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What is Human Services

The field of Human Services is broadly defined, uniquely approaching the objective of meeting human needs through an interdisciplinary knowledge base, focusing on prevention as well as remediation of problems, and maintaining a commitment to improving the overall quality of life of service populations. The Human Services profession is one which promotes improved service delivery systems by addressing not only the quality of direct services, but also by seeking to improve accessibility, accountability, and coordination among professionals and agencies in service delivery.

Community Support Skill Standards

Creating Pathways to Careers in Human Services Framing Competencies for Direct Service Workers


What are they? 

The Community Skill Standards define the competencies used by direct service workers in a wide variety of service contexts in community settings across the nation. Designed to be relevant to diverse direct service roles (residential, vocational, therapeutic, etc.), the standards are based upon a nationally validated job analysis involving a wide variety of human service workers, consumers, providers and educators.

What will they do? 

The Community Support Skill Standards provide comprehensive descriptions of worker roles and responsibilities in twelve critical areas of competence such as Participant Empowerment, Community Networking and Advocacy.

Enhanced with illustrative scenarios and performance measures, the standards provide organizational leaders, trainers, educators and policy makers with the architecture for a comprehensive work force development plan.

The shift in the focus of human services away from large institutions to increasingly decentralize, sometimes neighborhood based, community settings has placed new demands on human service providers and workers.

Workers must know how to work with consumers and families to weave together a vast array of community resources, specialized assistance and natural supports to promote well-being, empowerment and community membership. These workers require training in a new framework of skills that incorporates the profound changes shaping the field, and assures them a viable future in the human services field.

Human Services Research Institute

The Human Services Research Institute (HSRI) is a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation founded in 1976 and based in Cambridge, MA. Through research, policy and demonstration activities, HSRI assists communities and government to build supports that are responsive to the aspirations and preferences of people who rely on human services to lead self-directed lives.

The development of these standards represents a national effort guided by a coalition of leading stakeholders including:

  • Council for Standards in Human Services Education
  • Child Welfare League of America
  • Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities (CCD)
  • American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR)
  • National Association of State Directors of Vocational Technical Education Consortium
  • The ARC National Headquarters
  • American Association of Community Colleges
  • Service Employees International Union
  • The National Assembly of National Voluntary Health and Social Welfare Organizations, Inc.
  • National Organization for Human Services Education
  • National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, Inc.
  • National Association of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Counselors Certification Commission
  • International Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitation Services

To order the Community Support Skill Standards:

Human Services: Making a Difference in People's Lives

The field of Human Services is a broadly defined one, uniquely approaching the objective of meeting human needs through an interdisciplinary knowledge base, focusing on prevention as well as remediation of problems and maintaining a commitment to improving the overall quality of life of service populations. The Human Services profession is one which promotes improved service delivery systems by addressing not only the quality of direct services, but by also seeking to improve accessibility, accountability, and coordination among professionals and agencies in service delivery.

Human Services Professionals

"Human services professional" is a generic term for people who hold professional and paraprofessional jobs in such diverse settings as group homes and halfway houses; correctional, intellectual disability, and community mental health centers; family, child, and youth service agencies, and programs concerned with alcoholism, drug abuse, family violence, and aging. Depending on the employment setting and the kinds of clients served there, job titles and duties vary a great deal.

The primary purpose of the human services professional is to assist individual and communities to function as effectively as possible in the major domains of living.

A strong desire to help others is an important consideration for a job as a human services worker. Individuals who show patience, understanding, and caring in their dealings with others are highly valued by employers. Other important personal traits include communication skills, a strong sense of responsibility, and the ability to manage time effectively.

Human Services Professional Competencies

The following statements describe the major generic knowledge, skills and attitudes that appear to be required in all human service work. The training and preparation of the individual worker within this framework will change as a function of the work setting, the specific client population served, and the level of organization work.

1. Ethical and Professional Behavior - Adheres to ethical standards, demonstrates professional conduct, and maintains self-awareness in all professional activities.

    • Ethical Standards: Understanding and applying ethical principles and standards in all professional interactions and decision-making.
    • Professional Conduct: Demonstrating professionalism, reliability, and accountability in all work-related activities.
    • Self-Awareness: Maintaining awareness of personal values and biases and how they impact professional practice.

2. Communication and Interpersonal Skills - Effectively communicates verbally and in writing and builds positive relationships with clients and colleagues.

    • Verbal Communication: Effectively conveying information, ideas, and feelings through spoken words and body language.
    • Written Communication: Writing clear, concise, and well-organized reports, case notes, and other documentation.
    • Interpersonal Skills: Building and maintaining positive relationships with clients, colleagues, and other stakeholders.

3. Assessment and Analytical Skills - Conducts comprehensive client assessments, solves problems, and applies critical thinking to make informed decisions.

    • Client Assessment: Conducting thorough assessments of clients' needs, strengths, and challenges.
    • Problem-Solving: Analyzing complex situations and identifying appropriate solutions, interventions, pathways, and resources.
    • Critical Thinking: Applying critical thinking skills to evaluate information and make informed decisions.

4. Intervention and Service Delivery - Designs and implements effective intervention plans, provides direct support, and advocates for clients' rights.

    • Intervention Planning: Designing and implementing effective intervention plans to meet client needs.
    • Direct Support: Providing direct assistance, support, and guidance to clients.
    • Advocacy: Advocating for clients' rights and access to services and resources.

5. Cultural Competence - Demonstrates cultural awareness, sensitivity, and inclusive practices in all professional interactions.

