The Dynamic Roles
of a Social Worker

In the field of social work, understanding people within the context of their environment is key in helping them navigate challenges that emerge throughout their lives.

Addressing an issue such as homelessness may require working directly with individuals to find temporary housing at a shelter. But social workers must be skilled across functions and be able to effect change by examining a situation from multiple perspectives. In this case, the role of a social worker is to explore different questions such as:

  • What are the root causes of homelessness in New York City?
  • What personal factors led to this person living on the street?
  • What support can the city offer to prevent individuals on the cusp of losing housing from finding themselves in shelters?

Social workers are needed to lift people up. And it’s their ability to address the interplay of factors at the individual, community, and societal levels that enables them to help the person in front of them as well as the people all around them.

Fordham University is educating the social workers of the future. We respect and celebrate the history of the profession through a curriculum rooted in a multilevel approach. At the same time, our coursework is responsive to the new developments in our social and political world so that our students are prepared to take on the challenges of tomorrow.

“Change is the fundamental commitment of the profession. You don’t want a curriculum that is too static; you want all of the strengths of the traditions of our profession, but it needs to be delivered in a 21st-century way.”

Debra McPhee, PhD
Dean of the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service (GSS)

We’re Shaping the Future Leaders of Social Work

Learn more about Fordham’s online MSW program.

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A Flexible Curriculum Tailored to the Student

Our online MSW program provides students with strong foundational skills related to social work history, theory, research, and evaluation that prepare them to begin serving organizations, communities, individuals, and families. The second year of study allows students to customize their degrees and develop personalized paths aligned with the professional journeys they hope to take upon graduation.

Flexibility is a strength of the curriculum. Students are encouraged to choose electives across disciplines but also have the ability to specialize in one of the four areas of focus.

Explore the Areas of Focus

The online MSW program provides students with four areas of focus. Students can mix and match electives in order to develop a more varied and dynamic skill set that will enable them to work across populations, contexts, and problem areas.

Individuals and Families

  • Crisis intervention
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Psychoeducation
  • Treatment for addiction
  • Trauma-specific interventions

Organizations and Community

  • Community organizing
  • Supervision and development of staff
  • Retaining a multicultural workforce
  • Fundraising
  • Grant-making


  • Emerging models of evaluation
  • Evaluation design
  • Analysis of interventions
  • Evaluation of outcomes
  • Design and process improvement

Policy Practice and Advocacy

  • Assessing community needs
  • Capacity mapping
  • Addressing global social issues
  • Advocacy strategy
  • Advancement of human rights

Develop a Dynamic Skill Set

Customize your MSW curriculum to align with your career goals and interests.

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Become an Agent of Change

Social workers are agents of change, regardless of whether they choose to work in political advocacy and community organizing or take a more clinical route. And the demand for new social workers to enter the field is high.

Being able to understand different contexts regardless of whether they function at the societal, community, or individual levels isn’t just an asset for social workers; it is a critical component to the work of the profession.

  • Macro social workers developing policy need to understand how legislation affects people at the individual level and may rely on communities to propel their initiatives forward.
  • Community-based social workers must be able to measure the effectiveness of their programs by accurately evaluating individual outcomes, which will enable them to secure more investments from the local, state, and federal governments.
  • Social workers who work directly with clients must consider how environmental factors can stifle or support the progress of individuals and address those factors at the community and societal levels.

The roles of social workers across all levels are intertwined. And many will function within interdisciplinary teams, collaborating with teachers, medical professionals, law enforcement, legislators, and counselors to address the needs of individuals and communities.

13% growth

Projected employment increase from 2019 to 20291

Social Work in Practice

A master’s in social work from Fordham University empowers professionals in this field to help their communities in distinct but interconnected ways. By developing foundational and cross-discipline skills, students in the online MSW program will be better prepared to respond to the challenges facing communities today and tomorrow.

Individuals and Families

Homelessness: Locating individuals sleeping outside and connecting them with a shelter.

Juvenile Justice: Providing direct behavioral interventions to teens who have had contact with law enforcement.

Hunger: Connecting clients with local resources and helping them apply for food assistance.

Adoption and Foster Care: Placing youth in the homes of qualified parents and reuniting children with their families.

Domestic Violence: Providing mental health and grief services to survivors of violence.

Organizations and Community

Homelessness: Implementing workforce development and job training programs.

Juvenile Justice: Developing after-school programs for students in under-resourced neighborhoods.

Hunger: Creating programs to deliver meals to seniors with limited mobility.

Adoption and Foster Care: Establishing support groups for new parents planning to adopt cross-culturally.

Domestic Violence: Developing a curriculum on how to identify and address teen dating violence for schools.


Homelessness: Counting the number of people who are homeless on a given night.

Juvenile Justice: Tracking racial discrepancies in disciplinary actions at schools.

Hunger: Mapping areas with limited access to fresh food.

Adoption and Foster Care: Analyzing the effect of the opioid crisis on the number of children in the foster care system.

Domestic Violence: Measuring the effectiveness of intervention programs on people who engage in violence.

Policy Practice and Advocacy

Homelessness: Advocating for better and safer conditions in current shelters.

Juvenile Justice: Lobbying legislators to fund the hiring of more school social workers.

Hunger: Creating coalitions to protect against cuts to food assistance.

Adoption and Foster Care: Developing recommendations to improve the experience of youth transitioning out of the foster care system.

Domestic Violence: Working with global partners to advance the rights of survivors internationally.

Fordham’s online MSW program is preparing students to become agents of change wherever their careers lead them. Our integrated education is built around the fundamentals of social work, empowering students to pursue their passions and propelling the next generation of social workers forward.

1Social Workers Job Outlook, BLS. Accessed July 2020.arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference