The recruitment and retention crisis, coupled with an ageing
workforce, have left the social work profession crying out for
young people wanting to embark on a social work career.
However, competing with other public sector jobs such as teaching
and nursing, social work often has a hard task attracting
sufficient numbers of staff to combat the 40 per cent vacancy rates
arising in some councils.
A year ago, Community Care met six final year social work
students who were about to complete their studies and move into the
workforce to discover what had attracted them to the profession and
where they wanted to be working.
Six months later we followed their progress to find all six had
found jobs within the sector and were starting to put their
knowledge to work.
Some had previously worked in care settings and had gained the
Diploma in Social Work qualification to further their careers,
while others were entering the social work profession as their
first job fresh from education.
In this article, we take a look at how their thoughts and ambitions
have changed six months into their jobs, and discover if the
reality of social work has lived up to their expectations.
Name: Nik Flavell.
Studied: DipSW/MSc, Jesus College, University of
Background: After a year practising as a
barrister, Nik wanted to become involved in care for the sort of
people he was defending in court.
Six months ago? Social worker in a duty and
assessment team, Sunderland Council.
Now: “Since I began work in September I have moved
teams once already and a second move is imminent. As a result of
these organisational changes I have, on occasions, felt unsupported
and isolated and it has made it quite difficult to establish a
comfortable rhythm to my practice.
“The supervision process – touted as the backbone of social work –
has always promised more than it has delivered. I have had good,
bad and indifferent supervision, ranging from regular to
“Social work hasn’t disappointed at all. It is the fascinating,
often exhilarating, occasionally frustrating job that I always
hoped it would be. And I get to work with a group of wonderful
like-minded people who care as much as I do about children and
their families. In contrast, social work management has
disappointed. I hope to go into management – to see if I can do any
“I do envisage a long-term career in social work, although I
sometimes wonder whether social work actually envisages a long-term
career for me. Over the next two years issues such as career
progression, secondments and further study opportunities and the
levels of remuneration on offer will become increasingly important.
I wait to see with interest whether social work really will deliver
on these retention essentials.
“I can honestly say that I have never considered returning to my
law career although I have occasional regrets about leaving a
career that would be paying double my current salary. Nevertheless,
I consider not having to wear a horsehair wig more than adequate
Where do I expect to be in a year? A principal
case manager at Sunderland.
Name: Leslie Wilson.
Studied: DipSW/MSc at the University of
Background: Worked with a number of client groups
and held various management posts.
Six months ago? Waiting for criminal records check
to begin work as a children’s services inspector with the National
Care Standards Commission in Derbyshire.
Now: “I waited five months for my criminal record
check and began work in October. As the NCSC is new it is
constantly developing in order to be more realistic and appropriate
in the way it operates and I have had to learn fast.
“I have undertaken some inspection training but I don’t feel that
the commission has got its head around ensuring that there is
enough training to meet the needs of about 1,700 inspectors
“The job is a lot less pressurised than I anticipated and I think
the difference is that in many of my past roles I was a manager and
in this role I have no management responsibilities. However,
sometimes it’s daunting to think you are working five steps down
from the health secretary.
“I feel well paid but it has been difficult being the only black
inspector in Derbyshire. I do not think the commission has thought
about how support processes for staff from diverse social and
cultural groups may differ from those for a white, middle-class,
“It is evident that as the only black inspector some of my
management team are having difficulties relating to me as a
professional. I hope this will change.”
Where do I expect to be in a year? “I expect to
stay at the commission for more than six years, so probably the
same job, same area but better at what I’m doing.”
Name: Helen Woolgar.
Studied: DipSW/MSc, Green College, University of
Background: Helen studied the DipSW after her
degree in anthropology and archaeology but had work experience with
a charity and council.
Six months ago? Social worker with looked-after
children in a south London borough.
Now: “I am still in that role and love the
diversity and pace of life in London. My caseload has increased
although it has been controlled by my practice supervisor. I have
undertaken induction, child protection and permanency planning
training and have applied for training on risk assessment for
parental drug use and the relationship between the Children Act
1989 and the Mental Health Act 1983. I will complete my
post-qualifying one award in June.
