Data is often called the oil of the 21st century. Businesses that use it wisely can break into new, lucrative markets and become industry leaders in an often fickle economy. But in social work, data analysis isn’t about increasing profits. It’s about improving lives and impacting positive, long-lasting change.
In California, that’s no easy task. The state is home to over 85,000 social workers who support millions of people battling poverty, substance abuse, mental health crises, discrimination, and the often grim realities of illness and aging. Many of these vulnerable people are experiencing complex combinations of these circumstances and require equally complex services. Data analysis makes helping them possible.
How Do Social Workers and Administrators Use Data?
Data analysis in social work is vital to matching people to the right types of services. While this may appear to be a fairly straightforward objective, social service agencies must utilize data at every level to accomplish it.
Some of the most common ways social workers apply data analysis to everyday operations include:
These practices not only allow social service agencies to allocate resources properly, but to build trust and transparency amongst clients and the public at large.
Social Work Data Analysis Jobs and Roles
In some ways, all social service professionals are data analysts. Whether they’re monitoring an individual’s progress or advocating for legal reform, they must draw meaning from a sometimes dizzying amount of information. However, certain roles in the field are more information-focused than others.
If you have an eye for trends and a passion for social justice, you may want to explore roles as a:
- Human service analyst.
- Policy analyst.
- Social or community service manager.
- Social scientist or social science researcher.
- Survey researcher.
- Program director.
- Case manager.
- Professor of Social Work, particularly at a college or university with a strong emphasis on research and community collaboration.
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or clinical mental health program director.
Many of these roles, along with other administrative jobs, often require applicants to have a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) as well as some data science or research experience. Some MSW programs even offer specializations in research. And even though not all academic research roles require a doctorate, becoming a professor does.
How Different Social Work Agencies in California Use Data
The relationship between data science and social work is quite complex. Each type of social service agency collects, analyzes, and uses different types of information for different purposes. If you’re interested in a career in data analysis in social work, these types of agencies may be great places to explore your options.
The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) is one of the biggest government agencies of its kind in the country. It’s made up of 58 county-level offices that serve over 8 million people every year. While the county offices provide most of the state’s direct social services, the CDSS is responsible for supporting and guiding them.
For instance, the CDSS maintains updated reports about topics like ongoing fraud investigations, how many residents are taking advantage of different programs, and how much money is spent on these programs. This may seem like rather dry and boring information, but it’s vital to allocating state funds to county offices and independent service providers alike. And when crafting new laws, state policymakers often turn to the CDSS and related organizations for guidance.
Data analysts at hospitals, community health clinics, and other types of healthcare facilities use patient information to both improve their services and make them more accessible to a wider group of people.
For example, consider the case of a community with high rates of cancer. The local hospital offers world-class treatments, but many locals don’t take advantage of them. Analysts can help determine why that might be. In many cases, people aren’t aware of early warning signs, can’t afford treatment, or don’t feel safe in most medical settings. Data analysts and healthcare social workers can collaborate to create awareness campaigns, connect people to state-assisted insurance programs, and open clinics where people from different backgrounds can feel understood and respected.
Colleges and Universities
Social work school faculty are constantly working on their own research projects. This typically involves conducting surveys and experiments and analyzing vast amounts of government-reported data. Though these projects are academic in nature, they have the power to influence public policy and improve the field as a whole. A perfect example of this is the Silicon Valley Pain Index.
The Pain Index is an annual report published by the Human Rights Institute at San Jose State University. It contains dozens of insights about homelessness, discrimination, income inequity, and more gathered from a range of government and academic sources. As stated in the report’s purpose, this initiative, and others like it, is designed to connect social work professionals of all kinds, hold local officials accountable, and spark change.
Nonprofits, Community-based Organizations, and Independent Research Institutions
Because social work agencies must typically dedicate all of their resources to providing frontline services, many don’t have the capacity to conduct large-scale research projects. That’s where nonprofits and independent and community-based social organizations step in.
While some of these organizations are also social service providers, others focus all of their efforts solely on research, awareness, and advocacy. These efforts are instrumental to ushering in legal reforms that empower social work agencies and protect the people they serve.
One such organization is the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF). While not focused specifically on social work, the CHCF conducts research about healthcare access barriers (discrimination, income inequality, etc.) and partners with industry leaders across the state to address these issues in actionable and sustainable ways. However, California is home to a number of other independent organizations that use their resources to advocate for change like the NAACP of California, Equality California, and the California Immigrant Policy Center.
How To Become a Social Work Data Analyst in California
Becoming a data analyst in a social work setting requires a very unique skill set. While there are many paths to acquiring it, many professionals start by earning a bachelor’s in social work (BSW).
While also teaching foundational social work skills, BSW programs often include courses on statistics, research, and how to use different types of case management software. Students are also required to complete a fieldwork experience meaning they’ll be able to see these principles in action.
Earning a BSW may prepare you for many entry-level social work data jobs, but employers often require a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) for higher-level roles like program administrator or policy analyst. MSW programs offer a much more advanced curriculum and typically allow students to specialize.
If you’re interested in a career on the data analysis side of social work, you may want to specialize in an area like program development and administration or social welfare policy. You can also specialize in a field like child welfare or gerontology and take classes focused on research, technology, and experimental design. You may also want to seek classes and certification programs through the school’s computer science or data science departments. This way, you can learn advanced skills like database querying, data visualization, and coding.
But if you’re interested in mental health social work, you may want to specialize in clinical practice. This is because clinical social workers provide highly advanced psychotherapeutic services and must be licensed by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences before working in the state.
Clinical MSW programs prepare students for this process by teaching them about mental health diagnosis and evidence-based treatments, but clinical research and policy administration are both typically central to the curriculum. To become a full-fledged Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in California, you must also complete more supervised fieldwork hours after graduation, pass the licensing exam, and apply for licensure through the BBS.
Social Work Data Analyst Salaries in California
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average wage for social workers in California is between $66,340 and $88,380 depending on specialty. But while many social work data analysts are classified as social workers, they can also hold a number of different titles.
For instance, social work data analysts are often in supervisory and administrative roles. The BLS says social and community service managers make $84,220 on average in California. Similarly, social scientists in the state earn an average wage of $90,830. While these salaries can vary based on location, employer, and a number of other factors, they indicate one thing: data management skills are often extremely valuable in the California social work system.
In the following table, you’ll find a list of other titles you might hold as a social work data analyst. The 10% column represents what the lowest-earning professionals in each role make as reported by the BLS. The 90% column represents the highest-paid individuals, many of which have MSWs or are LCSWs. However, not all of these roles are specific to social work so your salary potential may vary.
Social Work Specialty
Child, Family, and School Social Workers
Healthcare Social Workers
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Specialists
Social Workers (All Other)
Social and Community Service Managers
Social Sciences Teachers, Postsecondary (All Other)
Table data taken from 2022 BLS reports for California.
2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for child, family, and school social workers, healthcare social workers, mental health and substance abuse social workers, social workers (all other), social and community service managers, survey researchers, social sciences teachers, postsecondary (all other), and data scientists are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2023.
Discover more about other social work specializations in California.