Community and Social Service Workers - What They Do

Social and community service workers administer and implement a variety of social assistance programs and community services, and assist clients to deal with personal and social problems. They are employed by social service and government agencies, mental health agencies, group homes, shelters, substance abuse centres, school boards, correctional facilities and other establishments.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Review client background information, interview clients to obtain case history and prepare intake reports
  • Assess clients' relevant skill strengths and needs
  • Assist clients to sort out options and develop plans of action while providing necessary support and assistance
  • Assess and investigate eligibility for social benefits
  • Refer clients to other social services or assist clients in locating and utilizing community resources including legal, medical and financial assistance, housing, employment, transportation, day care and other services
  • Counsel clients living in group homes and halfway houses, supervise their activities and assist in pre-release and release planning
  • Participate in the selection and admission of clients to appropriate programs
  • Implement life skills workshops, substance abuse treatment programs, behaviour management programs, youth services programs and other community and social service programs under the supervision of social services or health care professionals
  • Meet with clients to assess their progress, give support and discuss any difficulties or problems
  • Assist in evaluating the effectiveness of treatment programs by tracking clients' behavioural changes and responses to interventions
  • Advise and aid recipients of social assistance and pensions
  • Provide crisis intervention and emergency shelter services
  • Implement and organize the delivery of specific services within the community
  • Maintain contact with other social service agencies and health care providers involved with clients to provide information and obtain feedback on clients' overall progress
  • Co-ordinate the volunteer activities of human service agencies, health care facilities and arts and sports organizations
  • May maintain program statistics for purposes of evaluation and research
  • May supervise social service support workers and volunteers.

Job titles

  • income maintenance officer - social services
  • women's shelter supervisor
  • rehabilitation worker - social services
  • community service worker
  • crisis intervention worker
  • developmental service worker
  • drop-in centre worker
  • family service worker
  • group home worker
  • mental health worker
  • Aboriginal outreach worker
  • social services worker
  • veteran services officer
  • welfare and compensation officer
  • youth worker
  • child and youth worker
  • addictions worker
  • life skills instructor
  • community development worker
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of a college or university program in social work, child and youth care, psychology or other social science or health-related discipline is usually required.
  • Previous work experience in a social service environment as a volunteer or in a support capacity may replace formal education requirements for some occupations in this unit group.
  • Social service workers may be required to be a member of a provincial regulatory body in some provinces.

Essential Skills


  • Read short email, reminders and log book entries, e.g. child and youth workers read email messages from foster parents to learn about the behaviours of children. (1)
  • Skim bulletins, brochures and newsletters to become informed about programs and community resources available for clients. (2)
  • Review instructions and conditions in court orders, rental agreements and applications for assistance, e.g. disability management workers read instructions to learn about the steps involved in applying for benefits. (2)
  • Read text entries in intake forms, tracking records, progress reports, case plans and referral forms, e.g. social welfare workers review entries in intake forms to determine what other social services clients are receiving. (2)
  • Read newsletters, magazines and newspapers to stay informed about social trends and current events, e.g. outreach workers read newspaper articles about large construction projects and pass this information along to clients who are seeking employment. (2)
  • Read clinical assessments and medical reports to learn about clients' medical diagnoses, psychiatric conditions and behavioural problems, e.g. read family workers' parenting assessment reports to determine what support the family requires. (3)
  • Read their organizations' policy manuals, e.g. group-home workers reads sections of their organization's policy manual to learn about house rules and protocols. (3)
  • May read information about medications, e.g. read medication side effects indexes to learn about prescription drugs and their side effects. (3)
  • May read social policy legislation, such as the provincial Child and Family Services Act, Mental Health Act and the Human Rights Code, e.g. mental-health advocates refer to sections of acts to determine client rights and the procedures to advocate on their behalf. (4)
  • May read research reports and articles from peer-reviewed journals to learn about various topics, such as family violence, addictions, poverty, mental illness, anger management and self-esteem, e.g. women's shelter supervisors read reports on family violence to learn about patterns of spousal abuse. (4)

Document use

  • Scan lists and tables, e.g. community liaison workers scan directories of daycare services to locate child care close to clients' residences. (1)
  • Scan labels for a variety of data, e.g. scan prescription drug labels to locate expiry dates and recommended dosages. (1)
  • May enter data, such as dates, times, identification numbers and categories into digital case-management files. (2)
  • Complete intake forms, applications, tracking records, timesheets and referral forms, e.g. outreach workers complete referral forms for clients who require clothing donations. (2)
  • Locate data in various forms, such as applications for assistance and referral forms, e.g. financial assistance workers scan clients' applications for social benefits to locate financial and demographic data to determine eligibility. (2)
  • Locate and interpret psychosocial data presented in charts and graphs, e.g. addiction workers locate information about the effects of prescription drugs from pharmaceutical drug charts. (2)


