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A career in social care

socialcare1The need for social care is growing, so we take a look at how you can enter the sector at entry-level or on a more advanced stratum and make a big difference to those who need support and guidance.

The social care sector is constructed of people who enjoy helping others, and according to the Community Care Statistics, in 2005 an estimated 3.6 million contact hours were provided to around 354,500 households.  Altruistic and driven mindsets drive social care and the dramatic changes it makes to the way in which some people live.  Working in care is a rewarding opportunity to offer attention and support to those who need it most and make a significant difference. The roles within the area vary but integrally they share the responsibility of working on behalf of those going through a crisis or difficulty in their lives.  Through intervening and offering useful advice or action, the eventual aim of social care is for the person or group of people to be able to either support themselves independently or retain dignity and control of their situation.

socialcare2Types of care
There are two main spheres in social care, the first being domiciliary care that includes the care of a group of people – for example children or the elderly – in a residential school or care home.  This offers help for them to live in a community, encouraging independence in their daily lives even if they are not in their own homes, covering important tasks such as medication, personal care and meals. The other – field social work – is focussed on improving social conditions for particular individuals or families in the community. As a support service this form of social care provides help to those living in their own homes, ensuring involvement within the local community and offers assistance with areas such as budgeting and ensuring the person being cared for has a healthy lifestyle. The difference between the two roles is that social work, the latter, functions on a senior level with people who use social care services, whereas Social Care Assistants tend to offer more personal care.

If you work within residential care, the initial position that you are most likely to enter as is that of Social Care Worker or Care Assistant. The general responsibility of the role involves providing help and support to the daily activities of people who are experiencing difficulties. The setting of this work varies from in care homes to day centres to people’s own homes. Duties cover personal care, housework and investing time in getting to know individual clients as building a comfortable relationship with those you are caring for is an essential aspect of the job.  Work can be reasonably flexible – although may include weekend shifts – and if you are a carer who visits people in their own homes – rather than remaining located in a care home for example – then a full driving license can prove very useful.  

socialcare3Getting started
The most appropriate way of achieving an understanding of social care is through gaining experience as it provides first-hand involvement with those you care for in the profession. From this early stage you can choose whether it is a suitable career option for you. The best way to begin work as a Care Assistant is to gain a placement in a care setting – whether it be voluntary or paid – as although related qualifications are not a necessity to begin a career in care, you must show the willing to train whilst you work. You will often find that voluntary positions can lead to permanent roles in care. If you do not have any direct experience and wish to apply for an entry-level position, then a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in Health and Social Care may be a viable option as many employers value it. The NVQ is more a sort of training than a formal qualification, which means you learn as you work and are able to apply knowledge immediately. You may also wish to consider a Diploma in the area if you have no previous experience in the sector, such as the Edexcel Level 3 BTEC National Award in Health and Social Care.

Although you will always be learning through on-the-job training, previous experience in caring, whether it be for family or through volunteering is beneficial. If you wish to help particularly those with mental health issues or learning disabilities, then you will almost certainly need previous experience in that area. When beginning a career in adult social care, you may be asked by your employer to complete a 12-week induction programme as part of the Skills for Care refreshed Common Induction Standards that assure high quality support and care. A Criminal Records Bureau check is also essential for all employees working in the sector. You can expect to earn in the region of £12,000 to £16,000 as a Care Assistant with further training possible if you wish to progress into support work or social work.

socialcare4Responsibilities
Social work builds on the responsibilities of social care work, but requires degree level education in the area. Social workers are expected to be involved in a lot of administrative work, as they are responsible for maintaining case records and reviewing them. These cases may vary, but generally involve offering services to families, children or individuals who are presently struggling and aims to help them resolve such challenges.  The role is diverse: you will be expected to be a counsellor, an advisor and to have a thorough understanding of the law so that you can support those you are helping when necessary. The work is very challenging and unpredictable, so you need to be able to adapt to changing situations and make reasoned decisions to ensure the best possible outcome for all involved. It gives you an opportunity to champion people that genuinely need help and to make a direct impact on peoples’ lives for the better.

If you wish to qualify as a Social Worker whilst continuing in employment, you may be able to get your employer to sponsor you financially if you are already working in a care-related environment. If this is not possible, some voluntary organisations or local authorities do offer schemes for those hoping to train whilst they work. If you are considering studying for a social care qualification, then it is also advisable to discuss funding with your local college, as you may be entitled to bursaries or grants to help you financially.

When working within social care there are opportunities in both the public sector – for example in hospital trusts or social services – and privately in independent organisations. You can expect a salary ranging from £15,000 to £20,000 when initially starting out in the sector to £40,000 at a more developed level. There are also opportunities for Social Workers to take on managerial roles later in their careers or develop a specialist area of interest.

Working in social care, whether it is as a Social Care Assistant, Social Worker or a Support Worker, is all about making a difference to peoples’ lives through consistent care.  In 2005 – according to the ‘The State of the Social Care Workforce 2004’ report – there were approximately 922,000 people in paid employment in the area, but with the ageing population of the UK, there are more people needing the help of experienced professionals. Beginning a career in the social care sector is an opportunity to make a direct impact on peoples’ lives and enter an environment where you will continue to train and learn as you work.


Social work qualifications
So that you are able to meet the demands of such a trying job, you will need to be fully qualified.  If you do not already have an undergraduate degree and want to become a Social Worker then the most convenient option for you is to study a three-year BA programme which will involve a minimum of 200 days practical work. If you have already studied for an undergraduate degree (which is not social work-related) then you will be expected to study for a postgraduate qualification. This covers the same subject areas as the undergraduate course and is frequently offered in Social Worker graduate programmes by authorities.  With the latter degree, unless you have worked in a relevant environment, then you may need to gain some work experience in social care work in order to demonstrate your interest and experience in the area. In order to work as a Social Worker it is essential that you be registered with the General Social Care Council (GSCC), which can be achieved through qualifying with a degree approved by the body.


This article was first published in Careers with Hayley Taylor in August 2011. [Read the digital edition here]


 Images: Getty

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