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Social Worker Trends

Read about the current trends in social work and learn who you’ll help as a social worker.

social worker meeting with family in their home

A social worker answers a call for help, a call that many of us may not readily express to friends or family. But social workers are poised to reach out a hand, helping people work through a wide range of social and mental health issues. A licensed social worker provides assistance to children and adults of all ages.

Prior to the nineteenth century, social work was closely intertwined with poverty relief, a duty that members of the clergy often performed. Modern social work, starting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, finds its roots in social concerns and scientific practice. Today, the social work profession continues to evolve, espousing trends that respond to 21st century societal needs.

Whether they work in hospitals, schools, private practice or other settings, social workers perform a variety of duties, from one-on-one and group mental health counseling to administering social service programs. Current social work trends have developed in response to societal factors related to education, economics, living standards and other facets that play an integral role in our day-to-day lives.

Consider these examples of the latest trends in the social work profession.

Working in Schools

In schools, social workers deal with extraordinary issues, from child poverty to school violence. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) indicates that in the early years of school social work professionals typically focused on emotional issues without considering a student’s home life. Starting in the 1970s, however, social workers began taking a more comprehensive approach, analyzing all aspects of a student’s environment, including school, home and neighborhood, as possible factors influencing the student’s behavior and mental health.

Now, prospective MSW students have access to nationally-recognized programs no matter where they live, through online program offerings from several top schools. At University of Southern California, students benefit from a real-time virtual classroom, small class sizes and internships with a vast national network. At the Simmons School of Social Work, their Master of Social Work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and is the oldest provider of clinical social work training in the U.S. Their program focuses on small class sizes and direct clinical practice in a variety of settings.

Today, social workers have added cultural influences to the list of environmental factors that may contribute to a student’s conduct or struggles. And, according to the NASW, the latest industry trend necessitates that social workers look at schools as part of a community, rather than as separate entities—both of which continue to change as society moves forward.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects veterans in dramatic, life-altering ways, leading many to alcoholism, substance abuse, homelessness and, in some cases, violence. The NASW describes how veterans of the Vietnam War, as well as members of antiwar movements of that era, first garnered attention from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 1980 regarding the seriousness of PTSD. Mental health therapy combined with medication became the standard treatment for this condition.

Expanding on that treatment, a social worker will assist today’s veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan using a holistic approach. Rather than treating PTSD as a condition that impacts only the client’s emotional and physical condition, social workers perceive its effects on veterans’ families and the communities in which they live. Their understanding of the mental health and social ramifications of PTSD positions social workers as formative, active players in making a difference to the lives of veterans dealing with PTSD and its effects.

Trends Emerge With Care

As current industry trends show, social workers make a difference to the resolve and well-being of individuals, which, in turn, impacts the health and welfare of communities. Learn more about the important work that social workers perform. If a social worker career is your calling, explore social worker schools and degrees, and find the training program that matches your professional and personal goals.