There are over 111,565 forensic social workers currently employed in the United States, but few people have any idea what they do. Forensic social workers are involved in both criminal and civil cases that can include termination of parental rights, juvenile and adult justice services, corrections, and mandated treatment. They fight against oppression that is exhibited through exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, violence, criminalization, and cultural dominance or imperialism. Forensic social workers assist individuals of all ages, handling child custody, juvenile arrest, and child maltreatment, elder abuse, divorce, civil disputes and criminal offending and imprisonment. As counselors they may provide psychosocial counseling, group counseling or mediation services. As a case manager or liaison, they link the legal world with the field of social work. They may be employed across a wide variety of settings such as court systems, mental health agencies, rehabilitation centers, correctional facilities, hospitals, child and family agencies, prisons, and faith-based institutions.
The Forensic Social Work Specialty
There has been a growing concern in recent years regarding the increasing number of offenders and victims in urgent need of mental health treatment and social services, some of whom are at high risk of future violence if they do not receive the evidence-based interventions they urgently need. In the past two decades, professional social workers have made significant progress in advocating for and obtaining critically needed social services for juvenile offenders, adult offenders, and victims of violent crimes.
- Forensic social workers may work as correctional ofﬁcers in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
- As correctional counselors in prisons.
- With juvenile offenders or in programs for sexual offenders.
- In victim assistance programs.
Specializing in Rehabilitation
- The role of forensic social work within the legal system is rapidly evolving. Rehabilitation of adult and juvenile offenders has become its unique focus.
- Innovative approaches under the concept of restorative justice are also becoming the emphasis of forensic social work.
And Restorative Justice
Restorative justice refers to several strategies for resolving conﬂicts peacefully and advocating for the rights of victims and compassionate treatment of offenders. Although restorative justice is associated in the public mind more with the correctional arena than with child welfare, the principles of this philosophy cut across all areas of social work, wherever there is conﬂict caused by wrongdoing that needs to be resolved.
Restorative justice is an umbrella term for a method of handling disputes with its roots in the rituals of indigenous populations and traditional religious practices. Rather than emphasizing the rules that have been broken and the punishment that should be imposed, restorative approaches tend to focus primarily on the persons who have been harmed.
A three-pronged system of justice, restorative justice is a non-adversarial approach usually monitored by a trained forensic social worker who seeks to offer justice to the (1) individual victim, (2) the offender, and (3) the community, all of whom have been harmed by a crime or other form of wrongdoing.
Healing Victims and Offenders
A restorative justice process does not necessarily rule out all forms of punishment (e.g., ﬁne, incarceration, and probation), but its focus remains ﬁrmly on restorative, forward-looking, and least restrictive alternatives. Instead of incarceration, for example, the option of community service coupled with substance abuse treatment might be favored. Current trends in dispensing justice fall within three general areas:
- Family group conferencing
- Victim–offender conferencing
Curing Social Ills
The peacemaking powers of the restorative process are well recognized. Instituting such programs entails a new way of thinking about justice and a change of heart as well as a change of mind. Punishment, forensic social workers say, is the purview of criminal justice not social work. Forensic social workers are in the business of curing social ills, righting wrongs, and making reparations to victims while helping perpetrators discover a better way.
Visit our blog under What Social Workers Do to learn more about the incredible work that social workers accomplish.