  • Write notes in log books, e.g. residential counsellors summarize concerns about client behaviour in a log book to update counsellors on the next shift. (2)
  • Write email to clients, co-workers and colleagues, e.g. settlement workers write email messages to Citizenship and Immigration Canada outlining clients' cases and requesting support. (2)
  • Write lengthy text entries in reporting, assessment and planning forms, e.g. halfway-house workers describe clients' personal goals, anticipated problems and steps for rehabilitation in case-management plans. (2)
  • May help clients write detailed résumés and cover letters. (3)
  • Write letters, e.g. mental-health workers write letters of support for clients applying for social housing. (3)
  • Write progress reports for individual clients and summary and evaluation reports for various treatment and intervention programs, e.g. family-service workers write client progress reports to summarize family dynamics, goals, progress and recommendations for further counselling. (3)
  • May create promotional materials, e.g. create brochures and pamphlets to inform clients, colleagues and funders about new programs and services. (3)
  • May write proposals for social work projects and programs. They describe program goals and objectives, targeted client groups, the need for services, the positive impact on the community, the services and the evaluation plans. (4)


  • Schedule appointments with clients. They reschedule appointments to accommodate cancellations and urgent requests. (1)
  • May count and measure dosages of prescription drugs. (1)
  • Compare various financial and social indicators to standards, e.g. welfare and compensation officers compare clients' net income to benchmark amounts to determine eligibility for financial assistance. (1)
  • Estimate the amount of time required for interactions with clients. They consider clients' needs and average duration of previous appointments. (1)
  • Calculate expense claims, e.g. they calculate reimbursements for using personal vehicles and purchasing program supplies. (2)
  • May manage petty cash accounts, e.g. group-home workers may reconcile petty cash amounts with receipts for purchases, complete summaries and calculate amounts for new petty cash deposits. (2)
  • Calculate subsidies for individuals and households, e.g. disability workers may calculate clients' total medical costs to apply for health-care subsidies. (2)
  • Create and monitor small budgets, e.g. halfway-house supervisors may monitor program expenditures for personnel and supplies to ensure they fall within budgeted amounts. (2)
  • Calculate summary measures, e.g. mental-health workers calculate statistics, such as the number of clients served by month. (2)
  • Compile data and develop statistics to describe social programs, e.g. meals-on-wheels workers count the number of meals delivered monthly and classify them by type of meal and client population served. (2)
  • May estimate numbers of clients for program planning, e.g. street community workers project the demand for services using statistics from current operations and population growth figures. (2)
  • Create household budgets and basic financial statements to help clients manage their personal finances and apply for social benefits, e.g. mental-health workers may help clients file income taxes and draw up a statement of income and expenditures to apply for medical benefits. (3)
  • Analyze program data to plan new initiatives, e.g. neighbourhood workers summarize data from workshop feedback forms and analyze the results to plan for upcoming events by calculating average satisfaction ratings. (3)

Oral communication

  • Respond to telephone requests for information and assistance. They ask questions about clients' needs, outline their organizations' mandates and services and, when callers' needs can be served better elsewhere, suggest appropriate community resources. (2)
  • Discuss social work practice and particular programs and clients with co-workers and colleagues, e.g. community and social service workers exchange information about community resources, best social work practices, administrative procedures and program planning at staff meetings. (3)
  • Advocate for clients with colleagues and co-workers, e.g. mental-health workers may speak with members of appeal committees to advocate for the reinstatement of clients' financial benefits. (3)
  • Interview clients to assess their needs and goals, e.g. settlement workers interview new immigrants to gather information about clients' backgrounds and employment plans in Canada. (3)
  • Interact with clients who are struggling with personal problems, such as aggression, and social problems, such as homelessness, e.g. centre workers listen attentively to clients who are distressed about not being able to find affordable housing and discuss coping strategies with clients. (3)
  • May deliver presentations and workshops to groups of clients, co-workers, colleagues and committee members, e.g. addictions workers deliver workshops to clients about substance-abuse triggers and how to prevent relapses. (3)


