What Is A Social Worker?
Social work is a profession and discipline which promotes social cohesion, empowerment, social change and development. It seeks the liberation of people, social justice and human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities. Many people who want to make a difference in people’s lives decide to go into social work. But, what do social workers do?
At the centre of social work is the desire to improve people’s lives for the better. This may take the form of supporting a family during difficult times, or an individual with mental health problems for example. It could involve protecting and advocating for a young person involved in the criminal justice system. Although the context can vary, the objective is always the same: helping people to overcome the difficulties they are facing in society.
All the stereotypes of social work are true to some extent. Yes, it can be a very demanding, emotional rollercoaster. But few careers are more rewarding. Most clients have problems rooted in poverty, trauma, discrimination or emotional disadvantage. Social workers help to level the playing field, ensuring that human rights are protected and respected.
Social work involves a combination of legal knowledge to protect people’s rights, and specific skills to bring about positive change. These professionals will work with several people at a time (their ‘caseload’). They will look at their needs and wishes, strengths and weaknesses, to help them solve problems and make changes. They will keep detailed records, speak to everyone involved, and refer to other services and agencies when necessary.
Social workers will typically specialise in a particular field, either with families, adults or children. They will work to strengthen and maintain individuals, families, communities and social networks. They help build supportive relationships, protecting and informing people of their rights (and responsibilities).
In the case of adult social workers, they may work with older people, or those with mental or physical disabilities. In this case a focus could be on helping people who perhaps do not understand the system to access benefits or employment.
The idea is to strengthen their well-being, independence and control over their lives. Social workers will examine what people need, and look at the options available to cover these needs.
Adult social workers may also specialise in individuals with substance abuse issues, criminal records, or who live with HIV or AIDS. Other areas of work involve helping those suffering from domestic abuse, or those who find themselves homeless.
Children’s social work could involve family support and child protection services, fostering, adoption or working with young offenders. Much of the work is preventative in nature and may involve the entire family. Many social workers also support children and young people with physical or mental health needs, or those living in care (known as ‘looked after’ children).
In the UK, the average social worker makes £27 per hour or £29,436 per year. This begins at £22,000 for newly-qualified staff, which can rise to over £40,000 with more experience and responsibility. Not only do they work in local authorities, but also in the NHS, charities, voluntary organisations and private businesses. There are also independent social workers who subcontract, having gained considerable experience in the field.
A social work qualification is appealing to employers in a range of different areas, including education, research, policy, leadership and management. Social workers are attractive to employers due to their expertise and training. With so many benefits, more and more people are looking towards social work for a new, meaningful career.