Busy social life

NAME: Gavin Fullerton AGE: 32 OCCUPATION: Social Worker PERSONAL: While studying for his first degree in Sheffield, Gavin took a part-time job as a care assistant in a residential home for the elderly, to make some extra money. He enjoyed it so much that

NAME: Gavin Fullerton

AGE: 32

OCCUPATION: Social Worker

PERSONAL: While studying for his first degree in Sheffield, Gavin took a part-time job as a care assistant in a residential home for the elderly, to make some extra money. He enjoyed it so much that he later applied for a postgraduate course in social work and arranged to do some voluntary work at a centre for people with learning disabilities.


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When Gavin gained his postgrad qualification, two years later, he became part of a team in Manchester, working in the field on various types of cases. He found he was particularly interested in the area of child protection and decided to study for a post-qualification award in child care while continuing to work in the field.

With three years experience under his belt Gavin got a job in London, as part of a multidisciplinary team specialising in the care and protection of vulnerable children, where he has stayed for the past five years. He is now the team's senior social worker and intends to pass on some of the experience he has gained in the field by gaining a practice teaching qualification in the next year.

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JOB DESCRIPTION

Social workers provide support to people who, for whatever reason, are experiencing crises or find themselves excluded from society. Their role is to help individuals help themselves, either in their own homes or in community institutions. Typical clients include children and their families, young offenders, people suffering from mental health problems, drug or alcohol abusers and those with physical or learning disabilities.

Duties include assessing potential clients and interviewing them to evaluate their specific needs, providing information for individuals and their families, organising ongoing support for those who need it, referring clients to specific agencies and getting involved in legal action, both by helping people prepare for it and appearing to give evidence in court.

Along with medical and legal staff, social workers are increasingly employed as part of multidisciplinary teams, which aim to provide a full support service to individuals in dealing with things such as child protection or mental health care.

SKILLS & PERSONALITY

Although social workers are all graduates, they all have to complete a pre-entry course before they are allowed to practice, so personality and outside experience are usually a lot more important. However, social sciences, law, psychology or nursing can give you a head start.

Necessary personal traits include the ability to talk and listen to people who may be hostile and agitated, excellent observation skills, patience, flexibility, resilience and the ability to remain calm in a crisis.

Initiative and negotiation skills are vital too, as is the ability to get your head round the intricacies of the law.

TRAINING & ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

All social workers will have a pre-entry qualification, either a three-year undergraduate degree or a two-year postgraduate qualification, sometimes undertaken while already working for a local authority. These are a mixture of classroom theory (including legal and procedural practice) and practical placements with local institutions. Social workers need to register with the General Social Care Council (GSCC) in order to practice.

After the initial qualification, post-qualification (PQ) courses are available to help social workers further their knowledge of the profession. Currently, these fall into two groups; the Post-Qualifying Award in Social Work (PQSW) and the Advanced Award in Social Work (AASW). Both involve completing accredited programmes of study, but can be done over a period of time and in different locations.

The main difference between the two is that PQSWs allow people to specialise in the field they find interesting, but things are set to change soon, as the Government is expected to launch its revised PQ programme in 2007.

EARNINGS & PROSPECTS

There's a general shortage of qualified operatives so the financial rewards tend to be pretty good. Qualified social workers' starting salaries can be anywhere between £19,800 and £28,000 depending on location. Those moving into a managerial role after two or three years can expect earnings in the range of £21,000 to £35,000, while the most senior workers (anybody with ten or more years under their belt) would be looking at a healthy £50,000 annually.

After three to five years as a front line operative, social workers can apply for jobs that involve managing the work of a team, as well as taking on responsibility for financial and political concerns.

Qualifications to improve management skills are common and those qualified in practice teaching can also train up students and junior recruits.

MAIN MOAN

"Huge mounds of paperwork are by no means uncommon - the report-writing can get very tedious."

MAIN SATISFACTION

"It's wonderful to see my job really making a difference to people's lives - being able to help them sort out their problems is hugely rewarding."

MORE INFORMATION

Department of health info: www.socialworkcareers.co.uk

Publications, information and jobs fairs at www.compassjobsfair.com

Local Government Careers: www.lgcareers.com

Community Service Volunteers (CSV), for a great way to build up your experience: www.csv.org.uk

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