How to become a social worker in the UK
Updated 14 August 2023
Due to social work's high regard as a profession, the UK government regulates the social worker degree process. From school qualifications to the minimum work experience, a social worker's every step must be highly vetted to ensure that they can perform their duties effectively. After being hired, social workers support their community by helping people find solutions to their problems. Often, they protect vulnerable people from harm or abuse and guide them toward living independently.
In this article, we explain what a social worker does, the different types of social work, the qualifications needed to become a social worker and the different routes available to get into the profession.
Social workers are professionals who help people find the resources and support they need to improve their lives. Social workers often see clients across multiple age groups including the elderly, children, teenagers, people with mental disabilities and youth offenders. Social workers also work with drug addicts, at-risk families and children at risk of abuse or neglect.
Some of the top responsibilities of a social worker include:
Making recommendations on the best course of action for a vulnerable group, family, or individual.
Liaising with or making referrals to other support groups, individuals or agencies.
Interviewing vulnerable individuals or families to assess their need for support.
Organising and managing support offered to vulnerable individuals to improve the quality of their lives.
Conducting assessments and writing reports, sometimes with other agencies that meet specified timelines and standards.
Taking part in training and other support group meetings.
Creating personalised care and treatment plans that meet the needs of various vulnerable individuals or groups including regular visits, resource access and clear wellness objectives.
Monitoring the recovery process of patients or clients by helping and motivating them to meet the set actionable goals for effective recovery.
A social worker helps people improve their lives by promoting their human rights and eliminating social and well-being concerns. They protect children and adults from harm and keep families under pressure from breaking down. Their assistance helps prevent further issues and lessen the impact of existing problems, such as mental health issues.
Types of social workers
Social workers can work in both statutory and non-statutory job types. In statutory roles, social workers adhere to the rules and regulations that exist in the country. They are required to protect the vulnerable and ensure that citizens in their care abide by the law. Statutory social workers can also have the power to enforce legislation.
Although non-statutory social workers work with the same group of clients, they are not obligated to enforce the law. They may be employed in the non-profit sector, schools, homeless care providers and rehabilitation centres for alcohol and drug addicts. Non-statutory social workers can also work in early intervention roles to prevent the escalation of problems in society.
Social worker qualification requirements
The process of becoming a social worker requires certifications, training, education and transferable skills.
Here are some requirements to become a professional social worker:
You will require a bachelor's, a master's or a doctorate in social work. However, some employers may accept degrees in psychology, sociology and other related fields.
Social work students must learn through hands-on training and observation to complement their coursework. Part or full-time learning is allowed, but these candidates must take internships after completing their coursework to gain professional experience in the industry.
The required certifications vary depending on the country and the social worker's title. Most employers require that workers have an active licence of practice before getting hired. They also have to re-register after two years to ensure that their skills are up to date. There are four main regulatory systems in the UK including Northern Ireland Social Care Council, Social Care Wales, Social Work England and Scottish Social Services Council.
Social worker salary expectations
According to Indeed Salaries, the average salary for a social worker is £41,963 per year.
How to become a social worker
You need a particular level of training and education. You should also have the right skills and relevant experience to qualify you for the job. Such can help you overcome the challenges faced while working in the role and make difficult decisions.
The following is the process you should follow to qualify as a social worker:
1. Obtain social work qualifications
Social work is classified as a graduate profession in the UK. You should first graduate with an approved degree or postgraduate social work programme to be able to register with your relevant regulatory body. The regulatory agency in your country also approves a social work degree apprenticeship.
There are many types of approved degrees depending on the course you choose. However, all need to include the following;
Ethics and values
Law, since rules and regulations are a major part of social work
Disability, mental health and numerous other forms of life or health impairments
Assessments and interventions
Practical work with patients and attachments or internships in real-world social work settings
Numerous educational institutions offer bachelor's courses in social work. You should, nonetheless, do your research to discover the school that is best for you. You will require two or three A levels and five GCSEs, including English and Maths, to be eligible to study for a social work degree. However, you can also qualify via alternative means such as:
Relevant National Vocational Qualification (NVQ)
Equivalent Irish or Scottish qualification
Social care or health-based access course
You will need an honours degree to get into the Master's in Social Work (MSW). The option of seeking a master's qualification is appropriate if you already possess a degree in a subject unrelated to social work but want to get into the profession. The other options for you to become a social worker when you possess a bachelor's degree in another subject include:
Social work training, 14 months during which you will have to work and study at the same time.
Frontline study, which combines with supervised practical child protection work for two years.
Think Ahead accelerated scheme to become a mental health social worker while you learn on the job.
2. Engage in social work apprenticeship
A social work degree apprenticeship is a relatively new development that allows you to qualify as a registered social worker. It takes approximately three years and you will get an honorary degree upon completion. You will need to undergo a mixture of university study and on-the-job training but will get paid as you train. This option is great if you cannot manage to raise the tuition fees and do not want to have a student loan.
3. Develop the required social work skills
Social skills are essential to succeed when working with varied types of people as a social worker. The following are some key qualities that you should develop;
Active listening: This requires you to pay attention and listen keenly to what others tell you and remember it. You should also be quick to make any appropriate non-verbal or verbal response. This skill will help you to communicate better with clients.
Boundary setting: This skill ensures that you avoid getting emotionally invested in cases and can focus on the end goal when dealing with patients
Creative and critical thinking: This requires you to think on your feet and formulate solutions for problems that arise as you handle clients.
Interpersonal qualities: This involves being able to build and maintain relationships with anyone you will be interacting with as you work.
Relevant work experience is a prerequisite to getting into a social work master's or fast-tracked programme. Start with the social services department in your locality. You can explain yourself and ask for an opportunity that will allow you to grow your social work skills. Another great option is to volunteer to work with children. You could also serve at a homeless shelter, mental health charities, and victim support organisations.
4. Seek a job vacancy
When you have the right qualifications and are properly experienced, you can turn your attention to getting a job. Some ways to find vacancies for a social worker include:
Searching online. The UK's National Health Service (NHS) can be a great place to start your online job search.
Relying on your contacts. This entails asking around or relying on social media to know when a friend or family member has any links that could be beneficial.
Joining professional bodies. This includes bodies like the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) which offer details about job vacancies when they arrive and organise networking events and conferences.
Registering with an agency. Social work recruitment agencies will mostly organise short-term contracts and allow you to gain diverse experience in the sector.
The work environment of a social worker
Your work environment will largely depend on the field of social work you are in. This can include the following:
Private practice offices
Assisted living homes
Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate’s experience, academic background and location.
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