Social workers aim to improve people’s lives by helping with social and interpersonal difficulties, promoting human rights and wellbeing. Social workers protect children and adults with support needs from harm. From helping keep a family under pressure together to supporting someone with mental health problems, social work is a varied, demanding, often emotional and very rewarding career.
Social workers work with a number of people at any one time. This is often referred to as a caseload. Day-to-day work involves assessing people’s needs, strengths and wishes, working with individuals and families directly to help them make changes and solve problems, organising support, making recommendations or referrals to other services and agencies, and keeping detailed records.
The problems social workers deal with are often rooted in social or emotional disadvantage, discrimination, poverty or trauma. Social workers recognise the bigger picture affecting people’s lives and work for a more equal and just society where human rights are respected and protected.
Social workers recognise the bigger picture affecting people’s lives and work for a more equal and just society where human rights are respected and protected.
In all roles, you will be trained and skilled to bring about change. You will also be skilled in using relevant legal powers to protect people’s rights (and sometime balance the rights of everyone involved). This combination of skills is unique to the social work profession.
Children’s and adult services
Social workers work with adults, children and families and often specialise in a specific field of work – such as support for children and families, or working with adults with physical disability or mental health related needs. We help people make changes and access their rights as people and citizens. We often work with social networks, families or communities, as well as individuals, and help develop supportive relationships.
If you are working in children and family services, you may work with children in care (also known as ‘looked-after children’), young offenders, children who have experienced or are at risk of abuse, children with health and mental health needs - and with their families. This may include helping families experiencing difficulties to resolve their problems. You may work specifically to assess and intervene where there are child protection concerns within a family or from elsewhere. You may also manage the adoption and fostering processes, and support children with a disability.
If you are working in adults’ services you may work with older people, people with learning or physical disabilities. If you work with people with mental health problems, you’ll focus on promoting independence, wellbeing and having control over their lives, including accessing their entitlements to welfare support and/or to be in employment. You may also support adults who have substance abuse problems, have offended, are living with HIV or Aids, or are involved with the criminal justice system.
Social work salaries vary according to location, experience and area of work. Newly-qualified social workers can expect to earn around £25,000 a year, rising to over £40,000 a year as you gain experience and responsibility.
Social workers work for local authorities, health organisations including the NHS, voluntary organisations and charities, and for private businesses. Some social workers work independently, setting up their own companies to contract for work, often using considerable experience and specialised expertise. (When applying for jobs, it’s worth checking with the employer for the range of benefits included in your salary, such as pensions and annual leave pay.)
Many employers across different industries are keen to employ social workers because of their expertise and training. A social work qualification can lead to diverse work opportunities working with people and also in policy, education, research, management and leadership.