Different Types of Social Workers and Their Primary Duties

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 16 September 2022

Published 29 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Different types of social workers help families and individuals to improve their general safety, well-being and quality of life. They perform a wide range of duties, including providing support to those facing emotional, mental, behavioural or health disorders. Social workers have hugely rewarding and varied roles. In this article, we explore types of social workers and examples of social work, plus how to become a social worker.

Related: How To Become a Social Worker

Different types of social workers and their primary duties

There are a variety of specialities and many types of social workers and their primary duties differ from role to role. As a social worker, you can choose to work with adults, children or small groups, or you can focus on administration, planning or policy. While the specific salary you can expect to earn can differ, the average salary for a social worker is £28.37 per hour. Below are 10 different social worker examples you can consider:

1. Healthcare and hospital social workers

Primary duties: healthcare and hospital social workers help people to manage various factors affecting their health and wellness, such as emotional, physical or medical stress. When patients have terminal or chronic medical conditions, they may get overwhelmed with the emotional and financial burdens created by their medical conditions. Health care social workers help these clients and their families during this time of difficulty. They also provide them with direction, stability and advice where they're uncertain what to do next.

2. Administration and management social workers

Primary duties: these social workers are managers in private and public social service organisations and healthcare bodies. They're proactive leaders who direct government programmes and advocate for groups and social work policies. They also conduct research that reveals the major needs and challenges of the community. As a result, to become an administration social worker, you need sufficient knowledge about social policy and research methods and also understand the psychology of human behaviour.

3. Child welfare and family social workers

Primary duties: child welfare and family social workers work with vulnerable children and families facing psychological or social issues in the home, school or community. They assess the home environment to ensure that parents or carers are providing a safe environment. They also offer support to parents or carers to help to improve their relationships with their children. Where they observe that a child's safety is at risk, a child welfare and family social worker may intervene to provide a safer place for the child.

4. Adult elderly social workers

Primary duties: adult elderly social workers support the elderly by providing them with resources that help to maintain their quality of life. They connect them with community and social services to enable them to have a healthy and independent lifestyle. Adult elderly social workers also advocate for their clients, provide mental health support and help them to apply for benefits and get services that they need.

Many adult elderly social workers work in hospitals or charities, or for local authorities.

5. Substance misuse social workers

Primary duties: substance misuse social workers work with clients and provide them with crisis intervention support to help them to overcome their addictions. They connect their clients to rehabilitation centres and provide support services to their family members. Substance misuse social workers often collaborate with counsellors, nurses and physicians.

As a substance misuse social worker, you can work in residential treatment facilities, rehabilitation centres, hospitals and government agencies.

6. Criminal justice social workers

Primary duties: these social workers assist and advocate for former prisoners, those on probation and inmates in the criminal justice system by offering them rehabilitation services and conflict mediation. They're often found working in courts, local authorities and prisons. Criminal justice social workers also provide support for incarcerated individuals and prepare soon-to-be-released inmates for a smooth transition back into society.

7. Advocacy social workers

Primary duties: advocates are independent of social services and the NHS. They help those who struggle to understand their care or cannot speak up. They help clients to make or challenge decisions and stand up for their rights during assessments, care and support planning, or safeguarding reviews.

Advocacy social workers may be self-employed or work for charities.

8. Disability social workers

Primary duties: disability social workers work with adults or children with disabilities. They help with needs assessments and ensure that their clients have the resources to live as independently and safely as possible.

Disability social workers may work in private practice or hospitals, healthcare centres, charities and child protection services.

9. Hospice and palliative care social workers

Primary duties: these social workers work mainly with clients suffering from terminal or chronic illnesses to ensure that services and interventions cater to the whole person and their family. They source practical help at home and provide support for their family members. They help them to prepare for the end of their lives and also offer bereavement support. When clients and their family members are not receiving adequate medical and emotional support, hospice and palliative social workers advocate for them and connect them with the right services.

They work for the NHS, adult and children's services, hospitals, hospices and charities.

10. Mental health social workers

Primary duties: mental health social workers are also referred to as psychiatric social workers. They work closely with clients who suffer from emotional distress, mental disorders or complex mental issues which make them a danger to themselves and society. They provide support and therapy for individuals who require intensive psychiatric help due to their mental illness. Other responsibilities include developing care plans for their clients such as treatment methods, counselling, support services and referrals. They also explain treatment plans to family members, maintain patient's records and monitor their progress rates.

Mental health social workers also provide crisis interventions and when clients leave inpatient programmes, they often help them ease back into society.

Related: What Can You Do With a Social Worker Degree?

How to become a social worker

Social workers work with a wide range of clients and as a result, they need adequate training to effectively satisfy the needs of their clients. Here are five steps to becoming a social worker in the UK:

1. Get your basic education

One of the first steps to becoming a social worker is to get your basic secondary school education. The area of social work in which you want to specialise determines the requirements, but a good target would be to achieve two or three A Levels along with 5 GCSEs (grades A-C), including both English and mathematics. Alternatively, you can get the following qualifications:

  • BTEC or a relevant National Vocational Qualification (Level 3 Health & Social Care NVQ)

  • Health and Social Care Higher National Diploma (HND)

  • Higher National Certificate (HNC).

Related: How to Find Volunteer Work

2. Complete a degree in social work

To qualify as a social worker, you can obtain an approved degree in social work, which takes about three or four years to complete. If your first degree is in another subject, instead of taking another undergraduate degree in social work, you can also take a two-year masters programme in social work.

The curriculum differs between universities, but often include: ethics and values; mental health; disability; assessments and interventions; the law as it applies to social work; and practical work with clients and placements in social work settings.

Related: Can you get a social work job without a degree?

3. Do a social work apprenticeship

You can take apprenticeship degrees for social work. To enrol for this, first apply to a health care provider for an apprenticeship position, which takes about three years to complete. Upon completion, apprentices gain a social work honours degree that enables them to achieve registration as a social worker.

4. Register with the Health and Care Professional Council (HCPC)

When you have successfully passed an approved social work degree course or apprenticeship, you can apply to register with the Health and Care Professional Council (HCPC). This is the body that regulates psychological, health and social work professionals in the UK. They work to ensure that all practising professionals have the requisite skills, training and behaviour required by their standards.

Having an approved degree is a necessity for registration, likewise meeting the professional standards and paying the stipulated registration fee.

5. Find relevant work experience

Even with an undergraduate or master's degree in social work, most employers require their employees to have significant work experience. If you know any professional social worker, you can choose to take advantage of this, or you can enquire about a social work job opportunity from your local authority social services department. Another sure way to gain relevant work experience is via volunteering as proof of your commitment to social work. This helps to build your experience and provides you with an avenue to gather useful contacts.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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


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