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The Truth About Social Work
Social work is a complex and often misunderstood profession. When it hits the headlines, it is often due to high profile tragedies where the role of social work practitioners is placed under intense scrutiny. When presented on television, it’s often portrayed in a one-dimensional or stereotypical way. Because of this, many people may feel they know social work, but there are a number of very common misconceptions. Here, we aim to explore some of the myths and help people to understand and appreciate the work that social work practitioners do...
As well as the academic requirements, a number of skills and attributes are essential for a good social worker. These include emotional resilience, tact and understanding, and the ability to cope with stressful situations. You should also have excellent communication and listening skills as well as problem solving and report writing abilities.
Myth: Social workers can solve all your problems
Reality: Although they may wish they could, social workers don’t just click their fingers and make problems disappear. They work tirelessly to help those in need, by either supporting them through personalised programmes or connecting them with other specialist organisations and professionals who can provide specialist support. Alongside direct work with people, practitioners must also undertake a wide range of assessments and report writing to support their every step. It’s also important to recognise that it can take months, sometimes years, to build an effective relationship with a service user who is in a vulnerable position, such as a child who has suffered abuse.
Myth: Social workers split families up and take children away from their parents
Reality: In children’s social work there is often controversy due to the very sensitive nature of the work that practitioners do. Social workers have to assess very complex cases and make hugely difficult decisions, doing everything that they can to keep families together in a happy, loving environment. Splitting up families or taking a child into care would only ever be a last resort, and would always be a decision taken with the best interests of the child at heart. Their goal is to create a safe and peaceful home for children and their parents, and they work hard to help all aspects of the family’s life which may be hindering this. There are times where the levels of risk are too high and only then will a social worker make recommendations to the family courts; it is then up to a judge whether the child should be removed.
Myth: Social workers don’t earn very much money
Reality: Social work is a qualified role and salaries are comparable to any other public sector profession. Although there are no fixed national salary scales, it is expected that a newly qualified social worker would earn around £22,000 per annum. As a social worker climbs the career ladder, they can expect to earn up to around £40,000. NHS social workers would normally fall within Band 6 of the NHS pay scale which is £26,041 to £34, 876. (Source: prospects.ac.uk)
Myth: Social workers have to deal with tough situations on their own
Reality: Social workers should always have support and guidance from their team manager, and should have the opportunity for regular reflective supervision to help them develop good practice. They will also benefit from the wider support network of their colleagues or professionals from other agencies.
With complex decisions, social workers are able to consult other professionals, gaining advice and support along the way. If a social worker feels they are entering a particular situation which may be of high risk, then they are entitled to have police or security support - although this is an extreme example.
Myth: Social workers only work with troubled families
Reality: Most people think of child protection when they think of social workers, but they actually deal with a broad spectrum of people from a diverse range of vulnerable groups. These include but are not limited to: Adults with physical disabilities; learning disabilities; mental illnesses; drug and alcohol issues; sensory disabilities; people returning to home from hospital, and older people.
People from all walks of life may find themselves in a situation where they need support or input from a social worker. This does not necessarily mean that they are at fault; it could be due to poverty, deprivation, or a number of other issues. It is a social worker’s duty to help guide them through these problems with care and understanding.
Myth: There's no career progression
Reality: There are opportunities for social workers to climb a successful and rewarding career ladder, in all areas of the profession. A newly qualified social worker could progress through the ranks to a social worker or senior social worker position, then become an assistant team manager or team manager, followed by a service manager or even a head of service.
There’s no reason why, with the right training, qualifications, skills and character, a NQSW couldn’t one day become a Director of Children’s Services or Director of Adults’ Services.
However, there are also a very high number of social workers who prefer to stay on the ‘front line’ and to continue using their skills working with children and vulnerable adults, rather than progressing into management.
Myth: Women make better social workers
Reality: It has long been thought that social work is a female-orientated profession, although this is a rather outdated view. Statistics do show that women make up the majority of practitioners, but male social workers are also an important part of the workforce. There is also an argument that in some cases, a male social worker could be an important male role model to children as they develop.
The truth is, anyone can make a fantastic social worker as long as they have the right skills, attributes and qualifications, regardless of gender, age or background.
Myth: Social workers are solely responsible for the welfare of the people they work with
Reality: Social workers might spend a great deal of time with service users and discover important information about a child, their family dynamic, or how they are being treated; however many other professionals are also asked to take responsibility.. Teachers, health professionals, police officers and the probation service all have a duty to share information which may relate to the safety and wellbeing of a person.
For example, a teacher may see a child exhibit concerning behaviour at school, or a doctor may see a pattern of suspicious injuries, in which case they should make a referral to social services for further investigation. This is the reason why many local authorities have Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH), to allow these bodies to work together to stop abuse before it occurs.