How Social Workers Can Help with the Food Access Crisis

How Social Workers Can Help with the Food Access Crisis

Today’s vulnerable populations face significant difficulties. Many of these are widespread or even systemic in nature and will require substantial intervention to alleviate. One example of these crises is that of food access. Due to a number of large-scale realities, certain populations — including poor areas or communities, immigrants and asylum seekers, children of drug addicts or convicted criminals, and more — face food scarcity at alarming and sometimes even increasing rates.

It will take concerted effort on the part of many players within government, social services, private entities, communities, and more to help turn the tide and create lasting change for individuals, families, and communities in need.

Food Access Crisis: What Does This Mean Exactly?

Food access problems, also referred to as food insecurity, refers in generalities to when a person does not have reliable, sustained access to adequate nutrition in the form of food. The causes of food insecurity can vary. It is commonly due to inadequate economic resources or buying power. This could be due to an income level that falls below the poverty line (especially in the cases of single-earner families with children), job loss or instability that results in income decreases, or sudden calamities such as a significant health problem or injury.

However, economic hardship is not the only reason someone might experience food insecurity. Other reasons include complicating health problems or conditions that change their necessary nutritional intake, or a phenomenon that is common in poorer geographical areas – the lack of any quality nutritional food being available within community areas or the areas that poor members of communities can reasonably access. These problems and more are causing dramatic food access problems for millions of people each year in the United States.

The Nature of Social Work

What is a social worker? Put in simple terms, social workers are people who help people. The social worker’s role can vary widely from post to post and from population. Social workers can be deployed anywhere from educational settings, where they might support children from at-risk home or poverty-stricken areas to public aid organizations where they might assist individuals in tasks like getting jobs, applying for benefits, obtaining healthcare or medication, and much more.

How Social Workers Have Unique Agency to Combat the Food Access Crisis

When individuals or families experience food insecurity, one symptom is the fact that they are forced to choose between spending any earned income or resources on food or putting it towards other basic needs such as clothing, rent, healthcare, and more.

This is a devastating and difficult implication of food insecurity that can threaten to create or exacerbate other needs and problems as well.

Social workers see these kinds of difficult situations often or even constantly as they do their job. However, a social worker does not have to sit helplessly if they encounter food insecurity. Social workers actually hold a unique position within the services sphere to be able to help lessen or alleviate food insecurity. They can do this in a few different ways.

First, social workers can help those experiencing food poverty to take advantage of food support and assistance programs. Oftentimes those who are facing food insecurity might have been greatly helped or even been able to remedy their food insecurity problem through resources available to them if they had known about those opportunities.

The problem is that they may not have any idea those programs exist or that they could be eligible. Part of a social worker’s role is to know what resources are available for the vulnerable persons they serve and, to the best of their ability, help those individuals avail of said resources.

Second, social workers can similarly help individuals facing food insecurity apply for assistance that can help cover other basic needs so that their resources are less strained. Things like healthcare, allowances for purchasing coats or necessary items, or public transportation subsidies can be available for vulnerable individuals that can help lessen the overall monthly bill and allow more resources to be spent on food.

Third, depending on the situation, social workers can sometimes help bypass the problem of nutritious food not being available in their clients’ neighborhood or within their reach. Sometimes a social worker’s battle against food insecurity can be as simple as bringing a box of vegetables to the individuals or families they work with from another part of town or from where the social worker lives, especially if they have a car and their clients don’t or have limited mobility.

Using these tactics and more, social workers can provide an effective aid and combatant against the dangers of food insecurity and help lessen the food access crisis in meaningful ways.

If You Are Interested in Pursuing a Social Work Degree

The path to becoming a social worker offers a few choices depending on what kinds of work one is interested in performing. Most social workers get an undergraduate degree in either social work or a related field, such as sociology or psychology. Many social work positions can be secured with only a Bachelor’s degree. For some social workers, the jobs available to them at this level meet their career aspirations and goals, and they choose not to pursue further education.

For others who are interested in advancing their career into more senior roles, want to pursue leadership in their field, or want to be eligible for more technical social work positions, the next step in elevating a social work career is to earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work (or similar). This degree allows a social worker to pursue licensure, and also makes them eligible for more jobs that require a postgraduate degree.

Most of those social workers that obtain a postgraduate degree in their field go on to become licensed practitioners. Licensed clinical social workers are able to diagnose and treat various types of disorders, including emotional, behavioral, and mental. Securing a social work license requires amassing a required number of supervised clinical hours (usually an amount that takes roughly two years) and passing a state licensure exam.

Achieving this level of social work accreditation makes someone eligible for just about any job within the social work sphere.