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Social Service Representative

Significant Points

This series includes positions which require application of specialized program knowledge and service skills in providing assistance to individuals and families served by social welfare programs. This work involves such functions as obtaining selected background information through interviews and home visits, establishing eligibility to make use of agency resources, helping individuals identify needs that are related to services the agency can provide, explaining and encouraging the use of agency and community resources as means of dealing with identified problems, and making appropriate referrals to sources of additional help. These functions may be performed either (a) in conjunction with professional social work or (b) in conformity with agency procedural instructions and standards of service.


Social welfare programs have in common a number of objectives that involve helping individuals and families. The purpose which distinguishes a public assistance program from other social welfare programs (e.g., child welfare and family services) is that it provides eligible needy persons with supplementary income sufficient to enable them to obtain the necessities of life on a level of decency and health. Economic need is the basic eligibility consideration.

Public assistance standards define basic necessities and set maximum allowances for food, clothing, and personal or household needs. Verified expenses are allowable up to these maximums under various specified conditions. Circumstances may justify such contingent items as transportation and health services. Regulations also provide standard procedures to be used in determining an applicant's income and making the required verification of his resources. Resources include such items as statutory benefits, contributions of relatives, cash reserves, and resources in kind. The applicant's total allowable requirements are itemized by the public assistance agency and are used to measure the adequacy of his total available resources, calculate his assistance needs, and authorize grants.

In addition to the basic eligibility factor of verified need, an individual must also meet the specific eligibility requirements of the program category under which he applies. These requirements range from a few readily verified circumstances for the categories of the aged and the blind, to relatively complex and involved requirements and limitations on conditions of eligibility for aid to families with dependent children, including intangible family circumstances and relationships that may be difficult to verify.

To supplement direct financial aid, public assistance programs provide other forms of assistance in appropriate cases to help recipients become more self-sufficient, such as vocational guidance and training to increase employment potential of unskilled persons; or homemaker practice training classes to help mothers improve methods of home and family care. A variety of agency and community resources can be made use of in appropriate cases in order to help individuals and families achieve increased independence, self-care, and self-support and improved care and supervision of home and children. Explaining these resources and encouraging recipients of assistance to make appropriate use of them is a common form of service, as described in more detail in the following discussion of the work of social service representatives.

Responsibilities of Social Service Representatives

The work of the social service representative deals with the combined economic and related needs of individuals assigned to him for service and both concerns are closely interwoven in his activities. For simplicity of presentation, the following discussion divides the services related to public assistance into two categories: (1) Establishing Eligibility for Financial Assistance, which includes determining economic need and authorizing money payments and contingent items; and (2) Identifying Related Needs and Providing Auxiliary Service, which includes working with recipients who need and can use other forms of assistance and helping them to make use of any resources available to them to meet these needs.

Establishing eligibility for financial assistance

This involves meeting and talking to people who come to the agency to ask for help, explaining eligibility criteria, discussing needs, determining whether the applicant is eligible to receive assistance, establishing the kind and amount of assistance, and verifying periodically that an individual continues to be an eligible recipient.

A major problem in determining whether an applicant is eligible for assistance is the difficulty of developing information on which to base the decision. The public assistance agency serves only the most disadvantaged people. It must reach many who are not informed, articulate, or well equipped to deal with the technicalities of eligibility requirements.

The social service representative must work effectively with applicants who often do not know the answers to questions that affect eligibility and help them get the necessary information from other sources to develop a basis for decision as to what assistance can be offered. He must make every effort to achieve mutual understanding with the applicant and gain his active cooperation in exploring the facts of his case. He explains the basis of the assistance and makes applicants aware of their responsibility to report facts that could affect eligibility.

After a grant has been authorized, the social service representative reviews each recipient's case with him at regular intervals to verify that continuing eligibility exists or to make necessary adjustments. Whenever there is a determination of ineligibility, either initially, or when financial assistance is discontinued, he advises the person involved of the reason and of other resources available to him.

