Social workers support individuals and their families through difficult times and ensure that vulnerable people, including children and adults, are safeguarded from harm. Their role is to help in improve outcomes in people’s lives.
They maintain professional relationships and act as guides and advocates. They sometimes need to use their professional judgment to make tough decisions that might not always be well received by those they are trying to help.
As a social worker, you’ll work in a variety of settings within a framework of relevant legislation and procedures, supporting individuals, families and groups within the community. You may work in homes or schools, hospitals or on the premises of other public sector and voluntary organisations.
Social workers tend to specialise in supporting either children and families, or vulnerable adults.
It can be a challenging role, occasionally receiving a lot of media attention, which can be negative when things go seriously wrong. As a result of this, the government is putting more measures in place to support and develop a strong workforce of social workers. Qualified social work professionals are sometimes supported by social work assistants. They also work closely with other professionals in health and social care.
Social workers can work in both statutory and non-statutory roles. In a statutory position, your role is to adhere to the laws that exist to protect the vulnerable clients that they work with. Social workers have a duty to abide by the legislation and the power to enforce it.
In non-statutory roles, social workers still work with a similar client group but are not specifically responsible for enforcing the law. You’ll be employed in the charity sector or in specialist roles, such as providing support for drug and alcohol users, homeless people and people with mental health issues. You may also work in early intervention roles, aiming to prevent the escalation of problems in society to where statutory services are required.
Many social workers work with young people and their families. You might also work with the following groups:
- the elderly
- people with learning and physical disabilities
- young offenders
- people with mental health conditions
- school non-attenders
- drug and alcohol abusers
- the homeless.
Government legislation focusing on the integration of health and social work services means that social workers often work in multidisciplinary teams.
Tasks typically involve:
- conducting interviews with individuals and families to assess and review their situation
- undertaking and writing up assessments (sometimes in collaboration with other professionals), which meet specified standards and timescales
- offering information and support
- organising and managing packages of support to enable people to lead the fullest lives possible
- recommending and sometimes making decisions about the best course of action for a particular person or family
- liaising with, and making referrals to, other agencies
- participating in multidisciplinary teams and meetings regarding, for example, child protection or mental health
- maintaining accurate records and preparing reports for legal action
- giving evidence in court
- participating in training, supervision and team meetings.
You can find out more about a career in social work by visiting Skills for Care, the sector skills council for health and social care professions.