If years of watching children’s television has taught us anything, it’s that you should always look after others. As we grow older, sometimes this message gets forgotten, but if you still like helping out and caring for people in your community, then a career as a social worker is calling you.

So, what will I actually be doing?

"Social work is work with people. It’s that simple and it’s that complicated,” say the Department of Health, and we couldn’t say it any better ourselves.

As a social worker you will be committed to improving the lives of individuals in need of help and support. You will play a vital role in the community and although the work can be challenging, it’s a career with high levels of job satisfaction.

Social worker jobs are divided into two groups:

  • Adult services: you could be dealing with adults with mental health problems or drug addiction; offenders; supporting older people or working with the homeless.
  • Children services: you may be working in children’s homes, managing adoption or foster care, helping children who are struggling emotionally or children who are seriously ill.

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The finer details...

Social workers spend a lot of time with service users offering support and advice, building relationships and assessing their circumstances.

You will also be in close contact with other health care professionals to discuss individual cases and you will need to make decisions based on your assessments as well as document any developments.

Social workers often work as part of a team to ensure 24-hour cover – so shift work is common in this profession.

While some of your duties will be office-based, social workers will also spend time:

  • Visiting clients at home, in hospital or at day-care centres
  • Meeting with health officials
  • Meeting with other social workers to discuss individual cases
  • Appearing at court hearings to give evidence

Money, money, money

While it’d be nice to say you only do it to make a difference to people’s lives, we know salary is important too. Newly-qualified social workers can expect to bring in around £19k while experienced workers can expect in the region of £28k to £32k per year. Team managers can earn up to £38k per year and directors significantly more.

See what people are earning in this job

The good points...

“I learn a lot from doing this job... and it’s nice to learn from the people you’re working with,” says senior social worker Sharon Jones who works with the families of terminally ill children. “No two days are ever the same and I feel like I’m helping the families to move on from very difficult situations. I feel like I’m making a difference.”

...and the bad

“It can be hard because you’re working with the most extreme emotions and although we are professionals, we’re also human.”

Is there study involved?

You will need either a BA Honours in social work or an MA in social work. The General Social Care Council (GSCC) has a list of approved courses on its website.

The degree is a three-year course combining practical experience (over 200 days will be spent in the field) with theory. The course is open to applicants of any age and can be taken either part- or full-time. Applicants will need some experience (either voluntary or paid) in social care.

To apply for the social work degree you will need:

  • 5 GSCEs (levels A-C)
  • At least 2 A-Levels or a BTEC National Diploma Level 3 in health and social care Graduates can qualify by taking the two-year MA in social work.

Once you are qualified you will need to sign up to the GSCC’s care register and reapply every three years.

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OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?

“Any age is good to work in care,” says Laura Anthony from Skills for Care. “As long as you’re a good communicator, a caring person (which goes without saying) and a people person you can be successful.”

Other qualities that will help include:

  • Lots of initiative
  • Plenty of resilience
  • The ability to be practical and flexible
  • Good observational skills
  • A great listener

Basically, if you’re self absorbed and not really bothered about others, step away from this career now.

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