  • Select materials and supplies for programs. They consider client needs and their agency's budget. (2)
  • Select programs, activities and subsidies to assist clients. They consider their clients' needs and whether they meet various program mandates, eligibility requirements and availabilities. They also take into account financial costs and clients' schedules. For example, a housing worker decides to refer a client to a particular housing program because it offers individual counselling support that will benefit the client. (2)
  • May evaluate the job performance of other community and social service workers, volunteers and practicum students. They observe interactions with clients and solicit feedback from co-workers who have had direct contact with them. They evaluate performance across a number of skill areas, such as communication, problem solving, facilitation, counselling, planning and organizing. (2)
  • Locate information about social programs and community resources. They ask co-workers and colleagues for information about treatment and rehabilitation programs and for the contact names of professionals they would recommend. (2)
  • Cannot access the community services and resources their clients need due to long waiting lists, resource shortages, cost and eligibility restrictions. They advocate to get other agencies to adjust their eligibility criteria and seek alternative avenues for support, such as donations from churches and social service organizations. They may help clients to develop contingency plans. (3)
  • Encounter difficult and uncooperative clients. They discuss the clients' behaviours with them and suggest resources and strategies that will help them to improve their coping skills. If clients present a risk to themselves and others, they inform the appropriate agencies and authorities. (3)
  • Assess clients' strengths, deficits and needs. They interview clients, their family members and colleagues to obtain information about their clients' histories and backgrounds. They review medical reports, support letters and certificates from other social service programs. They recommend resources and help clients to develop realistic action plans to achieve their goals and improve their skills. (3)
  • Assess clients' eligibility and suitability for social benefits and programs. They review information from intake forms and applications and interview clients to collect information about their case histories, limitations and social supports. They compare the information received to admission guidelines and established program criteria. They recommend suitable resources and assist clients with applications and appeals. (3)
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of individual treatment plans and social work programs. They compare clients' self-assessments over time and observe behavioural changes that indicate improvements, such as better hygiene, mobility and moods. They analyze program statistics and feedback gathered from clients and colleagues to identify successes, weaknesses and gaps in services. (3)
  • May judge safety risks posed by clients to themselves and others. They consider clients' history of violence and suicidal behaviour and their current level of distress. They are guided by their organization's protocols and risk-management training. (3)
  • Plan a variety of job tasks and organize their schedules to meet their availabilities and the varied needs of clients. They accept walk-in clients, referrals from other agencies and are assigned new clients by supervisors. Community and social service workers usually book their own appointments with clients and may schedule regular times for drop-in clients. Interruptions are frequent and they respond quickly to requests for assistance. (3)
  • May find information about clients by reviewing their case files, speaking with colleagues and interviewing friends and family members. (3)

Digital technology

  • May use cellular telephone texting features to send short written messages to clients and co-workers. (1)
  • May use calculators and personal digital assistant (PDA) devices to complete numeracy-related tasks, such as calculating material requirements. (1)
  • May use global positioning system (GPS) software to locate driving routes and distances to community resources and clients' homes. (1)
  • May use pagers, cellular telephones and other security devices to maintain contact with co-workers on home visits. (1)
  • Use word processing software to write support letters for clients using basic text editing functions. (2)
  • Use spreadsheets to input and track costs and program statistics. (2)
  • May use basic spreadsheet functions to create household budgets for their clients. (2)
  • Use databases to access client statistics and retrieve data from their organization's case-management databases. (2)
  • Use graphics software to create and display slideshow presentations. (2)
  • Use communication software to exchange email messages with clients, co-workers and community resources. (2)
  • Use Internet browsers to look up information about community resources for clients and download online applications for social benefits and other registration forms. (2)
  • Use Internet browsers to locate information about mental-health issues, medications and treatment options. (2)
  • Use Internet browsers to source community resources and learn about the services they provide. (2)
  • May use the Internet to generate maps with driving directions to community resources and clients' homes. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access podcasts, training courses and seminars offered by employers and associations, e.g. access podcasts to learn how to reduce the risks associated with home visits. (2)
  • May use advanced word processing software functions to write proposals that include tables of contents, diagrams, charts and annotations. (3)
  • May use advanced word processing software functions to create marketing materials, such as brochures and pamphlets. (3)
  • May use advanced spreadsheet functions to create fundraising, project and operating budgets with multiple cost categories. (3)
  • May use specialized case-management databases to record and retrieve information about clients and the programming they receive. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Community and social service workers work independently to counsel individual clients and facilitate group workshops. They co-ordinate with co-workers to provide around-the-clock support to clients who live in shelters, transitional houses and residential facilities. They network extensively with colleagues and other professionals to help clients locate and engage community resources, such as homecare support, counselling, transportation assistance, day care services and recreational services. They may work closely with other professionals, such as doctors, nurses, parole officers and teachers, to develop strategies to assist clients. Community and social service workers who work in supervisory roles co-ordinate the activities of volunteers and co-workers with less experience.

Continuous Learning

Community and social service workers continuously learn about new community resources and programs, social trends and counselling techniques that improve client service and professional skills. They attend conferences and workshops, such as non-violent crisis intervention training, offered by community organizations and professional associations. They may be required to complete training in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). They read academic journals, books, reports and articles to learn about new perspectives on social issues, such as addictions, family violence, mental health and poverty. They learn by exchanging information with co-workers and colleagues and from feedback offered by their supervisors.