Becoming a social worker is an interesting and rewarding career choice. Social workers strive to help individuals and families to live independently and deal with the social problems that might affect them. In order to work as a social worker, you must be able to identify risks and make choices that help to protect vulnerable people from abuse or harm.
In order to become a social worker, you will need to obtain a degree in social work from a course provider which is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council. Entry requirements differ from provider to provider, but most courses require applicants to have a minimum of 2 A levels (or equivalent) and 5 GCSEs (grade A-C), including Maths and English.
An undergraduate degree in social work will normally take 3 years as a full-time student. However, you may be able to undertake a two year master’s degree in social work if you already have a first degree in a related subject. Talk to your chosen master’s provider if you are unsure whether your current undergraduate degree would allow you to study at master’s level. Applicants who achieved a 2:1 or higher in their original degree may also qualify for a vocational route towards becoming a social worker.
In order to be a good social worker, you must be able to communicate effectively with a wide range of different people. This will include the ability to develop strong working relationships with individuals and families from backgrounds which may be very different from your own, including other professionals who may be from external organisations. Your communication skills must include; listening skills, tact and understanding.
You may be exposed to stressful or difficult situations, so it is important that you are able to remain calm and follow the correct procedures whilst under pressure. You must be able to take ownership of your professional decisions. Problem solving skills will help you to make sound choices in unusual situations.
Social workers are expected to write thorough casework reports to support the people who they work with. In order to be able to do this properly, you must be able to display good report writing skills. Administration, organisation and IT skills are valuable for this part of the task.
Who you will work with
Although some social workers work with a wide variety of people, other social workers will adopt a specialism. General social workers help to support a range of children, adults and families who require additional support and protection to help them to deal with the social pressures that they face. Social workers who have a specialism will normally work with a much narrower group of people. These groups may include; older people, carers, fosterers, people receiving palliative or end of life treatment, children in the care system, people with mental health issues, prisoners and those who are on parole, young offenders, domestic violence victims and perpetrators, refugees and asylum seekers, homeless people and anyone else who is at risk of abuse or neglect.
Many social workers do 9am to 5.30pm working days, but it is possible to work shifts on a rota. Some job roles require a social worker to be on call throughout the night, so that they can deal with emergency situations. Because social workers spend a lot of time with clients, they do not always have a dedicated desk space. Many offices operate a hot-desk policy to allow for maximum flexibility.
Most social workers are expected to travel to clients as part of their job. This allows social workers to interact with people in an environment in which they feel comfortable, such as the client’s own home. Therefore, most social workers are expected to have a driving license. On the other hand, some social workers have a fixed base, such as a hospital or a care home.
A newly qualified social worker in the United Kingdom can expect to earn around £24,000. This figure can rise once a person gains more experience of social work. Those who are very experienced or who have an additional management component can earn up to £40,000 per year. Social workers who are based in London are also likely to earn a higher salary.
Training and Development
Most social workers will undertake continued professional development during the course of their career. Attending regular courses and training sessions can help social workers to ensure that their skills and knowledge remains up-to-date. Courses can also help people to improve on their existing skills, such as counselling and mediation. The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) runs lots of different training opportunities, including conferences and seminars where participants are able to swap best practice with one another. Continued professional development such as this is one of the best ways to build your career and increase your salary.
Is being a Social Worker dangerous?
Being a social worker can be a rewarding and interesting career, however it can also be dangerous and stressful. Because social workers are often tasked with assisting vulnerable people who have mental health or social issues as mentioned above, there is an increased risk to staff members of assaults and injury. Despite the existence of some safeguards to protect staff members from being injured at work, being a social worker in the United Kingdom is in truth still a risky job.
Social workers regularly interact with their clients in places which are unfamiliar to them. Although visiting clients in their own home can help their clients to feel more comfortable, it can leave the social worker themselves in a more vulnerable position. Employers should take steps to try to mitigate the risks to their staff members. Most organisations which employ social workers do give their staff members additional tools which allow them to call for help if there is an incident or enable them to “check-in” after a visit to ensure that they are safe. However, some staff feel that they are not given enough training about how and when they should call for assistance. Other social workers advise that they feel as though “small scale” incidents are not treated seriously enough, because low-level incidents are seen as being “just a part of the job”.
Risk of injury to Social Workers
A survey by a leading care union in the United Kingdom has shown that around 85% of the social workers who took part in their online survey had faced physical assault, verbal abuse or acts of harassment over a period of 12 months. Threats and incidents were normally perpetrated by the service user or the relative of a service user who disagreed with the type of care that the social worker was providing. Occasionally, social workers are also put at risk due to the places where they work, such as mental health wards and prisons. These social workers reported additional threats from third parties who were not a client at the time of the incident. Incidents reported through the survey included kicking, punching, hair pulling, spitting and name calling, as well as people having hot drinks thrown at them.
Nine out of 10 of those who responded to the survey reported that they have felt at personal risk at some point during their career. Some social workers have even stated that they have been victims of threats or harassment in their own home. Although every care is taken to protect the private lives and personal safety of social workers, circumstances sometimes allow clients or their families to find out personal details. Persistent threats and harassment have even forced some social workers to leave their jobs and move house. Many social workers are advised not to work in their own community, because this can put them at risk from people who know about their private lives. Many organisations also give their staff specific advice about how to use social media sites such as Facebook. Many social workers report that they use a pseudonym on social media, to prevent clients from finding their profiles.
Social workers are often expected to work in extremely challenging circumstances, where they are requested to take steps to reduce the risk of harm to others. However, this does not mean that they should be forced to put themselves into harm’s way instead. Although it is essential that social workers know how to deal with potentially violent situations, the British Association of Social Workers reports that around 50% of social workers have not had any specific training in this field. This means that these staff members are at increased risk. BASW runs regular courses and seminars aimed at teaching social workers how to deal with violent individuals and best practice for high risk situations.
The British Association of Social Workers is also leading the call for improved reporting of threats, harassment, physical and verbal abuse and accidents at work. They believe that if agencies took a more joined-up approach to providing social care and support, then it would be possible to reduce the risks to social workers across the country. A strong national framework would help to ensure consistent reporting of incidents and especially if a personal injury has occurred, and would improve flagging of those who should not be visited alone. Diligent reporting of potential threats can lead to risky individuals being mark as “do not visit alone” or as a person who should be met in a neutral location.
In the aforementioned survey, many of the social workers who responded said that they did not believe that their organisation had taken enough action to support them following a threatening encounter. However, companies which do not take strong enough measures to protect their staff members from assaults and injury while at at work are failing in their duty of care towards their employees. As well as leaving staff at risk, this leaves the company open to legal action from employees looking to pursue compensation for being injured at work while simply doing their job.