Q: I have recently completed a degree in criminology and law, and I want to pursue a career as a family support worker – but lack experience. What’s the best way to go about getting to this field?
Claudia Megele, a qualified social worker, service director at A Sense of Self and an associate lecturer in applied social work practice at the Open University, replies:
As a family support worker you will be dealing with families at particularly difficult times in their lives. You will need soft skills and abilities such as communicating sensitively and effectively with children and adults, as well as building and maintaining good relationships. In addition, you need practical knowledge of child and human development and a professional and non-judgemental attitude.
Most family support worker jobs require relevant experience or a qualification in working with children and families. You can gain the required experience through paid or voluntary work with charities, children’s homes, nurseries, family centres, community or youth centres, mental health services, probation services and more. You may want to consider shadowing a family support worker in your area as this will give you a better understanding of the actual work and can help your applications.
You are encouraged to pursue further qualifications alongside your work, for example an NVQ in health and social care. If you already have an undergraduate degree you may be able to study at postgraduate level.
As a start you could contact charities and relevant organisations in your area such as Mind or Women’s Aid to check their current vacancies and find out the exact qualifications and experience they require.
Remember to include any past caring or support experience in your application. Even simple things such as taking care of siblings or an ill relative or offering emotional support to grandparents can help. Also draw on your transferable skills and knowledge from your criminology degree. For instance your knowledge of the justice system may help you understand how it affects families or your understanding of intervention methods for individuals and communities could help you work with them.