Identifying related needs and providing auxiliary services

Many recipients of assistance can never become economically self-sufficient. In some conditions of dependency such as old age or permanent and total disability, the role of wage earner is precluded. The auxiliary services performed by a social service representative involve helping these recipients work toward reasonable goals of independence and solve problems related to dependency. In some cases this may only be increased participation in community life for the aged or increased self-care for the physically handicapped.

outine services performed for various recipients usually include giving needed information and advice on such matters as use of subsidized school lunches, well baby clinics, home management aids, adult education classes, health services, etc., and encouragement to make appropriate use of them.

More individualized services may involve planned work with individuals who can make use of specialized counseling, vocational guidance and training, or other resources within the agency or the community in order to attain increased economic independence and achieve other improvements in their way of living, or to prevent or lessen deterioration.

To remain eligible for financial assistance, some recipients must accept recommended treatment or training which will make it possible for them to regain or increase their earning capacity. For example, some individuals with handicaps and disabilities are expected to keep appointments and follow through with suitable plans for medical treatment and vocational training. It is the responsibility of the social service representative to exhaust all reasonable means of obtaining the individual's cooperation in following recommended treatment. If the recipient refuses treatment or fails to follow through with the service plan, the social service representative refers the case to the professional staff together with pertinent social and medical information.

Service to disabled or handicapped adults with a good employment history and a desire for self-support might include referral for training and help in obtaining employment. For aged persons living in unsafe or hazardous conditions, service might involve enlisting the help of relatives in finding or maintaining safe conditions or providing sheltered care. Services to help a family disrupted by desertion might include the use of specialized agency and community resources to effect reconciliation with the deserting parent or to obtain support. Homemaker or housekeeping services might be provided to make it possible for an individual to continue a good deal of self-care or to remain at home rather than go into an institutional living arrangement or be separated from the family group.

Social Service Representative, GS-0187-05

Nature of the assignment

This is the beginning level of assignment where social service representatives become familiar with the range of applications received, the process of acting on them, the governing regulations and basic procedural guides used in the agency program, and the objectives of interviewing applicants.

The initial period of on-the-job training includes instruction in matters pertaining to conditions of eligibility for each category of authorized assistance, correct application of regulations to specific cases, standards of service, and relationships with other public and voluntary agencies. For their first assignments, new employees are started on the least complicated determinations which require a minimum of development of relevant information and work under continuing close supervision and guidance.

As the GS-5 social service representative demonstrates understanding of basic responsibilities and procedures, routine phases of work are performed with less guidance from the supervisor and more advanced work is assigned for training. He begins to apply policies, procedures, and guides without specific instruction in selected cases of limited difficulty, and recommends action to authorize, revise, continue or discontinue financial assistance.

He/She performs various functions involved in determination of eligibility, such as interviewing applicants, making telephone and written inquiries to establish needed background information, arranging for medical examinations and being responsible that appointments are kept and results reported, making home visits to observe conditions, etc. He studies each case assigned, develops pertinent information on applicant's circumstances and needs, maintains records of facts on individual cases, prepares recommendations, and submits required reports. He discusses tentative determinations with the supervisor who reviews conclusions for soundness, and for understanding of individual problems and agency responsibility for service.

Basic functions are usually performed with very little assistance. Closer guidance is received in working with complicated determinations in categories of assistance for which eligibility criteria are involved and difficult to apply. The supervisor is usually available to answer technical questions or take over interviews that require advanced program knowledge and interviewing skill.

Social Service Representative, GS-0187-07

Nature of the assignment

At grade GS-7, social service representatives perform the full range of services involved in establishing eligibility for assistance. They make initial and continuing eligibility determinations in all types of cases and authorize grants to those who are eligible. They develop pertinent information through interviews, correspondence, and home visits to support authorization of assistance to eligible individuals or to terminate applications of persons who are ineligible. They are responsible on a continuing basis for conducting regularly scheduled reviews of cases to update information on changes in the recipient's circumstances which affect his needs.

