Social workers are regulated health professionals who work with clients—individuals, families, groups and communities—to improve individual and collective well-being. They often work in interdisciplinary teams to provide services, share resources, improve conditions and create opportunities for growth, recovery and personal development.

As well as working with clients, social workers respond to social issues and address barriers and injustice within society and organizations. The profession advocates for social justice, human rights and fair access to health and social services.

Because social work is such a vast field, there are many opportunities to specialize in a particular area (e.g. casework, policy and administration, research) practice area (e.g. child welfare, community development, long-term care) or client population (e.g. Indigenous peoples, 2SLGBTQIA+, elderly, newcomers to Canada).

Many social workers work directly with individuals, families, groups and communities. They may provide services to clients one-on-one or as part of an interdisciplinary team. When working with clients, social workers consider the social determinants of health—the complex web of social and economic factors that influence a person’s health and well-being.

Not all social workers serve clients directly. Some analyze social policy, conduct research, teach at the post-secondary level, develop and execute health promotion activities, and engage in community capacity-building.   

This page provides an overview of the different settings where social workers may be employed. Each section has a link to more information.

Child welfare

Social workers ensure the immediate safety and protection of children and youth. They work with children and youth to nurture resilience and well-being. As well, they help parents build their knowledge and abilities and fortify family relationships.

For more information, please see Social Work Practice in Child Welfare.

Communities and community development

In health and community service centres, social workers perform a variety of roles. Some work directly with clients, like providing counselling to individuals, families and groups. Others may assess the community’s needs and plan and administer programs to address those needs.

For more information, please see:

Correctional facilities

Social workers provide a wide range of services in the correctional field. They may work directly with individuals who are in conflict with the law by managing cases, handling probation and parole, and other services. They may conduct research and develop policies. Some social workers recruit, train and support staff through Employee Assistance Programs and other supports.

For more information, please see Social Work Practice in Corrections.

Hospitals (General and psychiatric)

Social workers work in treatment teams in general and psychiatric hospitals. They contribute to the care, treatment and rehabilitation of patients. They also provide an important link between the treatment team and families, and help families find community resources.

For more information, please see:

Operational Stress Injury (OSI)

Social workers play a key role in the treatment of Operational Stress Injuries (OSI). Working with individuals, couples, families and treatment groups, social workers help their clients address psychological challenges developed while serving in the military or as a first responder.

For more information, please see Social Work and the Treatment of Operational Stress Injuries.

Private Practice

Social workers in private practice provide services to individuals, families and organizations on a fee-for-service basis. For individuals and families, they may provide counselling,  psychotherapy, sex therapy and mediation. For organizations, they may contribute to policy and program development, organizational development and Employee Assistance Programs.

For more information, please see:


Social workers employed by school boards work with students, families, school staff and communities to support students to optimize their learning, achievement and well-being.

For more information, please see Social Work Practice in Schools.