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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

On this page:
What are they?
What will they do?
Human Services Research Institute?
Human Services: Making a Difference in People's Lives
Human Services Professionals
Generic Human Services Professional Competencies
Where Human Services Professionals Work
Job Outlook
Examples of Occupational Titles of Human Services 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.

Generic Human Services Professional Competencies

The following six 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. Understanding the nature of human systems: individual, group, organization, community and society, and their major interactions. All workers will have preparation which helps them to understand human development, group dynamics, organizational structure, how communities are organized, how national policy is set, and how social systems interact in producing human problems.
  2. Understanding the conditions which promote or limit optimal functioning and classes of deviations from desired functioning in the major human systems. Workers will have understanding of the major models of causation that are concerned with both the promotion of healthy functioning and with treatment-rehabilitation. This includes medically oriented, socially oriented, psychologically-behavioral oriented, and educationally oriented models.
  3. Skill in identifying and selecting interventions which promote growth and goal attainment. The worker will be able to conduct a competent problem analysis and to select those strategies, services or interventions that are appropriate to helping clients attain a desired outcome. Interventions may include assistance, referral, advocacy, or direct counseling.
  4. Skill in planning, implementing and evaluating interventions. The worker will be able to design a plan of action for an identified problem and implement the plan in a systematic way. This requires an understanding of problems analysis, decision-analysis, and design of work plans. This generic skill can be used with all social systems and adapted for use with individual clients or organizations. Skill in evaluating the interventions is essential.
  5. Consistent behavior in selecting interventions which are congruent with the values of one's self, clients, the employing organization and the Human Service profession. This cluster requires awareness of one's own value orientation, an understanding of organizational values as expressed in the mandate or goal statement of the organization, human service ethics and an appreciation of the client's values, life style and goals.
  6. Process skills which are required to plan and implement services. This cluster is based on the assumption that the worker uses himself as the main tool for responding to service needs. The worker must be skillful in verbal and oral communication, interpersonal relationships and other related personal skills, such as self-discipline and time management. It requires that the worker be interested in and motivated to conduct the role that he has agreed to fulfill and to apply himself to all aspects of the work that the role requires.

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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