Most people don’t think about the role of registered social workers (RSWs) until their lives are in crisis. News headlines might focus on their roles in child welfare and income assistance, but RSWs are the unsung heroes of our schools, hospitals, correctional facilities, and communities who empower people to take charge of their lives in the best way possible.

Here are just a few ways RSWs bring hope to those who need it most:

In health care facilities, doctors and nurses deal with a patient’s physical health needs. However, as part of the care team, it is the registered social worker who steps in and considers the patient’s overall needs, including social, psychological, and environmental requirements.

The RSW will consider what issues might affect an individual’s health in general. Does the person have a support system? Does the patient have a stable place to live? Do they have an income that allows them to stay on track with their medication?

By looking at the social structure surrounding the individual, the RSW ensures that the patient is provided with the long-term support and care he or she needs.

At its heart, social work is a mental health profession. RSWs often are first responders in an emergency and may be the first one to provide protection for minors or speak with victims of assault.

Though their initial goal is to ensure a victim or patient’s safety, the RSW provides much-needed emotional support and tools for recovery post-crisis. In fact, RSWs often lead the way in providing therapy to clients and offering frontline care for mental health services.  Whether in schools, hospitals, or private practice, RSWs offer ongoing counselling to individuals, supporting them in building a life they want to live.

When a person finds themselves in a crisis, one of the biggest challenges they will face is not knowing where to turn for help. RSWs help individuals understand the support services available, and assist them in navigating what often turn out to be complex systems.

For instance, a patient may need a family support system but may not have relatives in the province. The RSW might assist in transporting a family member from outside the province to provide much-needed support. An RSW can also help arrange a temporary residence for parents of children in intensive care units, parking passes for cancer patients undergoing treatment, or community support groups for new mothers going through post-partum depression. In most cases, the RSW links individuals to the social services they need but may not know how to access.

The pursuit of social justice is embedded in the philosophy of social work. When an RSW considers an individual’s environment, they begin to better understand the challenges they face, and how society has played a role in their current situation.

Because they work in several settings and situations— from hospitals to mental health facilities—  RSWs often see clients who have similar problems. Armed with the collective experiences of their clients, RSWs become advocates for social supports and resources that may not yet exist, and lead the charge for a fairer Canada for all of us.
At the national level, the Canadian Association of Social Workers advocates for things such as a basic income to end poverty and for more supports and funding for the health and social services we all need.

To learn more about social work in your province or territory, contact the Canadian Association of Social Workers.