under close supervision, while others work on their own. Many social and human service assistants spend most of their working days in the field visiting clients, with one day designated as an office day to catch up on paperwork. Sometimes clients live in bad neighborhoods. This can be dangerous, and sometimes a security officer accompanies the worker. Government employees work a forty-hour week and usually have a light caseload.
If you go into this field, you should have a genuine desire to help people, or at the very least, be willing to do your job without an argument or an attitude.
A bachelor's degree usually is not required for an entry-level position; however, some relevant work experience and education beyond high school is becoming more and more of a prerequisite. Certificates or associate degrees in subjects like social work, human services, gerontology, or one of the social or behavioral sciences are helpful. Human-services degree programs have curricula that train students to observe patients and record information, conduct interviews, implement treatment plans, handle crisis-intervention matters, and use proper case-management and referral procedures. Most programs offer the opportunity to specialize in addictions, gerontology, child protection, and other areas. Many degree programs require participation in a supervised internship.
Regardless of the academic or work background of employees, government agencies provide some form of on-the-job training. There may also be additional hiring requirements for group home employees. A valid driver's license may be required, and you may have to submit to a criminal background investigation.
Formal education is always necessary for advancement. A bachelor's or master's degree in human services, counseling, rehabilitation, social work, or a related field is required if you want to advance to supervision and administration duties.
One in three social and human service assistants is employed by state and local governments, primarily in public welfare agencies and facilities for mentally disabled and developmentally challenged individuals.
A Bright Future
Opportunities for social and human service assistants are expected to be excellent, especially for applicants with more advanced degrees. The number of positions is projected to grow much faster than the average for the next ten years. There is going to be more competition for jobs in urban areas than in rural areas, but qualified applicants should find it relatively easy to find a job.
Unfortunately, the salary is not all that high in this field. The median salary for state government workers is $29,270, and the average annual salary for local government employees is $28,230.
The number of jobs for social and human service assistants in local governments will grow, but the public sector may fluctuate with the level of funding provided by state and local governments. In addition, some state and local governments are contracting out some social services to private agencies in order to save money.
The demand will expand with the growing elderly population, and more social and human service assistants are going to be needed to provide services to pregnant teenagers, the homeless, the mentally disabled and developmentally challenged, and substance abusers. Job training programs are expected to rise because, as welfare rules change and the system makes people work for their benefits, there will be a demand for people with the training to teach job skills to those who are new or returning to the work force. Since substance abusers are increasingly being sent to treatment programs instead of prison, employment of social and human service assistants in substance-abuse treatment programs also is going to grow.