Public & Private Sector

Qualified social workers are as in demand now as they ever have been, and there are vacancies throughout the UK and Ireland for registered social workers. Whether you are a newly qualified social worker or have a career of experience in social work behind you, there are opportunities out there in both the public and private sector that could interest you.

The private sector can sometimes be regarded as the poor relation to public sector social work, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of social worker vacancies that are available. Private sector companies that advertise social work jobs are usually recruitment agencies that have been appointed by a public sector organisation in order to provide qualified social workers for their vacancies.

Public Sector Social Worker Jobs

The majority of social workers in the UK work in the public sector, whether that’s by direct appointment or through a private sector agency placement. Public sector social workers can work in a range of different environments and with a wide range of people. It’s the primary role of the social worker to address the difficulties that an individual has with living a good quality of life. Anyone can experience difficulties at any time in their life, and these may be caused by injury, illness, old age or mental health problems. Someone with any combination of these problems can feel excluded and isolated from the community, and without the help of a social worker they may not be able to access support to overcome these problems.

A social worker who specialises in the care of the elderly will be well aware of the constraints of visual impairment, reduced mobility and decreasing mental ability, and can assist with methods to cope with each situation. For example, an elderly person living alone at home may require the assistance of an occupational therapist to provide living aids around their home, which can be arranged by a social worker. They may require a support worker to come in and help with cleaning, cooking or bathing or a healthcare assistant to manage their medication, all of which can be booked in by the social worker.

However, a social worker who specialises in children and families will be more aware of the needs of all the people involved, and the kind of support they may need to improve the functionality of the family. It’s only in a last resort situation and if the child’s safety is at risk that a child will be removed and placed into care, but none the less it is a decision that a social worker must take. That particular social worker will continue to manage the case of the child and the family to work towards the child returning home when appropriate and safe to do so.

There are also social workers who are employed by the NHS, as opposed to the local authority. Social workers in a clinical setting are usually involved at the point when a patient is about to be discharged, and they will assess the suitability of the patient to return home. The social worker will need to assess and monitor the patient, as well as take into account their wishes in order to supply an appropriate package of care. Some patients may not be able to return home, in which case the social worker will arrange a place for them in either nursing care or residential care as appropriate. The overall outcome must be that the patient is safe, able to maintain a good quality of life and is receiving the care they require. A social worker is best placed to assess the most appropriate course of action for a patient because they will coordinate as part of a multi-disciplinary team and ensure all healthcare professionals have communicated their recommendations.

Social Workers Employed by the Private Sector

As we detailed earlier, in some instances private sector recruitment agencies are awarded a contract to recruit social workers for a local authority or a primary care trust. This hands the entire recruitment process over the agency, who receive their fee when a staff member is placed. This also takes all pressure away from an internal recruitment department who may not be able to take on recruiting for a large number of social work professionals.

There’s nothing wrong with this process, and you could end up working in exactly the same position had the local authority / PCT advertised the post themselves.

Support worker jobs are available in all sectors of health and social care and it’s one job you can do without any formal qualifications, although many employers do ofter the chance to study for NVQ qualifications while you work.

As a support worker you could be required to work nights and weekends as well as day time shifts, depending on your role, and there is a huge opportunity for part time working. Support worker jobs are available throughout the UK, and it will depend on the employer as to the terms and contract offered, but you can probably find a vacancy close to you which meets your needs.

In order to be a successful support worker you will need a broad skill and knowledge base, not least of which is an understanding of vulnerable people. You need to be able to understand and adhere to your role in a strictly professional capacity, and to know how legislation works to protect yourself as well as the client. You will definitely need a sense of humour and the ability to manage challenging or difficult behaviour. It can be a very intense job, and some people describe it as a lifestyle rather than a job because you usually get to know the individual(s) you are working with very well.

Support worker jobs in learning disabilities
If you are a support worker working with people who have learning disabilities, you may be working with just one individual or a group of individuals living together in a supported environment. You will work on building a relationship with the individual(s) while you support them with in living their lives.

Promoting independence and well-being in a person with learning disabilities is the biggest part of being a support worker. The individual care plan will very much depend on the service user and their capabilities, but as a support worker you will ensure they are safe while still getting the most amount of satisfaction from their activities. Some people undertake volunteer work during the days, others live almost independently by shopping, cooking and cleaning for themselves. In your capacity as a support worker you can offer your opinion and advice about any activity or issue, but ultimately the final decision of the person you are supporting must be respected. For example, you could advise about healthy food choices when assisting an individual with making their shopping list, but it is their choice if they actually buy what’s on the list when they get to the supermarket.

You could be involved in assisting them with any type of physical activity such as helping them exercise, or with recreational activities such as shopping, playing games, or cooking and cleaning in their home. Some service users may be able to live independently and will only need support when going out, others may need assistance in their own homes to undertake daily tasks, but whatever the needs of the individual you will support them at a level that is appropriate for their needs.

Support worker jobs in mental health
Mental health is a very varied area for a support worker to work in, you could be working with individuals who have a drug or addiction problem, depression, or dementia to name just a few possibilities. Support workers in this area are sometimes called STR workers, which stands for support, time and recovery worker. The emphasis is on providing support to the individual, giving them time and in so doing, aid their recovery.

Your work could include arranging peer support groups for people with a particular issue, or working alongside a psychiatrist, social worker or community mental health team in the managing a caseload of individuals with a range of mental health problems. Your role will be to promote independent living, give regular and practical support and assist the service user to gain access to resources they might otherwise be unaware of. This could be through a community mental health team, early intervention service or day care centre – there are STR or support workers based in all these locations.

It’s important that you have a genuinely caring nature, and the willingness to help the individual overcome their problems, as well as the ability to prioritise your workload. It’s common that an individual will be under the care of a multi-disciplinary team, so your ability to pass information effectively between other team members is essential.

Support worker in the community
A support worker in the community visits people who need assistance in their own homes. They may be people who have been discharged from hospital, or are elderly and losing their mobility, or they simply need a small amount of assistance in order to maintain their independence.

The tasks a support worker will usually perform include personal care, bathing, dressing, cooking and sometimes a small amount of cleaning if required. The range of needs that a person has will depend greatly on their mobility and how much treatment they are receiving. It may be that you will work alongside a community nurse as part of manual handling guidelines set down when moving a person, or you could be working on your own to ensure a service user has a healthy cooked meal that day.

You could also be a children and families support worker in the community working closely with both parents, guardians and children to provide emotional and practical advice. This could involve working alongside a social worker or a case manager, so a key part of the job of a support worker is to be able to actively participate both as part of a team and as an individual.

Being a support worker is hugely rewarding career, it can offer a real sense of achievement and reward in the knowledge that you are helping to make someone’s life better. However, it can also be stressful and you could find yourself working in isolation on some occasions. You need to be strong character able to recognise the signs of stress, but strong enough to ask for help when you need it. You will never be asked to work outside of your capabilities and you should always draw an employers attention to your skill level if you are asked to do something you haven’t been trained to do. Most employers will train you in basic first aid, manual handling and sometimes medication handling, but you must never put yourself or others at risk by trying to undertake a task you have not been trained for.

There are support worker jobs in clinical settings as well as the situations we’ve looked at in this article. There are support workers in virtually all areas of healthcare from occupational therapy to physiotherapy to maternity. The range of tasks involved in your particular role as a support worker will vary hugely between each department so you should take a careful look at the job description before you apply to any support worker vacancy.