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Social worker: Job description

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Social workers work with people to support them through difficult times and ensure that vulnerable people, including children and adults are safeguarded from harm. Their role is to provide support to enable service users to help themselves. They maintain professional relationships with service users, acting as guides and advocates. They sometimes need to use their professional judgment to make tough decisions that might not always be well received by all service users.

Social workers work in a variety of settings within a framework of relevant legislation and procedures, supporting individuals, families and groups within the community. Settings may include the service user's home or schools, hospitals or the premises of other public sector and voluntary organisations. Social workers tend to specialise in supporting either children and families or vulnerable adults.

It can be a challenging role, occasionally receiving a lot of media attention which is sometimes negative when things go seriously wrong. As a result of this the government is putting more measures in place to support and develop a strong workforce of social workers. Qualified social work professionals are sometimes supported by social work assistants. They also work closely with other professionals in health and social care.

Social workers can work in both statutory and non-statutory roles. In a statutory position a social worker's role is to adhere to the laws that exist to protect the vulnerable clients that they work with. Social workers have a duty to abide by the legislation and a power to enforce it. In non-statutory roles social workers still work with a similar client group but are not specifically responsible for enforcing the law. Social workers in non-statutory roles are often employed in the charity sector or in specialist roles such as providing support for drug and alcohol users, homeless people and people with mental health issues. They can also be employed in early intervention roles that aim to prevent the escalation of problems in society to where statutory services are required.

Typical work activities

Many social workers work with young people and their families. They may also work with the following groups:

  • the elderly;
  • people with learning and physical disabilities;
  • young offenders;
  • people with mental health conditions;
  • school non-attenders;
  • drug and alcohol abusers;
  • homeless people.

Government legislation focusing on the integration of health and social work services means that social workers often work in multidisciplinary teams.

Tasks typically involve:

  • conducting interviews with service users and their families to assess and review their situation;
  • undertaking and writing up assessments (sometimes in collaboration with other professionals), which meet specified standards and timescales;
  • offering information and support to service users and their families;
  • organising and managing packages of support to enable service users to lead the fullest lives possible;
  • recommending and sometimes making decisions about the best course of action for a particular service user;
  • liaising with, and making referrals to, other agencies;
  • participating in multidisciplinary teams and meetings regarding, for example, child protection or mental health;
  • maintaining accurate records and preparing reports for legal action;
  • giving evidence in court;
  • participating in training, supervision and team meetings.

The sector skills council for health and social care professions, which provides more information about a career in social work, is Skills for Care .


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Written by Clare Dawson, University of Warwick
December 2013

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