Social work is a diverse field. Social workers can be found in hospitals, schools, clinics, private practice offices, etc. Another key place where social workers make an impact is shaping public policy.
Public policy social workers have a background in the challenges faced by social workers on a day-to-day basis. But they also have an understanding that creating better conditions for society’s most vulnerable populations can happen through legislation, policy, and public attention.
Let’s dig a little deeper into this profession and see what it takes to become a public policy social worker.
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Key steps to become a public policy social worker
- Complete a bachelor’s degree
- Obtain work experience either through an entry-level job or internship in the social work community
- Earn a master of social work (MSW), preferably with a concentration in public policy
- Become a certified social worker – this is handled on a state-by-state basis and requires about two years of supervised clinical work
- Become a public policy social worker by obtaining a position in a clinic or with an organization
What is a public policy social worker?
In a nutshell, public policy social workers are a special type of social worker employed by nonprofit organizations and government agencies to enact large-scale social change. This social change is often accomplished through legislation, education, and other interventions that are formulated at a policy level. Put another way, public policy social workers try to improve society and human relationships through big, top-level change instead of individual or client-based change.
Other types of social workers might choose to help their patients via one-to-one interactions, acting as family therapists, school counselors or the like.
Public policy social workers analyze current public policies or initiatives, determine how they are weak or where they could be improved, and then work with other agencies to implement new public policies for better results.
As an example, public policy social workers might cooperate with city boards to improve public housing developments or zoning regulations for minority populations or economically disenfranchised people. They may also start up public service programs or large-scale projects dedicated to improving the common good for a big population like a city.
Furthermore, public policy social workers will assist lawmakers in creating legislation that betters the quality of life for everyone across the board. To this end, they may run advertising or communication campaigns for certain members of congress or other legislators.
An additional responsibility that public policy social workers might hold is that they are responsible for organizing training programs. People and groups being helped first need to buy into social programs for them to be effective, so public policy social workers might work directly with those populations and teach them good skills, management practices or explain their policies at community centers.
Public policy social worker requirements, skills, and experience
As mentioned previously, a public policy social worker needs a master’s degree in social work at minimum, which also requires a bachelor’s degree either in social work or in a closely related field like communications. These can be obtained from any university, although better universities will often include additional work experience opportunities or networking opportunities.
In addition to these degrees, all public policy social workers should possess several “soft” skills that may not necessarily be on a degree but are nonetheless invaluable. Some of these include:
- excellent written and verbal skills
- knowledge of the legislative process
- analytical and problem-solving skills
- computer skills
- political understanding and social savvy
- research or quantitative skills
Public policy social workers need to be able to work with teams, especially as the majority of their work will take place with and affecting other people.
What do public policy social workers do?
With any public policy that’s implemented via legislation or via public initiative, there’s probably a social worker behind the push for change.
Public policy social workers can look at big data sets and apply their considerable knowledge of human psychology and sociology to come up with big solutions for sweeping issues. Consider, for instance, a neighborhood that is perpetually overrun by criminality and low wages. A public policy social worker might come up with several ways in which the city can improve the wellbeing of the people living there.
For instance, they might recommend different zoning laws to affect rent prices and help lower class people save more money. They might also recommend that police target gang activity with intelligent, measured approaches rather than one-size-fits-all patrolling. Or they might consider neighborhood-wide cleanup operations.
A public policy social worker can corral lots of people to help them accomplish their goals, or they can work directly with legislators, police chiefs, and other professionals to make this happen. Public policy social workers are team players and are at their best when they have a great team behind them, making their vision happen.
Ultimately, public policy social workers are just like others of their profession — they’re focused on improving the wellbeing of the people they live with and are always focused on the human element instead of economic numbers. As a result, most public policy social workers lead fulfilling professional lives and can see the results of their efforts in visceral ways.
Public policy social worker job description
A public policy social worker can fill out a variety of jobs with distinct descriptions.
As an example, a social service aide for the Air Force will be a supervisor who conducts interviews with clients, administers assessment questionnaires pertaining to military social work policy, provides training to individuals at risk for family maltreatment, and assists other staff members for research and evaluation for Air Force related family advocacy programs. In essence, such a public policy social worker is employed directly by the government to make sure that the Air Force and its human component continue to operate smoothly, especially in relation to service members’ families and wider society.
Public policy social workers can also work as social workers for child welfare. These postings crop up for every state in the union from time to time.
Such social workers seek to improve the quality of life of people within the context of their environment through the prevention of their problems, remediation of those problems, and by improving the accessibility and accountability of service professionals. In a child welfare context, this public policy social worker will implement new child safety policies and work with state governments and authorities to find homes for children that are abused or in other social dangers.
Certificates or special training required for a public policy social worker
A public policy social worker is a fully licensed, clinical social worker. This means that they must obtain licensure within their state of residence.
Social worker licensure is acquired through one pathway: by obtaining an MSW, then by working as a supervised clinical social worker at a real social work job. Licensing regulations can vary slightly by state, although all of them call for a master’s degree in addition to about 3,000 hours of supervised clinical work. Some of these hours may be obtained over the course of one’s college education, but it still usually takes around two years for a social worker to obtain the required experience.
Once all of the above aspects are taking care of, aspiring licensed social workers must then pass a social work licensing exam. These exams are held at various facilities around each state, although social workers can take the exams anywhere they like. The exams usually consist of multiple-choice questions, although some exams also incorporate written answer components.
Social workers must pass this exam in order to receive state licensure. Even then, they must regularly re-test (about every two years) to maintain licensure, with exact requirements varying by state.
Outlook for public policy social worker
Social workers of all kinds are likely to enjoy great job prospects in the immediate future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that social worker jobs are going to continue to grow in number by about 11 percent over the next ten years. This will result in an additional 81,200 jobs by 2028. As a result, public policy social workers won’t need to worry about not being able to find a job (provided they have the right licenses and degrees).
How much do public policy social workers make?
The BLS also indicates that social workers, in general, enjoy a median annual wage of around $50,470 per year. However, some social workers can earn up to $82,540 per year – this is more common with social workers who are fully licensed and who have some experience under their belts.Some public policy social workers may want to focus more on their communities; in this case, they can become social and community service managers, who have many of the same responsibilities but with less of a clinical or policy-making component. These professionals earn a median annual salary of $67,150.