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Human Services Professionals: What Do They Do?

Brittany is working toward her Master's in Human Services at Purdue University Global


What Does a Human Services Professional Do?

In the human services field, a professional can work in a variety of settings, with numerous populations. Examples of those served by the human services professional include: the houseless population, senior citizens, immigrants, those experiencing addiction and substance abuse, and many more.

Basically, if humans require a service, a human services professional is needed. The human services field provides a variety of services to populations based upon their individual needs. Services may include providing shelter or housing; counseling for addiction, mental illness, or trauma; and/or a plethora of other related services.


Human Services and the Protection of Children

An important aspect of the human services field is the protection of children. According to, 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies every year. The referrals affect 6.6 million children, half of which undergo a formal investigation. Regarding the human services professional’s role as it pertains to child abuse, the following populations will be discussed: children and families, those experiencing addiction and substance abuse, and the mentally ill.


Children and Families

Focusing first on children and families, the dynamics of a family are multifaceted and significant in the childrearing process. While forms of abuse are severe cases, any family crisis, no matter how insignificant it may seem, can have lasting effects on a child as they transition into adulthood. The human services professional has the important role of ensuring that that transition is as easy as possible. Services such as family counseling, in-home counseling, the provision of food and housing, respite for families with disabled individuals, and more are options for the human services professional.

In cases of child abuse, the human services professional plays a crucial role: protecting the child. Child Protective Services and social workers take the brunt of the responsibility, but, with limited funding, how can every child receive help? Perhaps the better option is to address the causes of abusive behavior.

Due to the complex nature of child neglect and abuse, often the cause is not clear. Many different factors influence a parent’s likelihood to engage in neglectful and abusive behavior. Factors such as poverty, experiencing previous abuse, family crisis such as marital conflict, and more may lead to abusing a child. Arguably, the issues most likely to lead to child abuse and neglect are substance abuse and undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses.

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Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is an increasingly large issue in the realm of child abuse. Parents who are suffering from an addiction are more likely to engage in abusive behavior. Addiction can affect anyone regardless of age, race, or gender. Often, an addiction is influenced by social, economic, and biological factors (Rivera, 2012). Ironically, the experience of child abuse at the hands of an addict, increases the chance of developing an addiction (Rivera, 2012). As an addiction progresses, a parent may be more likely to commit an act of abuse or neglect. The role of the human services professional in regard to substance abuse is to protect the children and potentially remove them from an addict’s custody, provide counseling services to substance abusers, and to, hopefully, resolve the addiction and reunite the family.


Mental Illness

Another issue that has a dramatic impact on child abuse is that of mental illnesses. Since the dawn of mankind, mental illnesses have been viewed negatively and those suffering from a mental illness have often been treated very poorly. Originating with the idea that mental illnesses were demon possessions, those suffering with mental illnesses have been viewed with fear and apprehension both historically and in the current times. As the field of psychology has progressed, many changes have been made regarding the treatment mental illnesses. Unfortunately, as the negative stigma still exists, many people do not seek diagnosis and treatment.

Parenting is stressful enough without the addition of a mental illness. Many parents (and people in general), whether they exhibit abusive behavior or not, have an untreated mental illness. Human services professionals are responsible for recognizing these untreated diseases and either providing the patient with options for treatment or personally offering counseling services.

The cycle of mental illness and child abuse is both unfortunate and vicious; children experience abuse or a related trauma which manifests itself in abusive behavior later in life. In studies conducted by, 80% of adults who report experiencing childhood abuse meet the criteria for at least one mental disorder. Additionally, research conducted by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, suggests that childhood abuse may lead to a lifetime of delinquent behavior; approximately 50% of current prison inmates report experiencing physical and sexual abuse as a child. This statistic increases when only surveying female inmates; approximately 90% of female inmates experienced childhood abuse. Therefore, addressing the issue of mental illness will not only decrease the amount of child abuse cases, but may also decrease the national crime rate and incarceration per capita, something that both the human services professional and the government should take very seriously.


In summation, the role of the human services professional is complex and often multi-dimensional. Regardless of the population being surveyed, the human services field requires continuous education and training in order to provide the highest standard of service. It is not a job to be taken lightly; as the weight of the world often rests on the shoulders of the human services field. Not all problems are able to be solved, but, by providing comprehensive services, perhaps some causes can be addressed.

References (n.d.). Child Abuse Statistics & Facts. Retrieved April 29, 2019, from

Rivera, C. (2012, August 23). The Link Between Substance Use and Child Abuse. Retrieved April 29, 2019, from

Schmalleger, F. (2017). Criminal Justice Today An Introductory Text For The 21st Century (15th ed.). Pearson.

Wolff, N., & Shi, J. (2012). Childhood and Adult Trauma Experiences of Incarcerated Persons and Their Relationship to Adult Behavioral Health Problems and Treatment. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. doi:

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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