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Career profile: Social worker

social workerFind out what being a social worker involves, what qualifications you need and how long it takes to train.

A what?

Social workers form relationships with people and assist them to live more successfully within their local communities by helping them find solutions to their problems.

Social work involves engaging not only with clients themselves but their families and friends as well as working closely with other organisations such as the police, local authority departments, schools and the probation service. They assess the needs of service users and plan the individual packages of care and support that best help them.

On the job

Social workers tend to specialise in either adult or children's services.

  • Adult services
    This might include working with people with mental health problems or learning disabilities; working with people who are in residential care; working with offenders, by supervising them in the community and supporting them to find work; assisting people with HIV/AIDs and working with older people at home helping to sort out problems with their health, housing or benefits.
  • Children/young people services
    This might include providing assistance and advice to keep families together; working in children's homes; managing adoption and foster care processes; providing support to younger people leaving care or who are at risk or in trouble with the law; or helping children who have problems at school or are facing difficulties brought on by illness in the family.

In general, social workers work for a range of organisations - primarily in local authorities, independent organisations and charities, but some also work for the NHS, where you may find them working in hospitals, mental health trusts and other community-based settings.

Course entry requirements

Social work requires a professional qualification to practise. To become a social worker you will need a university degree in social work. This is usually a three year undergraduate (Bachelors) degree course although part time and faster postgraduate (Masters) routes are available.

Entry to the degree course is open to people of all ages, from school-leavers onwards. However, universities will look for previous experience of work or volunteering in social care. There are more than 80 universities and colleges in England offering a variety of programme options.

Social work students come from all age groups, with a wide range of academic qualifications and previous life and work experience. The course has a strong practical bias. You will spend at least 200 days learning in practice with social work organisations in different aspects of social work.

Financial support

A bursary is available for undergraduate and postgraduate social work students. The bursary is non-income assessed which means that earnings, savings and other sources of income are not taken into consideration.

It includes a basic grant, a fixed contribution towards practice learning opportunity related expenses and tuition fees if you are not subject to variable fees. Financial awards are dependant on your individual circumstances.

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