Find out more about the role of a social worker, training requirements and opportunities.
What is a social worker?
Social workers work with individuals and families to help improve outcomes in their lives. This may be helping to protect vulnerable people from harm or abuse or supporting people to live independently.
Social workers usually have a number of cases of individuals or families who they work with at any one time. This is called a caseload. The main duties of a social worker include visits to service users, assessments, organising packages of support, making recommendations or referrals, and keeping detailed records. Social workers also work closely with the education, health and probation services.
Social workers tend to specialise in either children’s or adults’ services.
If you are working in children’s services, you may have a role:
- working with children in care (also known as looked-after children);
- helping young people move from being in care to living independently;
- working with young offenders;
- providing support to families to keep them living together;
- assisting families where children are avoiding school or truanting;
- managing adoption or fostering processes.
If you are working in adults’ services you may have a role:
- working with people with mental health problems or learning disabilities;
- working in residential care;
- supporting adults who have offended, supervising them in the community or helping with resettlement;
- assisting people with HIV or Aids;
- supporting vulnerable older people to live independently.
Why become a social worker?
Many people go into social work because they want to make a difference, work with people and help them access services they may need.
Social workers need skills in problem-solving, communication, working with others and patience. They also need to to be able to cope with a heavy workload, manage their time effectively, and keep effective case notes
As a newly qualified social worker you can expect to earn around £18,000 per annum, rising to around £30,000 per annum as you take on additional tasks, and gain responsibilities and experience.
Social workers in the NHS typically start on Band 6 of the Agenda for Change pay system (currently around £25,000), with opportunities for progression to more senior posts. NHS Careers lists their latest rates of pay.
Social workers are trained and qualified with a Degree in Social Work, or a Diploma of Social Work (replaced by the degree in 2004).
Social work degree
There are plans to change the social work degree from 2013 onwards. See the British Association of Social Workers website for updates.
To take the social work degree, you need to have some experience of social work or social care prior to studying. This experience can be achieved through paid-for work, work placements or life experience (such as being full-time carer). On the degree course, you will learn about social work and the role of legislation, ethics and values. The course includes a 200-day placement in order for you to put your theoretical learning into practice.
Entry requirements for courses differ, so you need to check with each higher education institution. As a rule of thumb in England you will need 5 GCSE’s grade A* to C, including English and Maths, and 2 A-levels, but the requirement can be higher in other parts of the UK. In Scotland, the minimum entry criteria for the degree tends to be 4 Highers and in Northern Ireland, 3 B-Grade A-levels or higher.
Post-graduate Masters degree
If you have a degree in a different subject, some universities offer a a two-year post-graduate course. This leads to a Masters degree which will allow you to practise social work.
Part-time courses are available which allow you to combine work and learning. You may find this route easier if you are already working in the social work field as you will still need to complete your 200-day practice placement. You may also be able to apply for a specific sponsorship or trainee scheme with a local authority or voluntary organisation.
Social work courses
The British Association for Social Workers has details of courses in your area.
The Department of Health has introduced a bursary scheme to encourage people to study social work.
See the British Association for Social Workers for more information.
Continued professional development
All social workers need to be registered with a Care Council. To maintain high standards in social work, social workers need to re-register every three years and complete post-registration training and learning.
Most of the content on this page has been adapted from the British Association for Social Workers website.
NHS Careers has information on the role of a social worker.
Watch newly qualified social worker Rachel Wilson’s video story.