Turning the calendar page to welcome a "new" year is an ancient time-keeping practice. Celebrating a "new" year is still the perfect opportunity to pause and take stock of life's evolving circumstances and prepare our minds and hearts for the task at hand.
In the social services world taking stock is formalized as a "needs assessment". At the beginning of each year, we create an informal needs assessment, just an overview really, to help us understand the magnitude of the needs our caseworker clients are dedicated to address in the coming year.
Vulnerable Population Metrics
- 11.4 million children live in low-income or poor families in the U.S.
- UNICEF estimates that there are currently 570 million children world-wide living below the poverty line of $1.25 a day.
There are multiple sub-specialties under the social work umbrella that focus on problems faced by children. In a vast majority of cases, social workers (whether they are family social workers, child welfare social workers or school social workers) must closely assess the family dynamics in the child’s home. In the case of child abuse, social workers must balance advocacy for the child’s safety and protection – including the legal requirement to report abuse – and support for the parents to encourage a healthy environment.
- More than 2.3 million people are currently incarcerated in the United States.
Prisoners suffer from increased rates of mental illness, depression and suicide. They also battle learning disabilities, sexual harassment and several other issues faced by the outside population. Correctional social workers are vital in reducing the discrepancy between the number of prisoners that need help and the number of prisoners that receive help in our overcrowded penal system.
Low Socioeconomic Status
- According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 American Community Survey the U.S. poverty rate nationally is 13.4%. This means that 13.4% of the national population or approximately 42.5 million Americans live below the poverty line.
The correlations between education level, income level, homelessness and socioeconomic status are so strong, it’s nearly impossible to statistically separate these terms. A vast majority of a social worker’s caseload will consist of clients who have experienced at least two of these four issues. Child poverty is a particularly potent cause of homelessness, dropping out of school, and even turning to crime.
- Today, there are more than 46 million older adults aged 65 and older living in the U.S.
- By 2050, that number is expected to grow to almost 90 million.
- Between 2020 and 2030 alone, the time the last of the baby boom cohorts reach age 65, the number of older adults is projected to increase by almost 18 million.
Elder abuse is a very common issue in the United States.
- Neglect involves the failure to provide the minimum level of health and safety. This includes hydration, food, shelter, hygiene, and so forth.
- The elderly are not immune to physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. This includes physical harm, verbal abuse (insulting, humiliating, threatening, etc.) and sexual abuse (inappropriate touching, sexual acts).
- Nursing home scams are a common example of financial exploitation of the elderly, but it isn’t the only one. Home caregivers and other members of the community can financially abuse the elderly by forging signatures, stealing, misusing entrusted assets, and deceiving the person in any way for financial gain.
The Big Picture
In the space allowed by a single blog we cannot even begin to cover all the subcultures that make up vulnerable populations in the U. S. But caseworkers in the U.S. will not be out of a job in 2022. As our population continues to grow, our population at risk keeps pace. This will always be the case. The only uncertain variable is how many of our young will be eager to take up the task of supporting our ever-growing vulnerable population? Is our culture still capable of producing youth dedicated to helping the less fortunate? Social work educators tell us..."that remains to be seen in 2022."