The challenging and varied role of a family support worker is ideal for anyone hoping to make a positive impact on the lives of children, young people and families
As a family support worker, you'll offer practical help and emotional support to families experiencing short or long-term difficulties. You'll typically be employed by local authorities' social services departments or charitable organisations.
The focus of your role is to provide support to service users, empowering them to address various challenges, reducing problems and risks and, in some cases, helping to make sure that children can remain with their family.
You might help parents and children with a range of social and personal issues or specialise in a particular area such as domestic abuse, bereavement or homelessness.
Job titles vary and you may also be known as a:
- family intervention officer
- family outreach officer
- family welfare assistant
- key worker
- parenting support worker
- project worker.
Families are usually referred to you by a social worker, and you may work together to assess and support the service users. Your role will vary depending on the needs of the family you're helping, but you may also have a specialist area, depending on your employer's focus.
The challenges faced by your service users could relate to:
- anti-social behaviour and criminal activity, such as a parent in prison
- behaviour and social interaction
- bereavement and caring responsibilities
- domestic violence and abuse
- drug and alcohol addiction
- education and learning
- finance and debt
- housing and homelessness
- language barriers
- marital discord, separation and divorce, including care orders
- parenting skills
- physical and mental health issues, disabilities and learning difficulties.
As a family support worker, you'll typically need to:
- complete an initial assessment of families' needs so that you can identify and plan the support needed to address issues and prevent any problems from escalating
- undertake regular caseload review meetings with individuals and families during home and community visits to ensure they're fully supported to progress and achieve desired outcomes
- work with colleagues, health and social care professionals and multi-agency networks to evaluate caseload needs and the progress that has been made
- adhere to professional practice standards and legislation, including confidentiality, safeguarding, equality, diversity and inclusion policies
- ensure you're up-to-date on your knowledge of local service provision for appropriate signposting and referrals
- manage your own workload, administration and diary commitments
- assess parenting skills and help people to build physical and emotional caring abilities through a range of practical activities
- help children with learning and development
- enhance parents' understanding of different education and play strategies
- provide practical home management and budgeting advice to parents
- coach, mentor and motivate families to understand the benefits of relevant activities
- maintain accurate and up-to-date administration and caseload records, including reports of all interactions
- stay with a family during a crisis situation, such as a parent being in hospital
- attend court sessions when relevant, for example in cases of child protection.
- Starting salaries for family support workers are typically between £18,000 and £24,000.
- With experience or a particular specialism you can earn up to £35,000, especially if you're in a supervisory role.
- Salaries for family support workers working as centre project and charity managers can be up to £50,000.
Casual, sessional or relief family support workers are typically paid between £8.00 and £15.00 per hour.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Full-time family support workers usually work 37 hours per week. There are also part-time, casual and job share options available.
You may have to work early mornings, evenings and weekends to accommodate the family's needs and commitments, such as work and school hours.
What to expect
- You will usually need a driving licence and your own vehicle to visit different locations within your day-to-day role.
- Some of your working week will be spent in an office, attending meetings, organising workload, typing reports and updating caseload activities.
- The role can be emotionally draining as you could be dealing with sensitive and traumatic issues including bereavement and neglect. It can also be challenging and involve confrontation, particularly if a family does not welcome your involvement. In some cases, the family may not be ready to engage with you, and therefore not all interactions will have a positive outcome. However, enabling families to overcome wide-ranging challenges and difficult situations means that your role is extremely varied and highly rewarding.
- You'll work in a multidisciplinary team or partnership of support agencies, in a variety of settings including local authority offices, families' homes, schools, nurseries, youth centres, probation offices, homeless refuges, local courts, and premises of voluntary and charitable organisations.
- Ongoing local authority budget cuts and staffing restructures affecting social care services mean that there is some uncertainty relating to job security within the public sector. Within the third sector, role security and contract term may depend upon the organisation's funding and charitable grants.
Although entry routes into family support worker roles are varied, you'll usually need a combination of relevant experience and qualifications.
Typically, employers seek a minimum of a level 3 qualification in one of the following:
- advice and guidance
- community work
- social care
- youth work.
Employers will also usually expect experience and knowledge of safeguarding practices and procedures. It may worth completing a course in safeguarding awareness to support your application.
While you don't have to be a graduate to become a family support worker, the following degree subjects can lead to this career:
- childhood studies
- social work
- youth and community work.
To work with children, young people and vulnerable groups, you will need to undergo an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.
You'll need to show:
- good communication and listening skills
- the ability to build and maintain rapport with adults and children
- calmness under pressure and when dealing with challenging or confrontational behaviour
- flexibility and adaptability
- a good understanding of the challenges faced by the families you help
- organisation and problem-solving skills
- resilience and the ability to cope with emotionally-draining and traumatic situations
- commitment to making a positive difference to the lives of service users
- a positive, non-judgemental, empathetic and sensitive approach
- effective teamwork skills, as you will often be acting within a multidisciplinary service or multi-agency network
- competent IT skills in order to record and maintain accurate data
- the ability to maintain expert knowledge of local services and provision.
You may also need relevant language skills depending on the service users and communities you support.
You'll need relevant work experience with children, young people and their families to work as a family support worker. This can be either in a paid or voluntary capacity. Although you probably won't find structured opportunities such as internships, you can work or volunteer in children and family support services in order to gain experience and develop your skills.
You may also be able to find experience in:
- children's homes
- family community centres
- family refuge centres
- mental health services
- nurseries and schools
- probation services
- youth projects.
Experience in mentoring, advisory work, coaching, problem-solving and supporting children and adults is also helpful when applying for a post. Get involved in activities through your university's volunteering and community services or search for local voluntary opportunities using the Do-it website. Your local volunteer bureau may also help you to find relevant work experience.
Jobs are available in the public and not-for-profit sectors in local authority social services departments and specialist support organisations and charities.
Look for job vacancies at:
Opportunities are also advertised on individual charity websites, in the local and national press and by recruitment agencies.
It is important that you commit to ongoing learning and development. You will usually take regular or further training relating to:
- policy and legal frameworks and procedures (including data protection and confidentiality)
- child protection and safeguarding
- assessment methods
- health and safety
- first aid
- equality and diversity
- recognising the signs or substance misuse and domestic violence.
You'll need to attend in-house and external training sessions, conferences and seminars to maintain your professional knowledge and skills. You may also undergo supervision.
You can also take qualifications relevant to your specialism. The charity Women's Aid, for example, provides accredited courses in tackling and preventing domestic and sexual violence/abuse. Courses are also available in areas such as bereavement and debt counselling.
Some family support workers choose to work towards higher-level qualifications, including foundation degrees in working with children, young people and families.
If you already have a degree, you can take a postgraduate degree in child and family studies or family support. It's also possible to take a postgraduate certificate, diploma or Masters in child protection.
With experience and relevant qualifications, you may want to specialise in a particular area of family support work, such as supporting people with learning difficulties.
For many family support workers, progression involves moving into supervisory and managerial posts. This typically involves leading a team of staff or running a refuge, project or family centre. Your role will include the planning, delivery and evaluation of family services.
As well as progressing into leadership, strategic and policy development roles, it's also possible to move into research by taking a PhD in family support.