Community service careers in the spotlight: social work


Are you a community services student who’s a little unsure about what career you’d like to pursue when you graduate? Don’t worry, it can be tough to make your mind up because the sector is so diverse. From social worker, child protection officer, and aged-care assistant to community development manager, migration services worker, and family support officer, there are so many opportunities for you to use your empathy, skills and expertise to help improve the lives of others. However, knowing exactly what each type of community services job entails can help you decide what’s best for you. So, today we’ll be talking to a Child and Family Worker, within a community services organisation, to get the low on what it’s like to be a social worker.

What motivated you to work in community services?

I love working with a wide variety of people and hearing their stories. Encouraging and supporting people to make changes in their lives is exciting work when you see clients feel more empowered and in control of their choices.

How did you get into community services?

I’ve worked in communication roles for a decade. For many of those years I was tucked away in the offices of not-for-profit organisations, but I was always interested in the work of practitioners on the front line. So, I returned to study and completed my Master of Social Work to be able to work directly with clients too.

Could you describe what a typical day in the office looks like for you?

I provide outreach parenting support to families in Melbourne’s north-east suburbs, working with parents and children from newborns to teenagers. On a typical day, I will visit several families and attend care team meetings. I usually head back to the office between visits to prepare, write up case notes and make phone calls to other services where necessary. We also run group work as part of our role, for example parenting programs and supported playgroups.

What’s the most challenging part of the job?

There’s never enough time in the day to complete all that I want to! I hold a caseload of over 10 families — that keeps me very busy — and I’m often on the road travelling to home visits. The role by its nature is also very demanding emotionally because I can be exposed to family conflict, stress and grief. So, I make sure I receive good supervision and get support when I need it.

What’s the most rewarding part of the job?

I love meeting new families and building working relationships that are founded on trust and transparency. When I’m able to get to know a family and their needs, I’m better placed to support them to work towards their goals. It’s very special to be invited into someone’s home and have them open-up about their world, it is a real privilege.

Have your expectations of a community services career matched up to the reality?

Yes, the work can be very rewarding. However, I also came into the sector knowing that there may not always be the resources available that I’d like to perform my role. There can also be challenges involved in working within human services systems, and these are probably not too dissimilar to those experienced by the customers of these government systems.

What personal attributes do you need to succeed in social work?

A strong sense of who you are and your values is important, as it underpins the work you do. You need to be very flexible and adaptable because your planned day often never goes to plan. This was a big learning for me, as it was very different to my previous career roles. Human life is complicated and you need to be responsive to your client’s needs, and these can change overnight!

Has working in community services taught you any valuable lessons?

Absolutely, I have learnt so much professionally and personally. The world keeps spinning, yet human basic needs don’t change. It’s important to keep in touch with these needs for yourself, as much as for those you support. It’s essential that you’re able to look after yourself, before you’re able to support others.

What advice would you give to students considering a career in community services?

Volunteer and undertake internships wherever possible to get a taste for the different areas so you can work out which community services organisations and roles interest you most. The sector is vast, so the more practical research you do, the more likely you are to end up in a role that’s a good fit for you.

What inspires you about the community services sector?

I’m inspired by the dedication and time my colleagues give to the families they work with. I also find the individuals and families who I work with inspiring. It’s incredibly brave to expose your vulnerability, share your story, and ask for support so I admire and respect those people who have the strength to do so.

If you could change one thing (for the better) about the sector what would it be?

At times, I wish our whole economic hierarchy could be turned on its head so that those who educate and support people — teachers, nurses, childcare workers and social workers — are valued properly and paid fairly for their crucial work. Also, there are a lot of resources out there for organisations and services, but perhaps greater collaboration within the sector would allow the sector to capitalise more on using these resources.

Have your ideas on social justice changed since you’ve been working in the community sector?

I worry that our ever-changing, capitalist-leaning world, makes achieving equitable education, health, and income outcomes harder for more people. Life is complicated for all humans, but for those children born into vulnerable circumstances, the likelihood of them getting a fair go and the chance to meet their potential feels like it’s slipping further from reach. It’s why we need more clever, empathetic and community-minded people to get into the sector so we can work towards achieving social justice for everyone.

So, if you believe in fairness and opportunity for everybody get in touch  with us and see how we can help get you the qualifications you need to make a positive impact in your community.