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Social Work and Community Development

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Once established, a strong community generates a participatory energy that makes residents feel integrated and empowered. A community social worker can play a key role in establishing this within the community they work in. This sense of community brings out the best in people, and inspires them to do more for themselves and those around them.

In a study by the Urban Institute, researchers suggested that this empowerment leads to long-lasting and sustainable community improvement. The problem is that people often lack confidence in their own ability to generate a change. The solution to building this skillset and knowledge base lies within community development — a tactic that community social workers spend their careers perfecting.

The Role of a Social Worker in Community Development

The idea behind community development is simple: residents take collective action to generate solutions to common problems. In working together to improve the quality of their lives, residents also address the socioeconomic barriers that often lead to poverty, crime, poor health, low property values, underperforming schools, and so on.

As part of their profession, social workers often generate community improvement programs and development projects that also allow for local citizens to contribute to their community’s development plans. Some community social workers create possibilities directly with individuals; others assess community needs on a larger scale. They may plan and administer programs designed to help people with their immediate needs as well as those with more enduring benefits to the larger community.

The Many Titles of a Community Social Worker

The role of the social worker in community development is not permanently fixed — rather, they have varying roles depending on the needs of the communities they serve. They work for social services agencies, nonprofits, and grassroots organizations. View some career options for social work professionals here and explore some of the titles held by those dedicated to community social work:

  • Caseworker. Because a community is only as healthy, vibrant, and successful as the individuals and families that live within it, social workers in this field often assume the role of caseworker. In this role, social workers assess and address the needs of those individuals and families who make up the larger community they serve.
  • Community Organizer. As community organizers, social workers rally the community around various social issues and help align the community’s resources and energies to address their most pressing needs. Community social workers who take on the role of organizers empower individual community members to take on a larger role in the development and continued improvement of their community.
  • Project Manager. Community social workers take on the role of project manager to ensure programs are implemented correctly and within their original scope. As they understand the pulse of individuals and groups within the community, and how to motivate them, they’re uniquely positioned to prepare and administer projects.
  • Researcher. In order to drive community transformation and development, social workers need to research the root causes of a community’s challenges. They use this research to help develop community programs and advocate for policy changes to better the individuals and families they serve.

How Social Workers Impact the Community

The development of strong, vibrant, and healthy communities has long been a tenet of the social work profession. As facilitators, organizers, counselors, and advocates, community social workers have an important voice in helping communities overcome the barriers to necessary change. They also provide the energy for transformation — empowering residents with the knowledge, resources, and capacity to self-direct and self-govern their lives and circumstances.

The Measure of Success in Community Development

Community social workers gauge the success of their efforts to develop community health by looking at the statistics in the following categories:

  • Health Issues: Birthweight, immunizations, prenatal care, senior care, etc.
  • Economic Concerns: Poverty, unemployment, job availability, cost of living, etc.
  • School Success: Dropout/graduation rates, student mobility, academic standings, etc.
  • Family Concerns: Preschool participation, percentages of adolescent parents, etc.

If you want to strengthen communities, empower people to change their lives, and make a positive impact on the world, explore a career in social work with an emphasis on community development. Our Lady of the Lake University’s Master’s of Social Work (MSW) degree will give you the skills to address today’s challenges, tackle tomorrow’s opportunities, and leave a positive mark on the world as a community social worker.

Request more information, or call 855-275-1082 to learn more about OLLU’s online MSW program.


  1. The Impact of Community Development Corporations on Urban Neighborhoods

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