Social service representatives at this level are responsible for initiating action to authorize, revise, continue, or discontinue assistance as appropriate based on the results of reviews of circumstances of recipients. They have continuing responsibility for maintaining contact with an assigned group of individuals receiving assistance in order to develop current factual information on individual cases, initiate correct and timely agency action as required, and keep up-to-date progress records on the cases assigned. Typically, the GS-7 social service representative schedules his work and his time to provide appropriate services in working with the individuals assigned and to meet deadlines for reviews, reports, and referrals. He makes home visits frequently enough to know the family and its members, to keep informed of their circumstances, to help them explore possible solutions to their problems, to give information, advice, and encouragement, and to appraise progress.

In working with individualized problems and needs that are present in his cases, the GS-7 social service representative recommends plans of assistance and service for prior approval of the supervisor. He identifies such problems and discusses the particular circumstances of the individual case with his supervisor to reach agreement on suitable assistance and service. In such cases, the service plan is approved before the GS-7 social service representative proceeds with service activities. He receives technical guidance from the supervisor through regularly scheduled conferences to evaluate progress of cases and adapt the service to changing circumstances.

An example of a specific problem requiring individualized services would be need for appropriate information, advice, referral services, etc., to help a dependent adult recognize and deal with failing health and decreasing ability to care for himself in his present living arrangements.

Occasional responsibility for working with cases that involve complex problems of serious need (i.e., that can have serious consequences for the individual or family using assistance) does not take a position out of this class. However, if such problems arise and the case is not reassigned, the GS-7 social service representative receives continuing close supervision and guidance of all decisions and service activities related to the case.

Social Service Representative, GS-0187-08

Nature of the assignment

GS-8 social service representatives work with considerable independence in providing assistance and service in a wide range of cases. Assignments may include cases of individuals and families who are facing serious and complicated problems of deprivation. However, typically positions at grade GS-8 are characterized by continuing responsibility for service decisions affecting a wide range of cases rather than by the presence of responsibility for unusually complex cases.

Positions at this level are distinguished from those at grade GS-7 by additional responsibility for (a) identifying needs and providing individualized assistance and service appropriate to a variety of specific problems in a wide range of cases without prior approval of his supervisor, and (b) developing recommendations for planned use of agency resources and auxiliary services that are appropriate in difficult and complicated cases.

In working with a wide range of cases that involve a variety of individualized problems of a less serious nature, the GS-8 social service representative takes the initiative in developing and implementing an appropriate plan of assistance and service and keeping the supervisor informed of any unusual problems that arise. Supervision is usually limited to discussing progress of more serious cases in regularly scheduled conferences and a sampling review of case records and reports. If the social service representative is not satisfied with the progress of a case, he brings it to the supervisor's attention and asks for advice. If he thinks the plan should be modified, he proposes appropriate changes and gives the supervisor his reasons.

When he or she is working with cases that involve complex problems of serious need, the GS-8 employee explores possible solutions with the individuals concerned and recommends plans to his supervisor for suitable programs of supplementary assistance and service. These plans are based on supporting information that the social service representative has developed independently. After proposed plans are discussed and approved, he is responsible for carrying out the services and reporting progress in periodic conferences.

Social Service Representative, GS-0187-09

Nature of the assignment

At grade GS-9, assignments of social service representatives are based on recognition of demonstrated superior skill and proven sound judgment in working with serious and complicated assistance problems that do not require professional casework.

Distinguishing characteristics of positions at this grade are (1) assignments which include a preponderance of cases that have been selected for special service because they involve circumstances in which a family using assistance is facing serious problems that require unusual service skill and judgment, and (2) authority to make decisions as to appropriate assistance and service in these very difficult cases on a continuing basis without prior approval of the supervisor.

