Social worker

Julie is the Regional Engagement Lead for London for Social Work England, the specialist regulator for social workers. In this blog, Julie speaks about what social work is, why it is a regulated profession and the entry routes into social work.

What is social work?

There are over 100,000 social workers in England, with thousands more practising in other nations of the UK.  

Social Work England was set up in 2019. It is to regulate social workers in England so that people receive the best possible support whenever they might need it in life. We’re a public body working at arm’s length from Government and every social worker in England must be registered with us.

Social work happens in a variety of sectors, including the NHS, local authorities, probation services, schools and universities and the charitable sector. Early years and childcare professionals are most likely to meet a social worker who is working with a child or children who they care for or work with, although they may also experience social work services in their personal lives at some point of their lives.

Social workers work in both statutory and non-statutory roles. The biggest difference between the two is that in a statutory role their work is underpinned by legislation e.g. a social worker within a local authority using the Children Act 1989 to guide their practice. In non-statutory roles, whilst the social work undertaken might be similar, this is not always underpinned by legislation and, if a safeguarding concern arose, it would be passed on to social work colleagues in statutory roles to investigate e.g. a social worker within a charitable support service working with a child or family to prevent an escalation in their difficulties.

However, irrespective of where a social worker is employed, their overarching objective will be to support and empower children, young people, and their families to improve their lives; protecting them from harm when necessary. To achieve this, social workers will often work in collaboration with other professionals, including from the early years and childcare sector, to ensure multi-agency support and advice can be used. Working Together 2018, the statutory guidance for multi-agency working, highlights that the welfare of children and young people is everyone’s responsibility.

Why are social workers regulated?

Many different professions and activities are registered and regulated, from pharmacists to air traffic controllers, legal executives to gas engineers, and architects to security guards.

Registration provides assurance to the public that people who practise as social workers in England have the right skills and qualifications and are capable of safe and effective practice.

Anyone wishing to work as a social worker in England must apply to be registered with Social Work England. Once registered, all social workers are listed on our public register. To maintain their registration, they must renew it annually and record continuing professional development (CPD). ‘Social worker’ is a protected title, which means it is illegal to use by anybody who hasn’t completed the required training and isn’t on Social Work England’s register.

What is the role of Social Work England?

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 gives Social Work England an overarching duty to protect the public.

Our role is to protect, promote and maintain the health, safety, wellbeing of the public, and the confidence of the public in social workers in England, and to promote and maintain proper professional standards. We:

- Set professional standards, including those for proficiency, conduct and ethics.
- Set standards for, and approve, education and training courses and approve post-qualifying courses.
- Maintain a register of around 100,000 social workers in England.
- Run a fitness to practice systems to investigate concerns and ensure social workers have the skills, knowledge, character and health to practice safely and effectively without restriction.
- Ensure and access continuing professional development (CPD).

We work in collaboration with hundreds of social workers, people with lived experience of social work and partner organisations. If you or your organisation would like to get involved in our work, please sign up for our newsletter and contact your Regional Engagement Lead.

How do I become a social worker?

Many social workers began their careers in the Early Years and Childcare sector, including myself! I undertook a qualification in childcare at college and worked in a variety of Early Years settings before returning to study an undergraduate degree course in social work six years later. Consequently, I have gone on to work in a range of roles in child protection, fostering and adoption teams. Currently, the entry routes to social work include:

- An undergraduate or postgraduate university course.
- An apprenticeship.
- A graduate training scheme:
        - Step Up to Social Work - children and families
        - Think Ahead - mental health
        - Frontline - children and families.

You can find out more about a career in social work here.

You can find out more about Social Work England on our website or by contacting the Regional Engagement Lead for your area of England. If you are in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland you should contact the social work regulator in your country for more information about social work regulation.

About Julie:
Julie has been a social worker for 12 years and has predominantly spent her career working within children's social care in local authorities across England. Julie is passionate about improving practice standards, helping social workers think about how they can learn from case reviews and research, and translate this learning in a meaningful way to develop their social work skills.