“I have found the borough has responded to Victoria Climbi’ Report
really well. We all received the report and a reorganisation has
emerged. There is more money available and a new team aimed at
children in need is being created.
“I am adequately paid but generally social work salaries do not
reflect the complexity or level of responsibility that the job
entails. The profession needs more confidence in its identity,
larger grants for graduates and non-graduates to train, more
support from government and a recruitment campaign with the same
level of exposure and funding as the teaching campaign.
“If I could change one thing in my job it would be the bureaucracy
that slows down working with children and families.”
Where do I expect to be in a year? “In the same
job, striving to do it better.”
Name: Toby Flight.
Studied: DipSW/MSc, Goldsmith’s College,
University of London.
Background: A first-class degree, specialist
therapeutic work for more than four years and statutory residential
Six months ago?: Social worker in a children’s
team at Surrey Council.
Now: “I have just passed my probationary period
and am a permanent member of staff. I have always felt supported by
my team and enjoy working there. However, I think there will always
be times during the settling in period of field work where you feel
isolated, simply as a consequence of the complexity and stress of
“I have found it very stressful at times as there is always the
knowledge that at the end of the day you are responsible for a
great deal and even with the checks in the system, it is a lot to
“I seriously considered quitting for a while last year, but that
was fatigue from the training. I have realised that for all its
difficulties and not great pay, we have a unique job and the fact
that every day is different and a challenge is enough to keep me
“The negative parts are when others make us feel that we have done
a bad job. There are a surprising amount of professionals who work
with us who do not understand the scope of what we do. I would also
like the freedom to focus on quality of case work, not
“The three-year degree is great and will increase the credibility
of the profession. However funding is crucial or we will see the
pool of workers shrink year by year.”
Where do I expect to be in a year? “I am unsure
where I will be in a year’s time, I think it’s too early to
Name: Nora Dudley.
Studied: Two-year DipSW/MSc at the University of
Background: Education, with work experience in
nursing, respite, residential and support work.
Six months ago? Over-11s team social worker at
Bracknell social services, Berkshire.
Now: “Over the past six months my caseload has
definitely increased and the more complex cases I have are very
time consuming, requiring much greater time management skills. I
have a clearer idea of what strategies and techniques work for me
and I’m more confident in my role. I have taken on a few extra
responsibilities and two colleagues and I are in the final stages
of developing a self-esteem programme for teenage girls.
“I feel extremely lucky in terms of the support I get. I have
friends in social work all over the UK and hear stories of managers
who offer no support.
“Recently I have felt more stressed than before and this is not
down to the actual face-to-face work with clients which I love, but
the endless recording.
“My lack of ability to switch off has surprised me and the job has
taken over my life more than I had expected.
“I really enjoy my job but the greatest problem with being in south
east England is the accommodation. My partner and I are both
graduates and work full-time yet we can barely afford a one-bedroom
flat in the area in which we work. If anything was to affect the
amount of time I stay in the job, the housing situation is number
Where do I expect to be in a year? “In my current
job – accommodation permitting. My next move may be to a leaving
Name: Abbi Adair.
Studied: Two-year ÊDipSW/MSc at the
University of Durham.
Background: A support worker and community
Six months ago? Social worker in the referral and
assessment duty team in children’s services, Sunderland
Now: “My job has changed quite a lot over the past
six months. The referral and assessment duty team has undergone
some minor structural changes. However, a complete structural
change throughout children’s services is due to take place next
month, which I believe is in response to the Victoria Climbi’
“There appears to be a general feeling among social workers I have
spoken to, that the workload is always high and sometimes appears
unmanageable. I think we are all in the same boat. Before I started
the job I had not expected the caseload to be as big as it is. I
often feel there are not enough hours in the day to complete the
necessary paperwork to the high standards I set myself.
“I am amazed at how my confidence has increased in my social worker
skills. However, the high caseload sometimes leaves me feeling
“My job is very stressful and although my salary has increased, I
believe social workers are underpaid for their role and
responsibility and the work expected of them.”
Where do I expect to be in a year? “I am due to
complete my post-qualifying one award this summer and then hope to
work towards the PQ2 child care award. I hope to be working for the
same authority and progressing in my career.”
– For previous articles in this series see the issues of 18 April
and 24 October 2002.