What is a Community Support Specialist?

Community support specialists are the go-to professionals when it comes to locating and arranging support services for clients in need. Depending on their role, community support specialists work with clients struggling with physical and mental disabilities, mental illness, and substance abuse. They may also work solely with veterans, immigrants, former prison inmates, or the homeless.

These human services professionals can be best described as liaisons, as they work to match clients with community programs and social services. They serve as an excellent source of support and guidance for individuals who are struggling to navigate independent living while managing a mental or physical disability, mental illness, or other challenge. Thanks to the work of community support specialists, clients in need receive vital services that empower them and improve their lives.

What Are the Job Duties of a Community Support Specialist?

The overarching goal of a community support specialist is to determine a client’s needs and then determine how best to address them.

Through strong partnerships and collaborations with social services and community agencies, community support specialists are able to arrange for support for their clients in need. Their work includes researching and locating services and then ensuring that all appropriate paperwork is completed. Just some of the services they help arrange include:

  • Safe and affordable housing
  • Vocational assistance
  • Transportation
  • Hospital discharge transportation
  • In-home care
  • Public assistance – housing, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.
  • Community activities/support groups

These human services professionals also often make home and hospital visits to ensure their clients’ needs are properly met.

Community support specialists may provide vital support services during a mental health crisis by contacting family members, notifying law enforcement, and contacting the client’s psychiatrist for hospital placement.

Community support specialists must be patient, compassionate, and able to communicate well with their clients, as well as with medical personnel, caregivers, and social services personnel. They must have strong interpersonal skills and the ability to make their clients feel comfortable discussing sensitive issues. They must be able to form trusting relationships with their clients and work well with other human services professionals, such as psychologists, social workers, and public assistance personnel.

Where Do Community Support Specialists Work?

Community support specialists most often work out of nonprofit counseling and mental health centers that provide a host of services, including case management, housing, employment, education, primary care, counseling, and substance abuse treatment.

They may also provide services out of:

  • State/regional district attorney’s offices
  • Courts
  • Probation/parole departments
  • Social services agencies

How to Become a Community Support Specialist

Most community support specialists are educated at the associate’s or bachelor’s level, usually earning a degree in the human services field (e.g., psychology, rehabilitation, social work). Specific professional credentials and state licensing/certification are not required to become a community support specialist.

Community support specialists often pursue additional education and training to advance into counseling, rehabilitation, and social work fields.

Most jobs in this field require candidates with experience working in public assistance or with individuals with mental health issues.

Community Support Specialist Salaries

May 2018 statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provide salary averages for practitioners in the social services field at the 25th, 50th, 75th and 90th percentiles:

  • Healthcare social workers: $43,530, $56,200, $70,280, $84,870
  • Social workers, all others: $44,360, $61,980, $76,970, $86,760

But recent job postings often provide a more accurate look at what you can expect to earn as a community support specialist:

  • Community Wellness Support Specialist, American Indiana Health & Services, Santa Barbara, CA: $31,200-$52,000
  • Community Support Specialist, Pathway Homes, Fairfax, VA: $42,105
  • Community Support Specialist, Jewish Residential Services, Pittsburgh, PA: $32,000-$36,000
  • Community Integration Discharge Specialist, Virginia Department of Behavioral Health, Williamsburg, VA: $45,000-$55,000
  • Community Support Specialist, Institute for Applied Behavior Analysis, Los Angeles, CA: $29,640-$32,052
  • Community Support Specialist, Outagamie County, Appleton, WI: $50,669-$61,797
  • Community Support Specialist, Northeast Arc, Danvers, MA: $31,200
  • Community Support Specialist, Roundup Fellowship, Denver, CO: $29,120-$33,280

 

Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2018 – (https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_stru.htm). BLS salary data represents state and MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Individual job listings with educational requirements and salary information accessed directly from internet job boards and directly from the sites of employing agencies and do not constitute offers of employment.

All salary and job growth data accessed in December 2019.