The GS-9 employee takes the initiative in providing assistance and service and keeping the supervisor informed of the progress of cases assigned to him. The judgment of the GS-9 social service representative is relied upon to plan programs of assistance and service for individuals and families he works with, make continuing appraisals of progress of plans, give sustained effective help and encouragement, and evaluate changes in the family's or individual's situation that may affect assistance planning.

The GS-9 social service representative consults with his supervisor on unusual questions when he wants his conclusions reexamined or when he feels that adequate precedents for a proposed action have not been definitely established. Supervision is received mainly through review of reports and through periodic discussions of progress of assigned cases.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Training requirements within this industry vary greatly based on occupation, state licensure requirements, and the setting in which the work is done. Many workers begin in this industry by working as a volunteer. Volunteering with a student, religious, or charitable organization is a good way for jobseekers to test their interest in social assistance, and may provide an advantage when applying for jobs in this industry. However, for many occupations, a bachelor's or master's degree is required for entrance into the industry.

Professional and related occupations. Entry requirements vary based on occupational specialty and State licensure and certification requirements. A bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement for entry-level positions as social workers, health educators, and counselors. However, some specialties and employers may require additional education, like a master's degree, or some previous experience. In some settings and specialties, social workers, marriage and family therapists, and counselors may be required to obtain a State-issued license. Licensure requirements vary from State to State, but most States require a master's degree and 2 years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.

Educational requirements are less stringent for social and human service assistants. Some employers do not require any education beyond high school, but they may prefer some related work experience. Other employers favor workers who have completed some coursework in human services, social work, or another social or behavioral science. Other employers prefer an associate degree or a bachelor's degree in human services or social work. A number of employers also provide in-service training, such as seminars and workshops.

Professional workers in this industry often advance to a supervisory position, such as supervisor, program manager, assistant director, or executive director. Often, advancing to this level requires a master's degree and the appropriate licenses. Some workers opt to move away from positions that provide services directly to clients and become involved in policymaking, grant writing, or research. Others enter private practice and provide psychotherapeutic counseling and other services on a contract basis.

Service occupations. Service occupations within this industry require little to no education beyond a high school diploma. Personal and home care aides receive some basic on-the-job training. The Federal Government has guidelines for home health aides whose employers receive reimbursement from Medicare. These workers must complete both a training program consisting of a minimum of 75 hours and a competency or state licensure program. Training includes information regarding personal hygiene, safe transfer techniques, reading and recording vital signs, infection control, and basic nutrition. However, aides may take a competency exam to become certified without taking this training. At a minimum, 16 hours of supervised practical training are required before an aide has direct contact with a resident. These licensure requirements represent the minimum, as outlined by the Federal Government. Some States require additional hours of training to become certified.

Workers in service occupations may opt to get some additional training and may advance to, for example, licensed practical nurse. Some personal and home care aides may opt to open their own businesses.


Psychologists held about 170,200 jobs in 2008. Educational institutions employed about 29 percent of psychologists in positions other than teaching, such as counseling, testing, research, and administration. About 21 percent were employed in healthcare, primarily in offices of mental health practitioners, hospitals, physicians' offices, and outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers. Government agencies at the State and local levels employed psychologists in correctional facilities, law enforcement, and other settings.

After several years of experience, some psychologists—usually those with doctoral degrees—enter private practice or set up private research or consulting firms. About 34 percent of psychologists were self-employed in 2008—mainly as private practitioners.

In addition to the previously mentioned jobs, many psychologists held faculty positions at colleges and universities and as high school psychology teachers.

Job Outlook

Job opportunities in social assistance should be plentiful, because employment is expected to grow rapidly, and many workers leave the industry and need to be replaced.

Employment change. Employment within this industry is expected to grow rapidly relative to all other industries through 2018. The number of nongovernment wage and salary jobs is expected to increase 40 percent, compared with 11 percent for all industries combined. However, growth will not be evenly distributed amongst the industry's subsectors (table 3). The individual and family services industry is expected to grow by 48 percent, making it one of the fastest growing industries in the economy. The community food and housing, and emergency and other relief services industry is expected to grow by 22 percent and vocational rehabilitation services is expected to grow 25 percent over the 2008–2018 projection period.