    • Cultural Awareness: Understanding and respecting cultural differences and their impact on human behavior and interactions.
    • Cultural Sensitivity: Demonstrating sensitivity and responsiveness to cultural diversity in all professional activities.
    • Inclusive Practices: Implementing inclusive practices that promote equity and access for all populations.

6. Community and Organizational Engagement - Identifies and utilizes community resources, collaborates with stakeholders, and understands policy impacts on service delivery.

    • Community Resources: Identifying and leveraging community resources to support clients.
    • Collaboration: Working collaboratively with community organizations, service providers, and other stakeholders.
    • Policy Understanding: Understanding local, state, and national policies and how they impact service delivery.

7. Professional Development - Commits to continuous learning, engages in reflective practice, and seeks and provides supervision and mentorship.

    • Continuous Learning: Committing to ongoing professional development and staying current with research, evidence-based practices, and emerging trends.
    • Reflective Practice: Engaging in reflective practice to continuously improve professional skills and knowledge.
    • Supervision and Mentorship: Seeking and providing supervision and mentorship to support professional growth.

8. Crisis Intervention and Safety - Manages client crises effectively, develops safety plans, and practices self-care.

    • Crisis Management: Responding effectively to client crises and emergencies.
    • Safety Planning: Developing and implementing safety plans for clients and themselves.
    • Resilience and Self-Care: Continuously building personal resilience and practicing self-care to maintain well-being in high-stress environments.

9. Use of Technology - Demonstrates digital literacy, manages data securely, and provides telehealth services as needed.

    • Digital Literacy: Demonstrating proficiency in using technology and digital tools in professional practice.
    • Data Management: Managing client data securely and ethically.
    • Telehealth and Remote Services: Providing services through telehealth and other remote methods when necessary.

10. Research and Evidence-Based Practice - Applies research findings, evaluates interventions, and integrates innovative and evidence-based approaches into practice.

    • Research Literacy: Understanding and applying research findings to inform practice.
    • Evaluation: Evaluating the effectiveness of interventions and programs.
    • Innovation: Integrating innovative practices and evidence-based approaches into service delivery.

Where Human Services Professionals Work

Working conditions vary. Human services workers in social service agencies generally spend part of the time in the office and the rest of the time in the field. Most work a 40-hour week. Some evening and weekend work may be necessary, but compensatory time off is usually granted.

Human services professionals work in community-based settings move around a great deal in the course of a workweek. They may be inside one day and outdoors on a field visit the next. They, too, work a standard 40-hour week.

Human services professionals work in residential settings generally work in shifts. Because residents of group homes need supervision in the evening and at night, 7 days a week, evening and weekend hours are required.

Despite differences in what they are called and what they do, human services professionals generally perform under the direction of professional staff. Those employed in mental health settings, for example, may be assigned to assist a treatment team made up of social workers, psychologists, and other human services professionals. The amount of responsibility these workers assume and the degree of supervision they receive vary a great deal. Some workers are on their own most of the time and have little direct supervision; others work under close direction.

Human services professionals work in community, residential care, or institutional settings provide direct services such as leading a group, organizing an activity, or offering individual counseling. They may handle some administrative support tasks, too. Specific job duties reflect organizational policy and staffing patterns, as well as the worker's educational preparation and experience.

Because so many human services jobs involve direct contact with people who are impaired and therefore vulnerable to exploitation, employers try to be selective in hiring. Applicants are screened for appropriate personal qualifications. Relevant academic preparation is generally required, and volunteer or work experience is preferred.


Opportunities for qualified applicants are expected to be excellent, not only because of projected rapid growth in the occupation, but because of substantial replacement needs. Turnover among counselors in group homes is reported to be especially high.

Employment prospects should be favorable in facilities and programs that serve the elderly, mentally impaired, or developmentally disable. Adult day care, a relatively new concept, is expected to expand significantly due to very rapid growth in the number of people of advanced age, together with growing awareness of the value of day programs for adults in need of care and supervision.

While projected growth in the elderly population is the dominant factor in the anticipated expansion of adult day care, public response to the needs of people who are individuals with disabilities or mental health conditions underlies anticipated employment growth in group homes and residential care facilities. As more and more individuals with disabilities, individuals reach the age of 21 and thereby lose their eligibility for programs and services offered by public schools, the need for community-based alternatives can be expected to grow. Pressures to respond to the needs of the affected by mental health conditions can also be expected to persist. For many years, as deinstitutionalization has proceeded, chronic mental patients have been left to their own devices. If the movement to help the homeless and affected by mental health conditions gains momentum, more community-based programs, and group residences will be established, and demand for human services workers will increase accordingly. State and local governments will remain a major employer of human services workers, and replacement needs alone will generate many job openings in the public sector.

Examples of Occupational Titles of Human Service Workers

Case Worker
Family Support Worker
Youth Worker
Social Service Liaison
Residential Counselor
Behavioral Management Aide
Case Management Aide
Eligibility Counselor
Alcohol Counselor
Adult Day Care Worker
Drug Abuse Counselor
Life Skills Instructor
Client Advocate
Neighborhood Worker
Social Service Aide
Group Activities Aide
Social Service Technician
Therapeutic Assistant
Probation Officer
Case Monitor Parole Officer
Child Advocate
Gerontology Aide
Juvenile Court Liaison
Home Health Aide
Group Home Worker
Child Abuse Worker
Crisis Intervention Counselor
Mental Health Aide
Community Organizer
Intake Interviewer
Community Outreach Worker
Social Work Assistant
Community Action Worker
Psychological Aide
Halfway House Counselor
Assistant Case Manager
Rehabilitation Case Worker
Residential Manager


For more information, check out Helping Those in Need: Human Service Workers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

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