About social workers
Social workers are university-trained professionals who help people improve their wellbeing and manage issues or difficulties in their lives.
Social workers have training in counselling, child wellbeing and family support. This means that they know how to help families and children who are having difficulties.
Social workers support individuals, families, groups, communities and organisations with issues like:
- mental health problems
- trauma experiences
- relationship difficulties
- parenting challenges
- family violence
- grief and loss
- misuse of alcohol and other drugs.
Social workers focus on more than a person’s individual issues. They also look at other things that might be causing difficulties. For example, a social worker helping someone with a mental health issue would look at things that might be contributing to the issue – for example, relationship breakdown, homelessness, unemployment, family violence and so on.
Many social workers have jobs as case managers, which means they work with individuals or families to identify changes that they need in their lives, as well as link them with other agencies and programs that can help them. With your consent, they also make sure these agencies are connected and communicating with each other.
Social workers might also work as counsellors, psychotherapists, family support workers or community development workers.
Social workers are employed in many different government, non-government and community organisations. These include hospitals and community health centres, early intervention services, family support agencies, family therapy services, child protection programs, family violence services, mediation programs and bereavement services. They also work in schools, employment agencies, justice services, accommodation services and aged care services.
Social workers are also employed in roles related to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Why you or your child might see a social worker
A social worker can help if you have special or complex needs or are having difficulties that you’re struggling to manage on your own.
A social worker can help if you or your child has a mental health condition, disability or serious illness.
Other reasons to see a social worker might include:
- current or past experience of abuse or family violence
- problems with a relationship in your life – for example, a divorce or separation
- problems with alcohol and other drugs or gambling
- difficulties with parenting
- difficulty coping with significant change in your life, like loss of employment
- difficulty coping with the loss of a significant person in your life, including pregnancy loss.
You don’t need a GP referral to see a social worker, but your GP or child and family health nurse is always a good place to start if you’re worried about your child or your family situation. These health professionals can help you decide whether to see a social worker and help you find someone who’s right for you. You can also go to Australian Association of Social Workers – Find a social worker.
Before going to a social worker
If you’re thinking about seeing a social worker or your GP suggests you or your child should see a social worker, it’s a good idea to talk with your GP about the following things:
- Why you’re going: talk with your GP about why you or your child needs to see a social worker.
- Waiting list: services often have a priority access system based on urgency and need, so it’s worth asking how long you might have to wait before you can get an appointment to see the social worker.
- Making an appointment: you might not always be able to organise an appointment with your first call. Some agencies might call you back to discuss your particular needs or send you a letter when they have an appointment available.
- Is there anything you can do while you’re waiting for the appointment – for example, can your child start some treatment or therapy?
- Location: find out what type of social work service will be best for you and your child – for example, a public or private hospital service, a community health centre, a non-government family support agency or a private practitioner. Also find out the location of the service that might be best for you. You might have to travel further than you expect, depending on your needs.
- Cost: social work services can be free or you might have to pay a minimal fee. Social workers working in private practice might charge a higher fee. You might be able to get a rebate from Medicare, financial help through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or other financial assistance.
- Qualifications: is the social worker registered with the Australian Association of Social Workers? Registration isn’t compulsory in Australia, but registered social workers are qualified and up to date with professional development and practice.
You can talk about these things and any other questions you have with your GP before you see a social worker. You could also ask the social worker’s agency or clinic when you make the appointment. It’s a good idea to write down your questions, so you don’t forget.