If you want to make a positive impact on the lives of children, young people and families, the challenging and varied role of a family support worker could be for you

Family support workers are typically employed by local authorities' social services departments or charitable organisations, to assist families who are experiencing short or long term problems, by offering practical help and emotional support.

The focus of your role would be to provide support to service users, empowering them to address short and long term 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.

Family support workers are given a variety of titles, and may also be known as:

  • family intervention officers;
  • family outreach officers;
  • family welfare assistants;
  • key workers;
  • parenting support workers;
  • project workers.

Responsibilities

Families are usually referred to you by a social worker, and you may work together to assess and support the service users. As a family support worker, your role will vary depending on the needs of the family you are 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; including a parent in prison;
  • behaviour and social interaction;
  • bereavement and caring responsibilities;
  • bullying;
  • 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.

Your activities could include:

  • doing 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;
  • undertaking regular caseload review meetings with individuals and families during home and community visits to ensure they are fully supported to progress and achieve desired outcomes;
  • working with colleagues, health and social care professionals and multi-agency networks to evaluate caseload needs and the progress that has been made;
  • adhering to professional practice standards and legislations, including confidentiality, safeguarding, equality, diversity and inclusion policies;
  • ensuring that you are up-to-date on your knowledge of local service provision for appropriate signposting and referrals;
  • managing your own workload, administration and diary commitments;
  • assessing parenting skills and helping people to build physical and emotional caring abilities through a range of practical activities;
  • helping children with learning and development;
  • enhancing parents' understanding of different education and play strategies;
  • providing practical home management and budgeting advice to parents;
  • coaching, mentoring and motivating families to understand the benefits of relevant activities;
  • maintaining accurate and up-to-date administration and caseload records, including reports of all interactions;
  • staying with a family during a crisis situation, such as a parent being in hospital.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for family support workers are typically between £17,000 and £24,000.
  • With experience or a particular specialism, family support workers, particularly in supervisory roles, can earn up to £35,000.
  • Salaries for family support workers working as centre project and charity managers can be up to £50,000.
  • Casual or relief family support workers are typically paid between £8.00 and £10.00 per hour.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Full-time family support workers usually work 37 hours per week. There are also part-time, casual and job share options available.

Early mornings, evenings and weekend working can be necessary, in order to adapt to the needs of the family and their commitments, such as work and school hours.

What to expect

  • Travel to different locations within your day-to-day role is likely, therefore a driving licence and your own vehicle are usually required.
  • 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. Providing support to families, to enable them to overcome wide-ranging challenges and difficult situations, means that your role can be extremely varied and highly rewarding.
  • As a family support worker, you will work in a multi-disciplinary team or partnership of support agencies. You could work in a variety of settings, including: local authority offices, clients' homes, schools, nurseries, youth centres, probation offices, homeless refuges, local courts, 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.

Qualifications

Although entry routes into family support worker roles are extremely varied, a combination of relevant experience and qualifications is usually required.

Typically, employers seek a minimum of a level 3 qualification in:

  • advice and guidance;
  • childcare;
  • counselling;
  • education;
  • health;
  • social care;
  • youth work.

Experience and knowledge of safeguarding practices and procedures is sometimes required by employers. Completing a course in safeguarding awareness could 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;
  • education;
  • psychology;
  • social work.

To work with children, young people and vulnerable groups, you will need to undergo relevant criminal records checks.

Skills

As a family support worker, you will 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 team work skills, as you will often be acting within a multi-disciplinary service or multi-agency network;
  • competent ICT skills in order to record and maintain accurate data;
  • the ability to maintain expert knowledge of local services and provision.

Some roles may also require specific language skills, dependent on the needs of the service users and communities you support.

Work experience

Getting relevant work experience, with children, young people and their families, in a paid or voluntary capacity, will help you enter this profession. You probably won't find structured opportunities such as internships. However, you can work or volunteer in children and family support services in order to gain experience and develop your skills.

Relevant experience could be gained at:

  • 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 could all help you when applying for a family support worker 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 could also help you to find relevant work experience.

Employers

You can find opportunities in the public sector, at local authority social services departments and in 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.

Professional development

A commitment to ongoing learning and development is important and you are likely to undertake regular or further training relating to:

  • policy and legal frameworks and procedures (including data protection and confidentiality);
  • child protection and safeguarding;
  • health and safety;
  • first aid;
  • equality and diversity;
  • substance misuse;
  • domestic violence.

You may be required to attend in-house and external training sessions, conferences and seminars to maintain your professional knowledge and skills.

Some family support workers choose to work towards higher-level qualifications, including postgraduate awards in child and family studies. Search for postgraduate courses in family studies.

Career prospects

With experience and relevant qualifications, you could specialise in a particular area, e.g. supporting people with learning difficulties.

For many family support workers, progression often involves moving into supervisory and managerial posts; leading a team of staff or running a refuge, project or family centre.

Family support workers may choose to progress to become social workers. You can find out more about social work careers via the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).