Susaana Cherian, programme manager at Sahara Charitable Trust, takes you through the basics of working in the social service sector
What is the role of a social worker?
A social worker works with people and caters to individuals with social needs. Their role is to provide support to people and enable them to help themselves. They work towards transforming society in a variety of areas within a set framework of procedures.
Where would a social worker find employment?
Areas of service include homes, schools, hospitals and other public sector and voluntary organisations. Social workers help people overcome some of life's most difficult challenges through their caring ways using guidance and counselling.
What are the different areas one could specialise in?
A social worker can choose from a variety of categories, each with a different salary scale. A social worker can specialise as a psychiatric medical social worker where the focus is on counselling and woman and child welfare. Or one could focus on women's rights and child rights. Many prefer to specialise in criminology and criminal justice, which works on human rights and crime-related issues. The other areas are social welfare administration and urban and rural development. A social worker's mindset is the main criterion in choosing the subject of specialisation.
What is the nature of the job?
A social worker's job differs depending on the area in which he/she specialises. The career is very demanding and requires complete dedication. It not only deals with people's well-being, but also looks into broader issues like poverty, unemployment and domestic violence. It is a profession for those who possess a strong desire to help improve people's lives.
With the differences in areas of work, the nature of the job also differs. Woman and child welfare social workers provide assistance to improve the social and psychological functioning of children and families. In schools, social workers are most often the link between students' families and the school. Psychiatric medical social workers provide support to people and families so they can cope with chronic, acute or terminal illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer or AIDS. They may also arrange for services at home, such as meals-on-wheels or home care. Administrators deal with planning and policy-making. They also need to develop and implement programmes. Their work thus involves research and analysis of social policies, programmes and regulations.
What are the qualifications required in this field?
A bachelor's degree in social work is the most common minimum requirement to qualify for a job as a social worker. A major in subjects like psychology, sociology and related fields helps. You can also acquire a master's degree in social work, which is typically required for positions in the health sector and clinical work. Besides educational qualifications, a social worker should also be emotionally mature, objective and sensitive to people and their problems. He or she should be able to communicate well and must be able to relate to clients and instill a sense of trust.
What is the scope of this career?
In India, population and poverty are major concerns. A social worker can thus play a very important role in bringing about a change in society.
What kind of payscales can one expect?
If you work in a funding agency or as a policy-maker or planner, you could be paid between Rs 25,000 and 30,000 per month. However, grassroots organisations are where the action lies. Unfortunately, most of these cannot afford to pay their workers well and the pay scales vary between Rs 10,000 and 25,000 only.