Field social worker
Social Service & Guidance
Field social workers help, support and protect people who are vulnerable or at risk, or have social or emotional problems. They visit clients in the community to offer advice, practical assistance and emotional support. Field social workers encourage their clients to help themselves and not rely on professional support.
Most local authorities have specialist teams of field social workers, dealing with specific issues or groups. For example, a field social worker may be part of a team specialising in:
- child protection
- children who have been excluded from school
- people diagnosed with mental health problems
- people with physical or learning disabilities
- people affected by HIV or AIDS
- older people.
Some social workers are part of an 'intake' or 'access' team, responding to people's requests for help and then referring them on to the right specialist team. Referrals also come directly from other professionals, such as doctors, teachers and police officers, and also from the courts.
Building a trusting relationship with the client is a very important part of social work. The social worker needs to become very familiar with the client's situation (or 'case'), making decisions based on a careful analysis of all the information they have.
For example, the Children Act (1989) gives social workers legal responsibility for protecting children at risk of 'significant harm' (a term from the Act). If a social worker decides that the risk of significant harm exists, they have the legal power to remove the child from their home, or from another situation where they are at risk.
The decision to remove a child from home will have a very big impact on everyone involved. It is therefore vital that the social worker has made the right decision, based on their knowledge of the case and a thorough investigation of all the factors involved.
For example, a social worker may talk to a child's teachers to find out more about the child's home life, including the family or any other adults who have responsibility for caring for the child. They may then decide to interview the child at school, with a parent or carer present (but not the person suspected of harming the child).
If the social worker decides that the child is at risk, they must inform the local police, while the social work team launches a full 'child protection' investigation.
To reach a final decision, social workers have to work closely with other professionals, for example, the police and medical staff, who may examine the child to find evidence of abuse or neglect.
Sometimes field social workers are present when the police interview young people who have been in conflict with the law. They write reports for use in court, or may appear in court to give evidence.
A social worker working with older adults might co-ordinate care packages that help people stay living independently in their own home. This could include co-ordinating the care provided by home care assistants, district nurses and hot meal deliverers, for example.
Personal Qualities and Skills
- Listen carefully and empathise when necessary.
- Ask the right questions to find out about clients' needs.
- Gain the trust of people from all kinds of backgrounds.
- Be flexible and adaptable.
- Assess needs and circumstances.
- Communicate clearly, both orally and in writing.
- Gather, analyse and understand information.
- Be observant, read situations and identify problems.
- Be non-judgemental and avoid imposing solutions.
- Act quickly and calmly, eg, if a child is at risk from abuse or neglect.
- Work through conflict sensitively and come up with effective solutions.
- Work well under pressure.
- Have a positive attitude when you are faced with difficulties.
- Make difficult decisions at times.
- Strong negotiation skills.
- Good team skills, to work closely with other professionals.
- Resilience, so you don't become burdened by the problems you encounter.
- The ability to manage and prioritise your own workload.
- The IT skills required to produce reports.
- Knowledge and understanding of the local resources available to help the people you work with.
- To be open to suggestions for how the service you provide can be improved.
- The ability to face the emotional and intellectual demands of the job.
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of field social workers
Employers throughout the UK are local authority social services departments, and voluntary or charity organisations such as Barnardos and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
Other employers include private companies that care for older adults, homeless people, those who are terminally ill, or people with mental health problems.
Entry routes and training
Entry to social work is via a three-year degree in social work, which is available all over the country. It is delivered in a variety of taught modules, with approximately 200 days spent on practical placement.
You will usually need to have some experience - paid or voluntary - of working with people in need to get a place on a degree course.
Completion of the degree entitles you to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a social worker.
Entry requirements for degrees vary so it is important to check with individual universities.