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How Has Social Work Changed in the Past 10 Years?

As you begin to explore the options in social work careers, you should be aware that social work is an ever-changing field and in the past ten years, there have been major changes made in the areas of geriatric, mental health, and substance abuse social work. These social work careers have a high demand for professionals prepared to meet the challenges faced by a growing older population. Prior to the Geriatric Social Initiative, many social work degree programs lacked adequate courses related to the elderly and the unique challenges they face in society. Because of the lack of educational preparation focusing on the elderly, many social workers were finding themselves inadequately prepared to address the needs of an aging population. Increasingly those in social work jobs find themselves hard pressed to keep up with changes in the economic, political, social, and cultural contexts that impact health care delivery to an aging population. Changes in the health care system because of the new health care reform will also place new demands on social workers to stay informed.

In the past decade of social work, a number of trends have brought about change in the services and delivery of social work. Here are a few insights into trends that have had far-reaching influence throughout our society today, including social work.

Economic Recession- The economic recession that began in 2007 impacted much more than the finances of the American population. The decrease in income, loss of jobs, and home foreclosures pushed many individuals to seek behavioral and/ or mental health services. This not only increased the number of cases social workers were expected to handle but because the recession also left many without insurance or income to pay for services, many social services were cut back or closed entirely. Some social work jobs declined while others increased to meet demands in mental health, and substance abuse areas. In responds to these cutbacks, many social workers and social agencies are adopting social media and the internet as a means of marketing their services and connecting with those seeking assistance.

Evidence-Based Practice – Evidenced based practices in social work involves a partnership where professionals, clients, and organizations combine to coordinate and guide the best treatment options and interventions. Social work careers embracing evidence based-practice ensures that treatment and resources providing the best outcomes are made available to the greatest number of people.

Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 – This law requires insurance companies and group health plans to provide the same financial requirements and treatment limit coverage for mental health or addiction as they do for medical conditions. This equality in coverage makes obtaining services for mental health and addictive conditions affordable and accessible to more individuals. Advocacy groups as well as social workers fought to make this law realty showing the changes those in social work jobs can bring about through raising awareness about basic health needs.

An Increasing Older Population – Between 2000 and 2010, the population of Americans over age 65 increased by five million. This increase in an aging population brought about the Geriatric Initiative to address the need for programs offering a social work degree to add courses addressing the challenge faced by the elderly and equipping social workers with specialized skills to meet the needs of the elderly that they began seeing among their case loads. Social work degree programs are beginning to include courses designed to help social workers understand the needs of specific older populations such as immigrants, those with chronic health conditions, and those dealing with mental disorders.

Web-Based Social Work Education – It is hard to believe now that only a decade ago the internet was only a curiosity to most of the public. In the past decade, it has grown to be a huge influence in business, communication, and education including web-based social work education programs. Many campuses now offer the option to obtain an online social work degree at both an undergraduate and Master’s level. An online social work degree makes it easier for students who may otherwise not have access to local programs to obtain a degree and enter the social work field. There is some debate over the validity of an online social work degree in building networks and relationships between peers and professors. Another concern involves how the requirements for field placements are met. Still, an online social work degree is a popular option for individuals concerned with local access, affordability, and flexible scheduling needs.

Other trends that have influence social work changes in the past decade include the use of social media to connect with those seeking assistance and globalization influencing the need for social workers to be aware of the impact immigrants and refugees will influence the social work system. The demanding field of social work will continue to change as newer trends and changes in society locally and globally continue to impact our lives.