Social workers spend most of their careers helping people, which makes the job rewarding for the vast majority of those who serve their communities in this field. From helping families recover from situations of abuse or domestic violence to helping formerly incarcerated persons re-enter society, to counseling individuals in the community who have experienced trauma or hardship, and much more, social work is a very vast term, and an emerging sector is forensic social work.
Generally, when talking about social work, forensics isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but for those people interested in helping society who also have an affinity for forensic science, forensic social work may be a career worth looking into.
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What is Forensic Social Work?
When most people hear the term forensics, they think of shows like CSI, and other crime scene-related instances, and forensic social work centers around the same situations. Forensic social workers generally work with law enforcement or law offices to act as expert witnesses for victims who were subjected to some of the things mentioned above, like domestic abuse or divorces.
Child custody and abuse cases also often have the need for expert witnesses, as children often have been swayed one way or another by a parent or other influence, and forensic social workers can share their expertise regarding child testimony.
Outside of the courtroom, forensic social workers may act with law enforcement and corrections officials by providing expertise on the habits of a given individual and whether or not they believe that individual is ready to re-enter society, or should seek further treatment.
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If you’re currently involved in forensics or social work and have an interest in making a jump into forensic social work, you certainly have a head start, as the job requires a deep knowledge of both social work and its principles, as well as forensics and the inner workings of the justice system.
For those in this group who already have a background in forensics, consider a master’s program in social work, and vice versa for those currently in social work positions. A silver lining of all the bad parts of 2020 was an evolution in online education and advances in self-paced pursuits of graduate degrees.
There are also certification programs specific to forensic social work, and it is possible to make the jump without a master’s degree, though if it is in the cards, the degree will open a few more doors.
For those individuals who are just starting college, or those who want to pursue forensic social work after a completely unrelated career elsewhere, there are now plenty of bachelor’s degree programs in social work with a focus on forensics. If you have more of an interest in forensics, pursuing a criminal justice degree with a minor in social work is also a viable path.
Job vacancies in forensic social work are currently growing, and are expected to continue to do so at 10% increases per year, for the next 5 years. Though the primary places of employment are court-related (expert witnesses, legal advisors), hospitals, prisons, and schools also employ people with forensic social work skillsets, especially those with a focus on mental health, substance abuse recovery, and domestic violence.
Advancement tends to vary, given the fact that many installations with forensic social work need only staff one or two people as such, but these skills can definitely set you up for advancements outside of the specific realm of forensic social work, as the job requires a lot of knowledge and an ability to deal well with people.
No matter your path to forensic social work, you’re in for a rewarding, challenging, and secure career.