Case Manager vs. Social Worker

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Social work is about advocating for the underrepresented and helping vulnerable people persevere and grow through challenging life circumstances. It’s about improving personal well-being and, by extension, improving living conditions and welfare in communities.

Two of the primary professions in the field are social work and case management. Both entail serving individuals and communities with compassion and dignity, but when it comes to the question of case manager versus social worker, which role is right for you?

A smiling social worker greets a client.

What Is a Social Worker?

The profession of social work has a dual focus — on the person and on the contributing environmental factors in a person’s circumstances. In the typical social work career path, professionals apply theories to understand and improve human conditions and society as a whole. Their expertise helps them assess the specific needs of individuals and devise intervention plans to help people cope with or overcome their circumstances.

Different types of social workers often specialize in subfields and offer services including protection, counseling, advocacy, education, and intervention. Professionals with a mental health focus work with people struggling with a wide range of issues. These may include psychological diseases and disorders, as well as struggles pertaining to relationships, finances, and health.

Social workers focusing on mental health and substance misuse offer individual and group therapy, provide crisis counseling, and guide people into psychosocial rehabilitation services. Many professionals dealing with child, family, and school issues work in school settings, while others work with children in unstable homes, including foster children. Often, these professionals assist struggling single parents and those looking to adopt children.

Nearly 716,000 social workers are employed in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which projects a faster-than-average 12% job growth in the field between 2020 and 2030. Roughly half of all social workers are employed as child, family, and school social workers, and government agencies employ another 30%. The median annual pay for these roles is $50,390, the BLS reports.

What Is a Case Manager or Caseworker?

This role is a specialization charged with evaluating and overseeing cases and coordinating continued care of a roster of patients. In the typical social work case manager job description, professionals work with the social workers who directly administer to individuals. This role ensures everyone involved has the right knowledge to collaborate in patients’ care.

Case managers perform screening assessments to determine patient requirements and program eligibility. This coordinating role is essential for arriving at correct diagnoses of patient issues and effective interventions, services, and professional care.

Intake interviews are among the first steps in the case management process. These help the case manager to assess client needs and match them with the appropriate professionals and forms of care. Throughout the process, they make referrals and work as liaisons between clients and service providers, and they act as mediators when any issues arise between the parties.

The average salary for a social services case manager in the U.S. as of July 2022, according to PayScale, is about $41,000. As a subset of the social work field, case management should also experience 12% job growth between 2020 and 2030.

Case Manager vs. Social Worker: Similarities and Differences

Case managers and social workers collaborate to improve the lives of patients, but one of the primary differences is the level of patient contact. Whereas case managers provide oversight of many cases and facilitate end-to-end processes, social workers work directly in the administration of services. Social workers are more intimately involved with their clients and the outcomes of their treatments and recommendations.

Both roles require a bachelor’s degree. Social workers often earn master’s degrees to move up into positions of higher authority, such as institutional or agency management. A master’s degree is needed to pursue a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) role. A case manager needs a bachelor’s degree in social work, nursing, therapy, or a related field, so more educational paths can lead to this career. A social worker needs a degree in social work, while a case manager can choose from various fields of study.

States determine the licensing requirements for social workers; most require a certification or state license. Case manager licensing and certification requirements vary by discipline and state. Both kinds of professionals use certifications and licensure to demonstrate levels of proficiency and expertise.

Make a Difference in the Lives of Others

The sociological factors that drive the need for social workers and case managers appear to show no signs of diminishing in the foreseeable future. Recently, the pandemic has driven a need for more healthcare-focused professionals. As student enrollments have increased, so has the need for child and family social workers and caseworkers, and as mental health awareness rises, professionals in both roles will find increasing ways to make an impact in people’s lives.

Social work positions are among U.S. News & World Report’s “26 Best Social Services Jobs” and Forbes’ “Most Meaningful Jobs.” If the prospect of making an impact in the lives of individuals and in the welfare of communities inspires you, Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Social Work can open doors for you, as a social worker or case manager.

Recommended Reading

BSW vs. MSW: Exploring Two Social Work Degrees

Improving Community Safety Through Social Work

Mental Health Counseling vs. Social Work

Sources

Indeed, “Case Manager: Definition and Responsibilities”

Indeed, “Social Workers vs. Case Managers”

National Association of Social Workers, Why Choose the Social Work Profession?

Payscale, Average Case Manager, Social Services Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers

VerywellMind, “What Is a Social Worker?”