What types of jobs and employers are there in social work?
Social workers work with individuals and families to help them improve outcomes in their lives. They provide support and direct people to the services they may need. They may be involved in helping people to live independently or protecting vulnerable people from harm and abuse.
You can only practise as a social worker if you are educated to degree level or beyond, with an approved qualification – either a social work undergraduate degree or a masters degree in social work.
Who employs social workers and what do their jobs involve?
Social workers usually have a caseload – a number of cases of individuals or families who they work with. Their work involves visits to service users, assessments, organising packages of support and referrals to other services, keeping records and working in teams with professionals from other areas such as health and education.
Many social workers are employed by local authorities. Some work for NHS trusts and others work in the voluntary and private sectors. Some social workers find work through social work agencies, which can provide either short-term or permanent employment.
In England there is a shift away from the model of local authorities directly delivering social work services towards local authorities using social enterprises to provide services instead. Social enterprises are businesses set up to tackle social problems that reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community. As a result increasing numbers of social workers are now employed by social enterprises.
What areas of social work can you specialise in?
Social workers in England tend to specialise in either children’s or adults’ services, whereas in Scotland, social work graduates can work in general frontline services or specialise in children and families, community care, criminal justice or mental health. Wherever in the UK you practise social work, there are opportunities to specialise in working with particular groups of people in need of support.
These are some of the areas that social workers can specialise in:
- Managing adoption and fostering processes. Finding adoptive families for children who cannot continue to live with their birth families, or short-term and respite foster placements for those who are not able to live with their family for short periods of time.
- Assisting and supporting children and families where there are child protection concerns.
- Working with children in care, who are also known as looked-after children. Helping them with the transition from being in care to living independently.
- Working with young offenders or with adults who have offended.
- Helping adults with learning disabilities to live as independently as possible in the community.
- Supporting older people to live as independently as possible, or helping them with the transition to sheltered accommodation or residential homes.
- Working with adults with mental health problems to help them live as independently as possible.
Whatever area you choose to practise in, there will be the opportunity to progress to more senior roles.
What if you’re drawn to social work but don’t want to go to university?
There is some funding available for students both on undergraduate social work degree courses and on postgraduate social work courses for those who studied another subject for their first degree. If you’re put off by concerns about the cost of higher education check out our advice on funding for social work study and make sure you familiarise yourself with what’s available.
If you don’t want to do a social work degree but still want a career where you can support people and make a difference to their lives, you have plenty of other options. You can take on a social work assistant role as a school leaver. There are also opportunities for school leavers to work and gain qualifications in the wider field of social care.
Social care jobs typically involve providing practical support to people who are in need because of illness, disability, old age or a low income. Other career paths in this area include community and outreach work. There is potential for progression to supervisory, management and senior roles. Many social care roles have no formal entry requirements, though you may need to undergo a criminal records check.
There are many different kinds of employers in social care, including charities, private companies, local authorities, housing associations, social enterprises and the NHS.
What jobs and employers are there in social care?
Social care workers are employed by charities, private organisations or local authorities to provide personal care. They may be based in a residential care home or work for a domiciliary care provider, going into people’s homes to provide care services such as preparing and cooking meals and assisting with mobility.
Personal assistants also provide personal care. They are employed directly by an individual and work with them one-to-one to provide care services in the home.
Roles in community, support and outreach work include positions such as substance misuse worker, community development worker and mental health support worker. These jobs involve providing support and guidance such as counselling, teaching everyday skills and organising shopping trips.
Activities workers and co-ordinators organise activities and outings for people who need care and support services.
Employment support workers identify suitable employment opportunities for people who need care and support, and help them with their CVs and interview skills. They also liaise with employers to help people cope with settling into their new jobs. Job titles include supported employment worker, employment advisor and inclusion worker.
Advice, guidance and advocacy roles typically involve providing advice on any support or funding that people who need care and support services can apply for, such as housing benefit, sick pay or disability benefits.
Management jobs in social care range from supervisory and team leader roles to senior positions such as being chief executive of a care home. There is a level 5 apprenticeship suitable for those in management and leadership roles in social care and you can find out more about this from our advice on the work route into social work.