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Where do Social Workers Work? 7 Settings that Might Surprise You

where do social workers work

Many people would look perplexed if asked to describe the work environment of a social worker. The demand for these professionals in so many different settings has created a wide variety of workplace options, and social workers can take their pick. It’s no wonder you’re interested in pursuing this rewarding career.

“One of the best things about being a social worker is just how many places a person can work,” says Sarah Blake, CEO of Blake Psychotherapy & Associates. Choices on the table include medical, political and educational organizations among others.

So where do social workers work? Well, it all depends on where you’d like to direct your efforts. Read on to learn from seasoned social workers about a few of the work environments you may find yourself in.

Social workers can work in …

1. Foster care agencies

If it’s your passion for children that drew you into social work, you’ll have a variety of venues from which to choose. One such venue is through the foster care system, both private and public. Counselor and business owner Sarah Boettner says that foster care agencies are a great place to make a significant impact.

"One of the best things about being a social worker is just how many places a person can work."

“The change I witnessed in the children was amazing,” Boettner explains. Preceding her hire at a private foster care agency, she narrowed her workplace preferences down to a smaller setting. “I knew that I didn't like the macro systems like big government, but rather enjoyed working in a more micro setting.”

2. Inpatient eating disorder units

Many social workers choose to focus their careers on mental health and substance abuse. About 15 percent of these professionals clock in at a hospital, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Many different areas within the hospital employ social workers. One such area is an inpatient eating disorder unit where Blake spent a portion of her social work career. These units focus on treating clients with eating disorders in the hospital; generally after outpatient treatment has been unsuccessful.

3. Schools

This is another great option for social workers dedicated to adolescents. Felicia Kinlock of The Go-Getter Guru works as a lead social worker at a school for students with emotional and behavioral issues. A few of Kinlock’s duties include providing intensive therapy for students, leading classroom-based social skills groups and responding to crisis interventions.

4. Psych emergency hospitals

Some social work settings are prone to more intensity than others. Though that is yet another option social workers can customize about their work, anyone who prefers high-intensity work will have plenty of settings to choose from. Psych emergency hospitals might apply to that category. Boettner’s work at these locations involved conducting intake assessments and case planning for patients admitted.

5. Management

Social workers also have opportunities to step into administrative and management roles. The bigger agencies are likely to need not only social workers, but professionals to help organize and direct them.

“I perform data analyses and measure success in achieving our outcomes,” says Tiffany Allen, management analyst for a Child and Family Services Agency. Allen works closely with administrators and workers in her foster care division, while tracking performance on measures such as pregnancy, parenting, employment, education and vocation. If you tend to see the big picture and enjoy overseeing others, this option will allow you to implement bigger system changes.

6. Employee Assistance Programs

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a voluntary, work-based program that offers free assessments and short-term counseling to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

"You can mold your career to make it truly yours."

Social workers employed at EAPs address a wide variety of issues: substance abuse, stress, grief, family problems, psychological disorders and anything else that could affect the emotional and mental well-being of an employee. In the case of any kind of workplace trauma, EAPs are there to help employees cope and heal.

7. An independent practice

Some social workers begin their careers in one place and gravitate toward an independent practice once they know exactly what they most want to do and how to do it. Jill Johnson-Young owns an independent practice and just launched the new program Your Path Through Grief.

She also opened a non-profit that prepares kids to testify in court, while providing after-care counseling to reduce trauma. “I've been able to work in the areas that mean the most to me and that's the joy of being a social worker. We're not tied to one kind of job or career.”

Where would you like to help?

These examples give you a better idea of where social workers work, but this list merely scratches the surface of what social workers can do.

“You can mold your career to make it truly yours, to build on your own experiences,” Johnson-Young says. It’s all up to you and your desires.

Can you picture yourself working in one of these satisfying settings? Get some expert insight from those in the field: 6 Things You Need to Know Before Becoming a Social Worker.

Rasmussen College does not offer an educational program that prepares students to become licensed or to be employed as a social worker. Please see for a list of the programs we offer.

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She earned her MFA in poetry and teaches as an adjunct English instructor. She loves to write, teach and talk about the power of effective communication.

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