How to get the best start in social care

Be prepared for your career with this guide from Stephanie Sparrow

Social work is one of the most rewarding, yet demanding and skilled professions.

“It is the dedication to social work values and social justice and not the compensation, that drives social workers’ practice”, says Claudia Megele, principal social worker at a local authority. As Megele explains, this dedication   “gives them the resilience to overcome the daily challenges, and to persevere in supporting and enabling others to make positive change in their lives, overcome their difficulties and achieve their potential.”

Gaining the right experience is an important entry requirement for many social work qualifying courses, In addition, acquiring the appropriate skills, qualifications and mindset at the beginning of your career, or while you are considering whether to embark on a social work degree, will help forge the resilience you need.

Volunteering

But where to start? Megele, and other practitioners, recommend volunteering or working in social care or with charities to get, what she calls, “a glimpse into the rewards and challenge of this profession.”

Continuity and longevity in placements is important. Employers show their commitment by offering thorough training for such roles, which can be enhanced with other courses and elearning.

For example, at the Sense, the national deafblind support organisation, frontline and support workers participate in a five-day, face-to-face induction programme which includes safeguarding, an in-depth understanding of deafblindness, and emergency first aid. Staff complete the Care Certificate developed by Skills for Care, and may also take additional courses such as “Personalisation and Person-Centred Training” and “Identity, Sexuality and Relationships”.

“We’re really proud of our excellent induction and training”, says Chloe Leedham from the Sense HR team, adding that in return Sense looks for “a passionate commitment to providing excellent support”. 

Legislation

Candidates should remember that for care roles at all levels, the job specifications and criteria are guided by current legislation and training requirements in order to ensure that a consistent level of service.

As Tom Hawkins, director at Hays Social Care comments: “At entry level in adult services the standard qualification is generally an NVQ Level 2 in Health and Social Care. This qualification precedes what is generally accepted as the industry standard requirement for a ‘qualified’ social care professional in adult services, the NVQ level 3 in Health and Social Care.

“In children’s services legislation is more rigid”, he says. “In order to become a ‘qualified’ Childcare Practitioner or Child Support Worker, the requisite qualification is now the QCF/NVQ Level 3 in Children and Young People’s Workforce.”

Those who then feel ready to move on to become a social worker (which is a protected title like “doctor”) must also comply with strict regulations and learning. They will only get access to the required courses if they have experience of social work or social care before they study.

“To qualify as a social worker you must complete a degree level qualification in social work or have a relevant Health and Care Professional Council (HCPC) approved qualification (DipSW, CQSW, CSS). In addition, to practice as a social worker you must be registered with the HCPC”, says Osman Ibrahim, associate director of HCL Social Care.

Understand the environment

If you have followed all the steps above you should find that a thorough understanding of the profession and the environment will stand you in good stead when you apply for your first job.

“Many newly qualified social workers will receive their qualification at the same time of year (normally around September) which means you need to be able to stand out from the crowd”, says Ibrahim.

One of the qualities of a stand-out candidate for social worker roles includes enhancing your experience beyond the 100-day placements you will complete during your degree. You should also register to become a member of the British Association of Social Workers.
 

Next steps

Career progression for social workers, or those who choose to specialise in social care, shows the value of this solid foundation of qualifications and experience.

Those who follow the pure social care route (as opposed to taking a social work degree) often aim for registered management roles with their organisation. Graduate social workers will initially need two years’ post-qualified experience before they can move on.

“After which a clear career path can be put in place to become a senior social worker, senior practitioner, team leader and beyond”, says Ibrahim.

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