How to become a social work assistant (steps and skills)

Updated 14 August 2023

Social work assistants are a critical part of any social work team, and they may work in a variety of settings. They support social workers in their day-to-day duties but also have specialised tasks that require them to be highly trained and skilled. If you're considering a career in social work, working as a social work assistant may help you gain more experience in the social work sector. In this article, we look at what social work assistants are and how to become a social work assistant, with a discussion of some of their key skills.

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What is a social work assistant?

A social work assistant is someone who works in the social services industry and assists social workers. The role of a social work assistant varies depending on their employer and experience level, but they're typically responsible for assisting with administrative tasks and providing support to clients. They work with patients, children, families and other vulnerable groups to help them cope with their situations. They may also help people find the appropriate services to help them with their problems.

Social work assistants work in many different settings, including hospitals, mental health facilities, schools and private practice offices. They may help social workers with office management, filing paperwork, answering phones and scheduling appointments.

How to become a social work assistant

If you want to learn how to become a social work assistant, here are several steps you may take:

1. Complete a bachelor's degree

If you're interested in becoming a social work assistant, it helps to first complete a bachelor's degree in a related field such as social work, psychology or sociology. This gives you the foundational knowledge and skills that are necessary to be successful in this field. Social work degrees teach you how to provide therapy and counselling services and how to manage client records. You also learn about the significance of confidentiality when working with clients.

Related: 10 jobs with a health and social care degree (plus salary)

2. Consider a master's degree

If your undergraduate degree wasn't directly related to social work, you might consider completing a master's degree in a more relevant area. Most social care master's degree programmes either focus on the theory of social work or the act of applying these theories in practice. If you want to become a social worker, choose a programme that focuses on the theoretical aspects of your career path. This helps you acquire the necessary knowledge and skills required for this job.

Related: Your guide to social work degrees (with career options)

3. Consider a diploma

Many institutions offer a more hands-on approach as an alternative to traditional teaching. These programmes give you the skills and knowledge that are necessary for this type of position. The coursework covers topics such as child protection and safeguarding, which is the responsibility of social workers. You may also learn about other areas of social work, including counselling and advocacy and how to manage client records. You typically have access to practical experiences during your studies to help you apply your learning immediately. The Step Up to Social Work programme may also interest you as a degree alternative.

Related: Can you get a social work job without a degree? (With steps)

4. Register as a social worker

To become a social work assistant, you must also register with either Social Work England, Social Care Wales, the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) or the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC). You do this by completing an application form and submitting it along with your fee. You also provide evidence of any criminal convictions, health conditions and qualifications. Registered social workers re-register with their main governing body around every two to three years to ensure client safety. Social Work England requires all social workers to record their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities.

Related: How to become a social worker in the UK

5. Find work experience

A good way to build experience as a social work assistant is to volunteer for an organisation that shares your goals and priorities, such as helping vulnerable people in urban areas. This allows you to see what it's like working in a social services agency and gives you an idea of whether this is something you want to do full-time.

If you don't know where to start, look online for local agencies that provide services related to your area of interest. For example, if you're interested in working with young people, look up youth organisations or local schools in your area. Ask them if they offer any volunteer opportunities or whether they might let you shadow them for a few hours as part of your application process.

Related: What is relevant experience in social work? (With examples)

6. Develop your skills

The next step to becoming a social work assistant is to develop the skills required for the job. Social work assistants communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing. They also work well with people from a diverse range of backgrounds. It's good to also have excellent organisational skills and a good grasp of how to use basic computer programs for administrative tasks.

Related: Important social work skills

7. Look for job openings

You may now search job websites and see if there are any openings for potential social work assistants. You may also apply directly to the agency or organisation where you want to work. If you have experience working with children or older people, this may help you apply for jobs that require special skills and knowledge.

If you don't see any job openings, consider starting as an intern at an agency or organisation. This gives you valuable experience and allows you to gain contacts that may help you find a job in the future. You might also use contacts made through social media or a university alum service.

Related: 13 jobs similar to social work (with salaries and duties)

8. Join professional bodies

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is a professional body for social workers and social work staff. You may join BASW as an individual or a member of a practice. It's useful to note that membership in any professional body isn't compulsory, but it may help you find a job more quickly. The BASW website contains information about the benefits of joining the association, how to apply and the cost of membership.

9. Focus on your weaknesses

If you want to become a social work assistant, it helps to establish your strengths and weaknesses so that you may commit to your continuing professional development. First, assess your skills and where you excel professionally. This helps you figure out where you want to focus your efforts to improve any weaknesses in your skill set.

Related: 13 essential social worker skills

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Skills for a social work assistant

Here are a few skills that may benefit your work as a social work assistant:

Communication skills

Communication skills are essential for a social work assistant. Social workers rely on the communication skills of their assistants to help them build rapport with clients, obtain information and communicate effectively with other care staff. The role involves active listening and speaking, so social work assistants listen closely to what others say and understand what they mean.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to think logically, analyse information and make decisions. This skill is advantageous for social work assistants because it helps them understand a client's needs and provide appropriate services. Critical thinking also helps you solve problems quickly.

Boundary setting

Identifying boundaries and setting them appropriately is an instrumental part of a social work assistant's work. This involves not only knowing where your boundaries are but also being able to communicate them verbally and in writing. Social work is emotionally exhausting, and effective assistants know when to step away from their work and focus on themselves.

Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are vital to a social work assistant. Social work assistants work closely with many people and often find themselves in emotionally charged situations. Communicating effectively and respectfully with clients, their families and other care workers makes the client more comfortable and ensures more efficient care.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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