If you are passionate about social justice, there are many opportunities for qualified social workers at a local level that will allow you to really make a difference to your community
The number of people sleeping rough in England has increased every year since 2010. According to figures published by national membership charity Homeless Link, an estimated 2,744 people were living on the streets in 2014.
Homelessness may be just one of the growing social care issues facing social workers up and down the country, but a recent situation in Manchester has attracted widespread media attention. This has put the spotlight on the social care sector and how those involved play such a vital role in protecting the most vulnerable groups in society.
The complexity of homelessness
National newspapers recently reported how Manchester United football legends Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs have allowed a group of rough sleepers to shelter within their newly purchased city centre hotel over the cold winter months until renovation work begins on the property.
At the same time, council officials and charity workers have been attempting to address the rise in homelessness in the city by providing overnight shelter in disused buildings.
Councillor Paul Andrews, executive member for adult health and wellbeing at Manchester City Council, says, 'While providing shelter and a roof over their heads is obviously a good start, what's really important is working with charities, faith groups and our own homelessness services to make sure that the right help and support is available to rough sleepers so we can help them make the first steps towards getting off the streets for good.'
However, it's not just the physical provision of housing that's required to alleviate the problem. Indeed, with 38% of those who use such accommodation projects having multiple or complex needs, seeking additional support for mental health, alcohol or drug problems (according to Homeless Link's Support for single homeless people in England: Annual Review 2015), there are clearly wider concerns.
In her role as a care co-ordinator within a local community mental health team for the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, Fay Bennett provides support for adults of working age (18-65). After achieving an MA in Social Work from The University of Manchester, she's now dedicated to serving her local community.
'In Manchester, issues regarding homelessness are becoming increasingly visible,' she says. 'As a social worker, you're provided with endless opportunities to address such issues and to finish each working day knowing that you've contributed to the ongoing efforts to improve the lives of the most vulnerable.'
The good thing with social work is that there are always further opportunities
Finding a job
While strongly recommending a career in social work to those with a keen interest in social justice and humanitarian issues, Fay stresses the need to be non-judgemental. 'Mental health does not discriminate, and nor should we,' she explains. 'Manchester has a diverse population and anti-discriminatory values are key to understanding systematic problems such as racism, sexism and homophobia.'
It's also necessary to have an interest in local and international politics, as social workers on the frontline are responsible for managing the implications of decisions made by government; for instance, economic cuts that hit the most vulnerable the hardest.
Fay decided to pursue a career in social work after completing a BA in Language, Literacy and Communication at The University of Manchester, where she completed modules in person-centred counselling.
When it came to getting a job, work experience proved crucial. During her training, Fay completed placements within the voluntary sector at The Pankhurst Centre, Women MATTA and alongside Manchester Rape Crisis (MRC).
'These roles provided an insight into the pertinent issues that local women were facing - homelessness, domestic violence, sexual abuse (and trafficking), alcohol and substance misuse - all of which had a knock-on effect on these vulnerable women's mental health,' she adds.
Fay later managed to gain a student placement within the local NHS community mental health team, and after completing the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), she's now a qualified member of staff.
Part of her job involves crisis management and signposting the vulnerable in society to receive immediate relief in the form of food banks and community support groups. 'An ability to be creative with resources is crucial in the current economic climate,' she says.
Although her chosen career can be extremely rewarding, each day is different and those choosing to be a social worker will need to be prepared to work within a multi-disciplinary setting alongside nurses, occupational therapists, consultants, psychologists, housing officers and the police.
Those interested in a career in social work will find that it's imperative to study for an industry-approved qualification.
Abigail Gorringe, director of education at the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), reveals how anybody practising as a social worker in England or using the legally protected title of 'social worker' must be registered with the HCPC.
'To become eligible to apply to the HCPC Register, individuals must complete a UK education or training programme approved by the HCPC,' she explains. 'These programmes meet the HCPC's standards of education and training, which ensure that students who successfully complete them understand our standards of conduct, performance and ethics and meet the standards of proficiency for social workers in England.'
Fay's HCPC-approved Masters led to her newly qualified social worker (NQSW) status. Working in adult services to gain an ASYE qualification provided her with access to peer supervision, as well as time to reflect on further professional development.
'The good thing with social work is that there are always further opportunities and I hope to undertake training to be an Approved Mental Health Practitioner (AMHP) next year, so I can take responsibility for assessing people under the Mental Health Act (MHA).'
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