What is Social Services? A Closer Look at the Programs Serving Up Stronger Communities
By Emily Hayden on 02/28/2017
Happily employed workers, well-fed families, safely housed citizens and positive role models for youth are some of the pillars that make up a strong community. While those elements might seem obvious, you may have witnessed or experienced the challenges of acquiring a job that provides a livable wage, struggling to offer healthy food choices for a growing family, scraping together what was left from a paycheck for rent or worrying about kids’ after school activities.
Where do people turn when they face issues? How do communities thrive when its members have such diverse needs?
Believe it or not, there is a career field equipped to assist in all of these important areas. The multi-faceted field of social services is there for people in times of hardship. But what is social services, exactly? Read on to find out.
Social services: The basics
“Simply put, social services is anything that provides services to assist the overall social well-being of people,” offers Rikkisha Gilmore-Byrd, Health and Human Services Department Chair at Rasmussen University. “This can include counseling and/or case management with any group of people or population.”
The social services network collaborates in helping all of its clients become self-sufficient in multiple ways, from connecting them with resources to the acquisition of new skills.
Why is social services so important?
“Society is held together with the threads of social fabric. Each day, forces pull against the threads,” explains Luis Maimoni, family therapist with Masada Homes in Gardena, California. “What if you have a child with special needs or a loved one who attempted suicide? While some people are naturally resilient and able to regenerate the threads without external support, others struggle.” Professionals working in social services help struggling individuals become independent and self-sufficient, he adds.
As a parent, you have undoubtedly experienced stress. Your toddler refuses to eat any vegetables. Your infant hasn’t figured out how to sleep through the night. Your job demands more of your time and your house hasn’t been cleaned in months.
Although these occurrences seem trivial independently, you know that on the wrong day and in the wrong combination, they can derail your family’s ability to function.
Now imagine a city or state—not just a small family—full of individuals whose life situations are constantly pushing them over their capacity to manage stress. This community will fail without the variety of support offered by the network of social services in the area. The importance of social services is never overrated.
What types of social services exist?
Because social services is a large umbrella encompassing many different types of support, it is difficult for a few sentences to adequately define it, according to Howard Lee III, a community transition specialist for youth on probation.
He outlines the following examples to help give you a more practical understanding of what it looks like in action:
- Food assistance: Provides monthly stipends to support people in need of food.
- Housing assistance: Provides shelter for the homeless and supports those who need rental assistance or help in purchasing a home.
- Disability assistance: Ensures benefits for those unable to work due to medical conditions.
- Supplemental income and unemployment assistance: Offers financial support to those who are unable to work or who have lost their jobs.
- Education assistance: Gives financial aid to students pursuing education after high school or provides early childhood education at free or reduced costs.
- Tax credit assistance: Provides people with tax incentives depending on employment, family, housing and education status.
- Mental health assistance: Offers counseling and psychologist services to those who are struggling with various mental challenges.
While the type of support offered by social services is clearly diverse, the duration of each program is also flexible based on client needs. Some forms of assistance provide brief interventions of weekly support for a few months while others offer daily interventions that last for more than a year.
What social services careers are out there?
Now that you understand the purpose of social services and have some specific examples of it in action, you might be wondering what a career in this field actually entails.
There are actually many jobs available in social services depending on the type of support you’re hoping to offer your clients. Take a look at some of these options:
- Human service assistants: Assists clients in identifying and obtaining social and community services benefits.
- Probation officers: Works with non-violent criminal offenders in preventing the recurrence of crimes and making successful contributions to society.
- Rehabilitation counselors: Collaborates with clients to help them live independently by managing their physical, mental or emotional disabilities.
- School and career counselors: Assists students in navigating the academic and social aspects of school and provides resources and skill acquisition for future careers.
- Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors: Helps individuals struggling with addictions or behavioral disorders by providing them with various treatments.
- Health educators: Informs people about healthy living by assisting them in identifying personal health goals and strategies to achieve them.
- Marriage and family therapists: Creates strategies for couples or families who are experiencing various types of emotional, mental or physical struggles within their relationships.
While the list above does not cover every job, it is a good place to start if you are considering working in social services. You’ll have the ability to choose a career path based on your own personal passions and career aspirations.
Gilmore-Byrd adds that various occupations within the field could be acquired with different levels of education, such as Human Service Certificates, Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s degrees and even Doctorate degrees.
Are you ready to contribute?
Now that you know what social services is, you might be considering one of the many careers available in the field. If you have an inherent desire to help others survive and thrive in their communities, our experts say you’d be a great fit.
“There is a special type of person who enjoys the work not because they would just like to help, but they’re willing to sacrifice their energy and be present each day to ensure the need is met,” according to Howard Lee III.
“You have to want to help people find the strength they have within themselves, which is different than giving advice,” Maimoni says. “This means you have to fundamentally believe in people.”
If you can identify with the statements above, learn more about what it’s really like working in the field in our article, What is Human Services? Experts Explain their Field.