Most local authorities have specialized teams of social workers, who carry out interventions related to specific problems or groups of people with certain particularities. For example, a social worker may be part of a team that specializes in:
- Child protection.
- Children who have been excluded from school.
- People diagnosed with mental health problems.
- People with physical or learning disabilities.
- People affected by AIDS.
- Old people.
Some social workers take it upon themselves to respond to requests from people seeking help and then refer them to the appropriate specialist team. Referrals can also come directly from other professionals who work with these groups, such as doctors, teachers or police, as well as courts of law.
Building a relationship of trust with the user it is a very important part of the work of these professionals. The social worker must know the user’s situation very well and make decisions based on a careful analysis of all the information available to them.
It is important to highlight that the social assistance systems for groups have very complete resource referral systems. This means that the entities are in continuous communication to offer specialized care and refer users to the most appropriate resources according to their personal needs.
For example, the Child Protection Act gives social workers the legal responsibility to protect children at risk of “significant harm” (legal term). If a social worker determines that there is a risk of significant harm, they have the legal power to remove the child from their home or other situation in which the child is considered to be at risk.
The decision to remove the child from the home has a very large impact on everyone involved, so it is vital that the social worker is sure that they have made the right decision, based on their knowledge of the case and an in-depth investigation of all the factors involved.
For example, a social worker may speak with the child’s teachers to learn more about the child’s family life, including the immediate family or any other adult who has the responsibility of caring for the child. You may then decide to interview the child at school, in the presence of a parent or caregiver (but never in front of the person who is suspected of harming the child).
If the social worker decides that the child is at risk, they must inform the local police, while the social work team initiates a full investigation into “child protection”.
To reach a final decision, social workers must work closely with other professionals, for example police and medical personnel, who may examine the child for evidence of abuse or neglect.
Sometimes home social workers are present during police interrogations of young people who have been in conflict with the law. In these cases, they are in charge of writing reports for use in court, or, if required, they can also appear in court to testify.
A social worker who works with the elderly must coordinate care packages that help people continue to live independently in their own home. This could include coordinating the care received by home care aides, district nurses, and hot food delivery people, for example.