In certain circles, it's fashionable to assert that all people should either sink or swim based on their own abilities and efforts. (This doctrine seems especially popular in the United States, and specifically among people who had significant advantages early in life.) Realistically, though, some people do need a hand at times.
The reason for their need may be temporary, such as when someone becomes homeless through sheer bad luck. It can be permanent, such as in the case of people with certain types of disabilities. It may well be structural, like when labor laws are unfair or unfairly applied. Only in a very few cases are someone's misfortunes completely their own fault. Social services workers do their best to help all of these individuals get back on their feet.
It is possible to work in social services with only a bachelor's degree, though they're not always called "social workers". (Specific requirements vary by state.) A master's is required, however, to become a licensed clinical social worker capable of working independently, conduct most kinds of research, and apply for senior positions. The good news is that degrees earned at accredited universities in Europe are commonly accepted without question, and are significantly cheaper.
Coursework focuses on case and program management, community organization, law, psychology, social policy, ethics, and practical counseling and crisis management skills. Many degree programs include a fieldwork component. Even at the undergraduate level, students often have the opportunity to specialize in a certain field. Some examples of these include child welfare, mental health, substance abuse, and aging.
Pursuing a career in social services requires a high degree of emotional intelligence and resilience. Being comfortable with diversity, the ability to understand issues that can consist of several facets, and a natural inclination toward solving problems are must-haves.
Perhaps more importantly, anyone considering social services as a major should understand that the mindset used in social work is very different from that in other industries. A business graduate may be inclined to choose the cheapest option, an engineer may be most interested in any solution that works, a lawyer may consider doing whatever he can get away with, but social workers are generally drawn to doing the right thing.