How to become a forensic social worker (With skills)
Updated 22 December 2022
Forensic social work is a career path that involves the application of social work concepts to legal issues. A forensic social worker's responsibilities not only concern providing treatment services to criminals but also encompass all other social services within the criminal justice industry. Learning about this profession can help you decide if it's the best career path for you. In this article, we discuss how to become a forensic social worker, including their responsibilities, relevant skills and work environment.
What is a forensic social worker?
A forensic social worker is a professional trained in social work who offers diagnosis and appropriate treatment and recommends other approved measures to criminals, either child or adult. They also assist in other areas, such as in cases of child custody, divorce, civil abuse, arrests of minors, child maltreatment and elder abuse. Their principal aim is to fight against oppression, violence, cultural injustice and all forms of exploitation.
Forensic social workers may also be involved in some psychosocial counselling or mediation work. With their understanding of social work and litigation processes, they can organise relevant training for lawmakers, students or individuals in connected fields. They may enter into research and analysis about behavioural science or become an active professional in public policy development. With all these facets, forensic social work can be present in many areas of society.
How to become a forensic social worker
The following are steps on how to become a forensic social worker:
1. Get a degree
You require a bachelor's degree to work as a forensic social worker. To take up a social work degree, you require two or three A-levels and five GCSEs (grades 4–9/A–C), including English and maths. You can also apply for a degree having undertaken alternative qualifications, such as a BTEC, HND or HNC, NVQ or other health and social care courses. A full-time bachelor's degree takes three or four years to complete. Some social work degrees incorporate learning about mental health, which is useful within forensic social work.
If you already have a degree unrelated to social work, consider taking a diploma or master's degree in social work. You can also apply for the Think Ahead fast-track scheme to become a mental health social worker. You can also consider the Step Up to Social Work or Frontline programmes, which offer academic learning with work experience. After completing your degree, register with Social Work England (SWE) to start practising as a social worker.
Get relevant experience in the field by seeking out volunteer work. It may be in an analytical, research or clinical setting within or outside the country. The added knowledge you gain from involvement in these activities can improve your work profile and distinguish you from other candidates during the interview process. There are many internships available in the social work field as well. It's worth considering these opportunities because many companies recruit interns as permanent staff if they prove themselves during the internship. This means your previous contribution to the company's progress can help you during the recruitment stage.
3. Get professional training and development
To work as a forensic social worker, register with the SWE. Aside from the annual retention fee, the SWE requirements for continued registration include continuing training and updating your skills through ongoing professional development. You can do this by reading relevant studies, attending conferences and taking training courses. Sometimes, your employer can arrange training schemes or pay for your continuous training with a reputable organisation.
There are also formal schemes that support social workers' development. For example, the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) scheme helps newly qualified social workers in their first year of practice with resources and consistent support to help them become competent professionals. Some relevant skills to develop are IT competency, communication, teamwork and problem-solving. Consider joining the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) to update your skills and knowledge and help you achieve your development goals, as it offers courses, conferences and seminars on social work.
4. Find a job
After getting the necessary qualifications and experience, you can start searching for a job. You can register on job boards or search organisational websites to see vacancies. The BASW offers details about open positions during their conferences and networking events. Consider registering with social work recruitment agencies. Although most roles are usually short-term contracts, you gain experience to help you in your next job. When applying, write a forensic social worker CV detailing your educational qualifications, experiences and skills and include a cover letter to convince the recruitment manager you're the best candidate for the role.
Forensic social worker skills to develop
Some of the skills you require include:
Treatment development plans
One of the top skills is the ability to develop treatment plans and strategies for service users. For example, suppose you're handling the case of a child who has developed issues due to exposure to domestic abuse. In this case, you require more than the standard treatment plans to help them overcome their challenges. You develop a unique and effective treatment plan for each service user.
Forensic social workers require the ability to evaluate the progress of those they work with and their treatment plans. For example, suppose the child is gradually responding to the treatment but starting to show mental health issues. In this case, a forensic social worker can develop new strategies to address the symptoms early.
Communication skills also help social workers thrive in their jobs. It can assist you in relating to the affected individual appropriately and getting the necessary information to build a treatment plan and offer support. A forensic social worker may communicate with clients virtually or physically, so familiarity with different techniques is useful.
The work of a forensic worker can be time-consuming, which makes it challenging to attend to many service users during working hours. This is why it's necessary to have excellent time management skills. With these, you can design a work schedule that allows you to help multiple individuals effectively.
Some individuals may be defensive or otherwise challenging when you're trying to get information from them, so patience is necessary. Having patience when dealing with service users can make them more cooperative. With patience and persistence, treatment and counselling can yield a positive impact and help the individual out of the crisis.
Success in this career path depends on working well with other professionals in the same and connected fields. Your teamwork skills can help you work effectively without conflicts arising. It may sometimes be necessary to collaborate with other professionals to get information from victims to help reach a positive outcome.
Flexibility means being able to easily adapt to changing circumstances. For example, an individual might want to talk with you to share new information. Being able to focus on that person regardless of your other commitments and being available to listen to them is dependent on your willingness to be flexible.
This role involves dealing with lots of paperwork and files for each case. Good organisational skills help you remain focused and up-to-date on the needs of each service user. Creating a storage system that's clear and accessible is also helpful.
Related: 13 essential social worker skills
Duties and responsibilities of a forensic social worker
The following are some of the tasks you may be responsible for as a forensic social worker:
assessing and evaluating the mental stability of the defendants, witnesses, police personnel and other officials before a trial
providing mental health treatment for adult offenders
serving as a witness in a court trial
providing consultation services to prisons, solicitors, paralegals and the public
providing a professional opinion regarding advocacy, arbitration and mediation
performing research and analysis regarding behavioural science
gathering the social backgrounds of criminal defendants to reduce sentences, evaluate competency or assist with treatment
training, teaching and supervising forensic social workers
Where can forensic social workers work?
Forensic social work is a specialist role within the field. Forensic social workers work in various organisations depending on the stated role and their area of specialisation. These organisations include correctional homes, domestic violence advocacy groups and victim support groups. They can also work in psychiatric hospitals and courtrooms.
Working hours and environment
A forensic social worker's working hours are usually around 37 hours per week. You may occasionally work during evenings and weekends, depending on the needs of certain cases. Your daily responsibilities may involve visiting service users and operating from an office. You can find yourself working with other professionals, such as solicitors, judges, court advocates, therapists, police officers and healthcare professionals. In this role, you might be promoted to a senior practitioner or manager three to five years after acquiring the necessary qualifications.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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