Few fields are as far-reaching or impactful as human services. Everybody is touched by this profession, whether they realize it or not. Despite this, the field's interdisciplinary nature can make it challenging to identify, even when human services workers play a crucial role in resolving personal and societal struggles.
To shed light on this crucial occupation, we've compiled a detailed guide to all things human services. In addition to defining human services, we'll take a deep dive into the many categories it covers, along with its potential for touching your life and the lives of everyone you meet.
What Is Human Services?
The National Organization for Human Services (NOHS) identifies one overarching objective for the human services field: "meeting human needs through an interdisciplinary knowledge base." NOHS adds that this effort often focuses on preventative measures, although remediation is also essential.
Human services professionals are committed to improving quality of life on both an individual and societal level, often by strengthening service delivery systems and enhancing accessibility.
In addition to defining human services as a field, NOHS details the role of the modern human services professional: "to assist individuals and communities to function as effectively as possible in the major domains of living." While these employees can work in various settings and have many responsibilities, they should always possess "a strong desire to help others."
The 6 Areas of Human Services
Because it can be so difficult to define human services, explanations of this field are often broken down into the many categories it encompasses. In the 1970s, social policy expert Alfred Kahn studied populations across the globe to determine which forms human services might take. Through these efforts, he identified several key categories we've highlighted below:
Educational institutions are often the pillars of their communities, so it stands to reason that human services professionals contribute throughout this sector. They may work within schools or take on strictly supportive roles, serving as liaisons between schools and other institutions.
No matter their role, these advocates should understand that the challenges children and adolescents face in their personal and family lives will majorly impact their academic performance.
Conversely, they should also recognize the potential for schools and other academic programs to provide access to the practical resources and support that so many students desperately need — and that such support can, in turn, completely change their academic prospects.
Of course, human services' role in education isn't limited to children and teens. Often, human services organizations provide continuing education opportunities, some of which we'll highlight in the job training category below.
Parenting classes are also standard. These provide the support new parents require, as well as insight into the developmental needs of their children. By fostering strong bonds early on, these educational opportunities can produce gains in emotional wellness and cognitive strength children can sustain throughout their entire lifespan.
2. Income Transfer
United States residents collectively provide for the country's most vulnerable residents through a variety of programs. These include cash benefits and in-kind programs closely linked to specific areas of need.
Sometimes referred to as our social safety net, this overarching system strives to help our poorest residents maintain a baseline quality of life. While we sometimes fall short, our economic system rests on the collective assumption that we must work together to help those most in need.
Human services professionals facilitate the most effective income transfer systems possible. Their work ensures that the people most in need of these benefits and services are promptly identified — and that they can take advantage of relevant programs. They often serve as case workers or family support workers, ensuring that struggling individuals have both practical resources and reason for hope.
Human services professionals can play a huge role in helping individuals, families, and entire communities achieve better physical health and mental wellness. As mentioned in our previous definition of human services, this often focuses on preventative measures.
Often, efforts to improve health focus on concerns such as drug dependency and mental health crises. Human services professionals help coordinate acute care during urgent situations while paving the path to long-term rehabilitation and emotional healing.
This category of human services also encompasses public health education, which takes a widescale approach, allowing community members to work together to address the most pressing public health concerns.
For example, public health educators can work with esteemed pillars of the community to promote flu or COVID vaccine uptake in reluctant populations. They may also educate community members about misunderstood sexually transmitted diseases — and the most effective preventative measures.
Many human services professionals work in residential care facilities, providing much-needed support for vulnerable individuals with various physical, cognitive, or emotional concerns.
Highly-trained advocates are increasingly needed as we move beyond the deinstitutionalization efforts of yesteryear and strive to provide better support to those who previously fell between the cracks. This may mean providing better access to group homes, where people struggling with difficult circumstances or conditions can get the immediate housing and social support they need.
Human services professionals may also help people with housing struggles take advantage of Section 8 and other forms of housing assistance. These programs provide vouchers so low-income families or displaced individuals can reside in safe and sanitary homes via the private market. Once housing is no longer a concern, efforts to improve personal health, education, and career outcomes will prove far more effective.
5. Employment Training
While human services workers aspire to help their clients achieve the best quality of life possible, it is often impossible until these individuals can obtain steady employment. Unfortunately, many lack the skills and knowledge necessary to acquire full-time jobs that pay livable wages. Meanwhile, clear skills gaps exist in many industries, with businesses often struggling to find employees with the proper credentials.
To address both problems, many human services programs focus on employment training, which can take many forms. Some training initiatives emphasize the soft skills that, when lacking, can prevent seemingly knowledgeable individuals from getting hired. In particular, communication, time management, and collaboration are common areas in which novice employees struggle. The main goal is to build marketable skills that clients can use to impress would-be employers.
In addition to providing employment training, human services programs can offer leads for potential jobs. Human services professionals clue people in on opportunities they might otherwise never hear about. The ultimate goal is to guide individuals toward being masters of their circumstances rather than victims.
6. Personal Social Services
The term "personal social services" describes many forms of care provided for society's most vulnerable individuals. These include seniors, people with cognitive impairments, and children who lack support from other resources. The goal is to care for these and many others while allowing them to remain integrated with their communities.
Personal social services are prominent in the UK, where they are labeled based on the assumption that the above categories must all be addressed to provide comprehensive and cohesive support. As Louis Lowy explains in Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging, the categories above may not be deemed eligible social services in certain communities or nations — but no matter whether or how they're addressed, they remain vital to the wellbeing of society as a whole.
Many professionals are responsible for personal social services, with social workers, case managers, and even probation officers stepping up to provide hope and practical resources to those in need.
Improving the Livelihood of Others
Are you passionate about helping others? Do you feel called to serve your community? If so, you could be an excellent candidate for a job in the human services sector. This diverse field offers many opportunities to make a difference. First, however, you'll need targeted training.
At University of the Cumberlands, we're proud to offer highly regarded human services programs. These include the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Human Services. Both degree programs are tailored to reflect the current realities of the human services sector, which is diverse, often challenging, and yet, full of potential. Contact us today to learn more.