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What’s the difference between a social worker and a case manager?

By Emilly Parris

The community services industry is one of the fastest growing industries in Australia. In fact, health care and social assistance employs close to 1.7 million people and this number is projected to increase to 1.9 million by 2024.

Two crucial roles in the community services industry are social workers and case managers. They are responsible for handling clients with a wide range of issues and directing them to the right services to receive the care they need. These two roles may at first appear similar but there are some key differences between them.

The main difference between social workers and case managers is that social workers focus more on improving the individual’s personal life while case managers are assigned to assist in practical tasks such as connecting a client to welfare services if they are struggling financially or a rehabilitation program if they are injured. 

In this article, SkillsTalk will look at these two roles in more depth to help you decide which one is better suited to you.

Social worker responsibilities.

woman social worker talking to elderly couple

A social worker assists their clients in managing difficult life circumstances, such as poverty, illness, disability or other issues. Social workers may work in community health centres, schools, hospitals, child welfare agencies, correctional facilities and many other settings.

The role of a social worker can be quite varied, depending on where they are employed and who they are working with. Part of a social worker’s role is to act as an advocate for public issues and seek justice for vulnerable or marginalised people. They may also help to develop policies and deliver education and training programs. A social worker is expected to:
  • Evaluate a client’s needs
  • Provide counselling to individuals, families or groups
  • Respond to crises such as reports of child abuse
  • Record and maintain client records
  • Advocate human rights
  • Follow up with clients to ensure they are on track and getting the services they need
Most social workers will work within a specialty such as child and family care, alcohol and substance abuse or mental health.

Social worker education and salary.

In Australia, social workers require a Bachelor of Social Work or a Masters degree in Social Work. An accredited certificate or diploma in your chosen specialty can provide a stepping stone into further study while also equipping you with the practical knowledge to perform your role.

The average salary of a social worker in Australia according to Job Outlook is $1,829 per week. Glassdoor puts the average annual salary for social workers at $70,680 with the lowest being $62,000 and $94,000 being the highest.

Case manager responsibilities.

woman case manager talking to elderly woman client

A case manager is a slightly broader role, responsible for coordinating care for their clients and ensuring they have access to all the services they need. Their role involves interviewing clients to get a sense of their circumstances and connect them to the right services such as employment assistance, housing, legal and financial advice or medical care. Case managers also monitor the client’s progress and work with other providers to ensure their needs are being met.

Here are some of the main duties and responsibilities of a case manager:
  • Coordinate and provide timely care to clients
  • Write up plans according to the clients’ needs
  • Liaise with other service providers (health, finance, employment etc)
  • Organise appointments and review client’s progress
  • Help your clients make informed decisions regarding treatment options
  • Offer solutions to sometimes complex problems
  • Adhere to professional standards, protocols, rules and regulations
While social workers often provide therapy, case managers typically do not though they may counsel clients and inform them of any steps they should take. It’s important for case managers to be across all the services available to those they serve, since most people in difficult situations may not be aware of the support that is available to them.

Case manager education and salary.

In Australia, case managers can obtain a CHC52015 - Diploma of Community Services (Case Management) or CHC32015 - Certificate III in Community Services. Some may also further their education with a Bachelor of Applied Social Science or Bachelor of Community Services. The salary range for a case manager is between $65,000 and $75,000 per year.

Is this career right for you?

Excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to work well with people from diverse backgrounds is essential to succeed in any community services role. Social workers and case managers must be highly organised, highly empathetic and enjoy the process of helping others improve their lives. Staying up to date with social services, programs and other methods of support is equally vital.

If you’d like to find out more about becoming either a social worker or case manager, have a chat to one of Upskilled’s helpful education consultants or browse their community services courses.
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