Growth of employment in the social assistance industry may depend, in large part, on the amount of funding made available by government and managed-care organizations. Employment in private social service agencies may grow if State and local governments contract out some of their social services functions in an effort to cut costs.

Projected job growth in individual and family services will be due mostly to an increase in the population that will demand additional services from this sector. As baby boomers age, there is expected to be a substantial increase in the elderly population, one of the primary segments of the population that requires services from this industry. As a result, there should be an expansion in programs that serve the elderly, such as adult day care or services that provide home care, allowing the elderly to remain in their homes for as long as possible. Furthermore, the demand will increase for drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs, as those with drug and alcohol addictions are increasingly required to attend treatment programs—rather than being sent to jail.

Growth in the community food and housing, and emergency and other services industry will result from an increase in urbanization. As the population becomes more densely populated and if natural disasters hit these populous areas, more people will be affected by natural disasters, increasing the demand for disaster relief. Furthermore, demand for housing and food assistance will remain steady.

Employment growth in vocational rehabilitation services is expected, due to a steady demand for services for individuals with some form of physical or mental disability. Workers in this sector will continue to serve people who are injured on the job and need assistance moving back into the work environment. But the main source of growing demand for this sector is the expected increase in the elderly population, which frequently uses services provided by this industry to recover from illnesses or injuries.

Some of the fastest growing occupations in the Nation are concentrated in social assistance, like home health aides and personal and home care aides. Employment growth for these two occupations is driven predominantly by the need to provide services to the elderly and ill in their homes and to avoid expensive hospital or nursing home care.

Job prospects. Besides job openings arising from employment growth, many additional openings will stem from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or stop working. Workers leave jobs in this industry at a higher rate than the rest of the economy, making job prospects excellent.


Industry earnings. Average earnings in the social assistance industry are lower than the average for all industries, as shown in table 4.

Table 4. Average earnings of nonsupervisory workers in social assistance, 2008

Industry segment



Total, private industry




Social assistance



Community food and housing, and emergency and other relief services



Individual and family services



Vocational rehabilitation services



SOURCE: BLS Current Employment Statistics, 2008.

Wages in selected occupations in the social assistance, except child day care industry appear in table 5. As in most industries, professionals and managers commonly earn more than other workers, reflecting higher education levels, broader experience, and greater responsibility.

Table 5. Median hourly wages of the largest occupations in social assistance, except child day care, May 2008


Individual and family services

Community food and housing and emergency and other relief services

Vocational rehabilitation services

All industries

Social and community service managers





Mental health and substance abuse social workers





Child, family, and school social workers





Community and social service specialists, all other





Rehabilitation counselors





Social and human service assistants





Office clerks, general





Personal and home care aides





Home health aides





Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners





SOURCE: BLS Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2008.

Benefits and union membership. Professional workers in this industry typically receive benefits, such as medical insurance and paid time off. However, those working in service occupations may receive no benefits. About 8 percent of workers in the social assistance industry were union members or were covered by union contracts in 2008, as opposed to 14 percent throughout all industries.

Related Occupations
Sources of Additional Information

For information about careers in social work and voluntary credentials for social workers, contact:

For information on programs and careers in human services, contact:

  • Council for Standards in Human Services Education, 1935 S. Plum Grove Rd., PMB 297, Palatine, IL 60067. Internet:
  • National Human Services Assembly, 1319 F Street, NW., Suite 402, Washington, DC 20004. Internet:
  • National Association for Home Care & Hospice, 228 Seventh St. SE., Washington, DC 20003. Internet:

For information regarding jobs in nonprofit organizations and voluntary credential information, contact:

State employment service offices also may be able to provide information on job opportunities in social assistance.

Information on obtaining Social Service Representative positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
  • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

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