Social Worker

    If you are wondering how to become a social worker, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this field, as well as local government services job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    As a social worker, you would help, support and protect people who are facing difficulties in their lives.

    The people you work with might need support for many reasons, from families under pressure to people leaving hospital who need help to live independently. You would help people take positive steps to overcome problems and improve their lives. You could support a wide range of social services users, including:

    children and parents
    older people
    people with physical or learning disabilities
    people with mental health problems
    young adults
    homeless people
    people with drug or alcohol dependency.
    You would normally specialise in working with children and families, or with adult service users, but in either case your job would involve:

    assessing and reviewing a service user’s situation
    building relationships with service users and their families
    agreeing what practical support someone needs (or making decisions for them when necessary, such as in child protection cases)
    offering information, counselling and advocacy
    organising and managing support packages
    taking part in team meetings, supervision and case conferences
    working closely with other health and social care professionals
    keeping records and writing reports
    contacting and making referrals to other agencies
    giving evidence at court hearings.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good social workers include:

    excellent communication and interpersonal skills
    the ability to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds and gain their trust
    a practical and flexible approach to work
    tact, patience and empathy
    an understanding of the needs of different client groups
    a non-judgemental attitude
    the ability to work in a team and also use your own initiative
    the ability to assess situations and take appropriate action
    resilience, to cope with difficult situations and challenging clients
    good time management and organisational skills
    computer literacy and administrative skills.

    How to become a social worker
    To become a social worker you will need an honours degree or postgraduate degree in social work approved by the General Social Care Council (GSCC), followed by registration with the GSCC.

    You will normally need the following qualifications to get onto an honours degree:

    five GCSEs (A-C) including English and maths
    at least two A levels, or an equivalent such as a BTEC National Diploma or NVQ Level 3 in Health and Social Care.
    However, you should check entry requirements with colleges and universities, because alternatives like an Access to Higher Education qualification or substantial relevant work experience may also be accepted.

    You will also need to pass a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) background check when you apply.

    See the GSCC and Social Work and Care Careers websites for details of approved full-time, part-time and distance learning courses in England.

    Most honours degrees in social work are three-year full-time courses. Some part-time and distance learning courses are also available, although you can often only do these if you are already working in social care and have the support of your employer.

    If you already have a degree, you may be able to do a two-year postgraduate degree in social work instead of a three-year degree.

    When you apply for training, you should also ideally have some paid or voluntary experience in a social work or social care setting. Course providers will be able to advise you how much experience they would prefer you to have. You can find advice on volunteering on the Social Work and Care Careers website.

    For information on how to qualify as a social worker in Northern Ireland, see the Northern Ireland Social Care Commission website.

    Employment-based route
    Some employers may second or sponsor you to take the social work degree. You might get the chance to do this after working for them for a certain amount of time in a social care support role, or you could apply for any advertised opportunities for trainee social workers.

    Financial help
    If you are not being sponsored through the social degree by an employer, you may be eligible for a bursary to study.

    Training and Development
    During your social work training you will divide your time between university and supervised work placements. Approved courses train you to work with a range of service user groups, so that you can offer a range of experience to employers.

    As a qualified as a social worker you must renew your registration with the GSCC every three years, and keep your knowledge and skills up to date throughout your career. Part of the re-registration process involves showing that you have taken part in a set amount of professional training and development during that time.

    One way you can do this is to study for a post-qualifying (PQ) award in social work. You can progress through three levels of award:

    PQ Award in Specialist Social Work
    PQ Award in Higher Specialist Social Work
    PQ Award in Advanced Social Work.
    At each level you can specialise in one of five areas of social work, including mental health and leadership and management. The awards are available full- or part-time at universities, or through work-based learning.

    Most employers also offer regular in-service training and opportunities to take day release or distance learning courses.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Starting salaries are around £20,000 to £25,000 a year.
    With experience and responsibility this can rise to between £26,000 and £35,000.
    Senior managers and directors can earn much more.

    Job Prospects
    You could be employed by local authorities, charities and voluntary agencies, private sector care homes and agencies, hospitals and NHS trusts and prisons.

    Jobs may be advertised in the local and national press, employers’ websites and specialist recruitment agencies.

    With around three years’ experience you could progress to senior positions such as team leader or care service manager.

    Useful social services resources:
    General Social Care Council
    2 Hay’s Lane
    SE1 2HB
    Tel: 020 7397 5800
    Registration helpline: 0845 070 0630

    This page is for social worker careers advice and training opportunities.

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