How Social Workers Help Disaster Survivors
We interviewed, received advice and gathered ideas from social workers around the country to give you an idea of what social workers do and how they help after a disaster or fire.
What does a social worker do?
Helps address psychological and social needs of people in stressful situations, and helps them find resources and services.
Works with individuals, families and communities and in a variety of places including hospitals, senior homes, community services, government organizations as well as with emergency and disaster relief organizations.
(If you need hospice or aging-related social worker services, read our Social Workers FAQs article.)
Why would I need a social worker?
After a disaster, fire or other major loss, you might meet with a social worker or a social services representative to help with your recovery needs.
How are social workers licensed?
Social workers are licensed by their state's Department of Health, which offers licensing for a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in social work (it varies by state).
You can also ask for the social worker's business card or ask to see proof of his or her credentials.
Why would I see a social worker for after a natural disaster?
Think of them as the referral resource – they connect you with help for with whatever you may need:
- Temporary shelter
- Financial aid
- Housing assistance
- Education about psychological impact of disaster and consequences, and
- Emotional support.
They will help you explore informal resources, such as other family members and friends as well as help you use formal resources and resources for long term care.
WHN Expert Tip: In a Nutshell
Social workers "help people move forward with rebuilding their lives – guiding them to resources, helping them complete necessary claim forms and other paperwork and easing the transition from emergency shelters to more permanent housing. Social workers also "provide 'psychological first aid' services to educate people about typical [life] stresses and support them as they face their losses and work to rebuild their lives." John D. Weaver, LCSW, and publisher of Eye of the Storm, Inc.com, a website dedicated to helping victims recover from disasters
How can I find a social worker to help me?
After large disasters, community service centers and shelters become sites for one-stop assistance, information, referral, and emotional support. Organizations that employ social workers include:
- Local agencies/human service providers such as Medicaid, mental health services, agencies for children and youth and the elderly
- Government agencies: FEMA, SBA, IRS, EPA, NTSB
- Nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD)
WHN Expert Tip: Dial 2-1-1
"You can find direct assistance for referral information to disaster recovery, child care and aging services by dialing at any time during the day. 2-1-1 is an easy to remember telephone number that, where available, connects people with important community services and volunteer opportunities." Frank Campbell, LCSW, Baton Rouge, LA
How often will I meet with the social worker?
This depends on your situation – it may be one meeting or it may be several follow-up meetings over a few months.
"American Red Cross mental health workers, for example, might have one or two contacts and possibly one or two follow-ups," says John D. Weaver, LCSW, publisher of Eye of the Storm, Inc.com. "If ongoing services are needed, a referral is made to existing services. Following presidentially declared disasters, FEMA grants are sometimes available and they provide funds for outreach workers who can work in the community up to the anniversary of an event."
Extra resources and case management services might be available for a longer period of time if your community was strongly affected and if it may take many years to rebuild or recover (such as New Orleans and the surrounding area since Katrina).
What should I ask the social worker at our first meeting?
What help is available and where can I go to access the various relief services?
Can you help me find resources that can assist me and meet my cultural/language needs?
How long will it take my family and me to get back to feeling normal again?
What do I do for support when I am overwhelmed and cannot come in to see you? (Ask about resources that are available after hours such as crisis lines, emergency after-hour services, additional help services, etc.)
What are the things we can do to be better prepared for future disasters?
To learn more about social workers and the services that they provide, go to The National Association of Social Workers (NASW). NASW is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world, with 145,000 members.
|After A DisasterItems You May Need After a DisasterHere is a starter list of some things you should buy or look into after a disaster. Emergency and Disaster ServicesHere are links to organizations and resources that provide assistance and information in an emergency or natural disaster.How Social Workers Help Disaster SurvivorsWe interviewed, received advice and gathered ideas from social workers around the country to give you an idea of what social workers do and how they help after a disaster or fire.Dial 2-1-1 for Community HelpYou've heard about 9-1-1 and 4-1-1, now there's 2-1-1, a number dedicated to connecting people with helpful community services and volunteer opportunities.How Disasters Are DeclaredA major disaster could result from a hurricane, earthquake, flood, tornado or major fire. The event must be clearly more than state or local governments can handle alone. Temporary Housing Data SheetDepending upon the damage, you may be staying in your home, a friend's home, a hotel, or a shelter. Should you need temporary housing, here is a brief form for you to write down your temporary housing details.FEMA Disaster Recovery CentersDisaster Recovery Centers are temporary centers set up in a federal disaster area, helping local residents through the federal assistance application process and also offer recovery advice.Water Quality and Safety PrecautionsWhen it comes to food and water, err on the side of contamination until you know better. (In other words, guilty until proven innocent.)Federal Food Safety GuidelinesHas your fridge or freezer turned off and the food is still inside? Apply the golden rule for food safety: "If In Doubt, Throw It Out." Below are general food safety and cleaning tips from the government's food safety guidelines.Contacting Others After a Disaster or TraumaThe most important thing to realize is that you are safe. Now, let others know how you are — and where you are.Disaster Assistance TimelineHere is a timeline breaking down how your local emergency management services, first responders and other organizations will respond after a natural disaster. Disaster Relief Financial Assistance OptionsExperts we've interviewed say that the severity of a natural disaster affects the time it takes to receive financial assistance.Handling Emotional and Physical Stress After a DisasterNatural disasters cause emotional and physical stress — and a host of reactions including anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, sadness, anger, fatigue, hopelessness, irrational fears, and nightmares.FEMA Common Misconceptions about Disaster AidHere are some common misconceptions about FEMA from FEMA.FEMA Questions to AskAs with an insurance agent, these questions for FEMA officials may confirm what you already know, or may help you understand what processes, timelines and what federal aid is available.FEMA Types of Disaster AidThe following information is from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).Filing for Federal Disaster ReliefFederal Disaster Relief is available after the President issues a disaster declaration for your area. Visit FEMA's (Federal Emergency Management Agency) site, to see if a disaster declaration has been made in your area.Helping Others Hit by DisasterImmediately or soon after an emergency or natural disaster, many people want to help. Here are some tips to help you help others. Review these, be safe, be smart.About the American Red CrossThe American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization led by volunteers, with a mission to provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.In the News How to Get Disaster InformationMedia web sites are good resources for local information, breaking news and weather updates during and after natural disasters. Here are some ways to use the media to your best advantage.In the News Reporting on DisastersAfter a major disaster — fire, natural disaster or other catastrophe — the media will mostly like arrive on the scene. Here's what to know.Tax Tips After a DisasterAfter a disaster, fire or other major loss, bills and expenses can pile up quickly. Luckily, there are some IRS forms you can complete to receive immediate help and possibly get additional tax relief over the next few years. Who Will Help You After a Disaster?After a storm, local and regional authorities — such as police officers, firefighters, ambulance services and state or municipal service workers — may be dispatched to severely affected areas. Here's what to know.|