Social workers face many issues, and National Social Work Month is a good time to take a look at some of the major issues many social workers face. The issues are varied in their impact but are of singular importance in how they affect social workers, their patients and the profession at large.
Lack of public assistance programs
One issue, both political and social, is the lack of public assistance programs available. While child care centers that are priced according to a parent’s income can be found in a number of communities, there is still a lack of these facilities in many areas. The same is true of food pantries that provide free food, even though there are a number of people who use these services but don’t need help. In addition, the reality is there is a lack of funding for many of these programs.
The second issue? Social isolation. Social workers are very familiar with those individuals who feel isolated because of where they live, how they act and other factors. In many rural areas people often feel isolated from their neighbors. The same is true for people who spend so much time at home or online. The result? Mental stress, depression, anxiety and other conditions make them prime candidates for a social worker’s help.
Then there is the problem of food deserts, those areas where there is little availability of healthy food. These food deserts are usually found in major cities, which are home to convenience stores and other small stores that primarily sell canned and prepackaged food. This means little access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The result is that many residents of these communities may suffer from obesity and other health issues.
Health insurance gap
Any listing of issues facing social workers isn’t complete without a discussion of the health insurance gap. Yes, it is true that the Affordable Care Act has made it easier for Americans to get health insurance. The fact remains, though, that many Americans still cannot afford health insurance, and that means there are many citizens who cannot afford to get sick. This leads to less money and fewer programs to help those in need.
Student loan forgiveness
Although this issue may not affect the entire population in need, it remains one of significant importance: according to the National Association of Social Workers a major issue is the lack of student loan forgiveness options. Student loan forgiveness programs allow students to work in certain areas after graduation and have their loans forgiven. Unfortunately, according to NASW, there are few such forgiveness programs open to social workers today, which can result in fewer students who want to study social work. And that could result in a lack of qualified social workers in the future.
These are by no means the only issues social workers face. Poverty and homelessness are growing problems, as is the opioid epidemic.
In spite of the challenges social work continues to be one of the fastest growing careers in the nation, with more than 100,000 people expected to enter the field in just seven years. In commemorating National Social Work Month, NASW points out that many people may not know social workers account for the largest group of mental health service providers in the United States, or that the Veterans Administration is the largest employer of social workers with a master’s degree.
As social work professionals grapple with the issues facing them, their services are needed now more than ever before.