Would a career in social work suit me?
You need a combination of organisational skills, sensitive communication skills and emotional resilience to be an effective social worker. Motivation is crucial: do you want to make a difference in other people’s lives? You’ll need to be willing to shoulder responsibility and to find ways of coping with the stress that comes with it. You’ll also need academic ability, as you cannot become a social worker unless you have an approved degree-level or postgraduate qualification.
Workloads can be heavy, potentially adding to the stress of the job, and you’ll need to be able to prioritise. Social workers in some areas, such as residential care, work unsocial hours and those in other areas may need to be flexible about their hours in emergency situations. The work can be emotionally demanding and it will help you to cope if you can maintain boundaries between your work and home life. You’ll also need to build positive relationships with your team and supervisor and seek professional support from them when appropriate.
Aims and values of social work and social care
Social work is a profession with a protected job title, which means that you cannot call yourself a social worker unless you are qualified and registered. The academic discipline of social work provides a base of theoretical knowledge that social workers can draw on when making difficult decisions.
Social workers aim to protect vulnerable people from abuse, neglect or self-harm and to help them take control of and improve their lives. They intervene in private and family life when necessary to prevent harm, for example, in situations where parents or carers are no longer able to look after their children. A non-judgemental approach is essential. Social work draws on a range of values, including the following:
- The equality and worth of all people, respecting diversity and individual dignity.
- The importance of personal independence, choice and control.
- The human and legal rights of adults and children.
- The need to protect against discrimination and prejudice.
By way of contrast, you do not have to be qualified or registered to join the social care workforce. Social care jobs typically focus on providing direct day-to-day personal care. It’s important for social care workers to uphold values such as compassion, respect, integrity and treating people with dignity.
What skills do you need in social work?
Social workers need great communication skills, both written, verbal and non-verbal, including:
- The ability to keep effective notes on cases.
- Sensitive listening skills, so you can absorb the information you need to ensure that clients receive appropriate support; tact and patience.
- Perceptiveness. Some clients may struggle to express themselves verbally. You should be observant and aware of body language and social cues.
- The ability to put people at their ease and win their trust, and to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds.
- Persuasion. Can you influence or coax people to take action?
Here’s an overview of other skills that you need to be an effective social worker:
- Ability to manage a sometimes heavy workload and manage your time effectively, working to deadlines and under pressure.
- Reliability. This is an important aspect both of teamwork and of building relationships with clients. It’s easier for people to trust you if you’re punctual and meet your commitments.
- Emotional resilience. The work can be emotionally demanding, so you need to know how to get support.
- Empathy. You need to be able to understand other people’s feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them.
- Non-judgemental attitude. Respect for other people’s values and beliefs. Belief in people’s entitlement to privacy and dignity.
- Motivation. Desire to work with people and help them improve their lives.
- Being a good team worker. Able to take part in team meetings and case conferences and liaise with other professionals where necessary.
- The ability to analyse situations. Reflective, self-aware approach to solving problems.
- Understanding of social work.
- You will also have to pass criminal records checks.