Social service specialists are part of a strong community’s backbone. What social service specialists do is connect community members to the resources they need, even life-saving support systems and health networks. These professionals work in many capacities — from helping adults with drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation to assisting children with developmental disabilities.
Social service specialists are champions of community-based care who fill numerous roles, and their responsibilities can vary by organization. On a daily basis, they can expect to coordinate outreach and social service programs in many different environments, including government agencies, nonprofits, and healthcare facilities. How to become a social service specialist can vary depending on the type of service an individual would like to help deliver and their unique passions, as well as the type of environment they want to work in everyday.
What Does a Social Service Specialist Do?
Simply put, social service specialists facilitate the delivery of care and community services to the individuals who need it. Within this broad definition of what a social service specialist does, there’s a lot of room for specialization based on community needs.
Social service specialists might, for example: work directly with clients, helping them navigate care or recovery; interview potential clients to determine their eligibility for services or help them achieve better outcomes, such as improved physical and mental health or self-sufficiency; organize activities for their clients and help them locate safe, affordable housing and employment; provide referrals to other services in the community that can better serve an individual’s needs.
What a social service specialist does is nuanced and sometimes challenging. It’s essential that someone stepping into this role is passionate about community care and driven to create positive change locally. They need deep knowledge of their community and strong organizational skills. It’s also important that they have a keen ability to observe, record, and document their work outcomes, assess the needs of others, and communicate outcomes verbally and in written form.
Steps to Become a Social Service Specialist
While the path to becoming a social service specialist can vary by organization and specialization, there are some basics when it comes to answering the question of how to become a social service specialist.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
Almost all social service specialists begin their path by earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology or a similar field. A degree gives students the opportunity to lay the foundation for success in this position and meet the demands of social service work. This degree helps students understand complex systems serving many distinct community needs. Sociology students learn about human systems and how to navigate them. They also learn how to assess far-reaching needs, analyze data, create reports, and advocate for both individual clients and systemic change.
Landing a position as a social service specialist requires a combination of education, personal strengths, and practical skills. Candidates gain many of these useful attributes through experience in real social service settings. Many students opt to complete an internship while they earn their undergraduate degree, while others gain postgraduate experience through entry-level work in the field. Regardless of how a candidate chooses to gain experience, applying classroom knowledge to real-world scenarios boosts skills, desirability, and advancement opportunities.
Because a key part of what social service specialists do is connecting community members with the services they need, it’s important that they stay engaged. That may mean advancing their education by pursuing a master’s degree, or it may mean doing continual research on local trends, communicating with clients, or collaborating with other service providers.
Social Service Specialists Salary
The average community and social service specialist salary was $46,050 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Salaries may vary, ranging from $25,780 to $72,210, depending on their level of education, years of experience, employer, and geographic location. Typically, the longer you serve as a social service specialist, the more room exists for growth.
Employment Outlook for Social Service Specialists
Often, public health and a community’s ability to make great strides toward its goals depend on the social services it offers. Social service specialists are a vital, growing part of wide-ranging health and support initiatives in communities across the nation. According to the BLS, social work is projected to have 16% job growth between 2016 and 2026. Job growth rates depend on sector, with the BLS anticipating the most significant increase in opportunities in the healthcare (20% growth) and mental health and substance abuse (19%) fields. According to news sources, such as The Journal Gazette, some parts of the country are experiencing a rise in demand for social services as a result of an aging population and a growing opioid crisis.
Learn More About Becoming a Social Service Specialist
If you’re passionate about helping others and want to make tangible improvements, you may find deep satisfaction as a social service specialist. With the right education, you can be well-positioned to land a career that offers a sense of purpose. Find out more about how Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Sociology can equip you with the skills you need to thrive as a social service specialist.