Community care has not smashed job prospects in drug and alcohol services as was initially thought. Liz Hall looks at the types of people who are being recruited

Community care has not smashed job prospects in drug and
alcohol services as was initially thought. Liz Hall looks at the
types of people who are being recruited.

Since clients will come from a wide range of backgrounds, it
pays to have good listening skills and tolerance Library photograph
posed by modelsJob opportunities in residential drug and alcohol
facilities still abound, despite fears when community care was
implemented that it would sound the death knell for vast numbers of
such projects.

The past few years have seen expansion in voluntary sector
provision with a number of new projects being set up throughout the
UK. The charity Turning Point has a large expansion programme under
way in Scotland, for example.

The burgeoning field is attracting growing numbers of social
work professionals who are perhaps frustrated working for statutory
agencies or seek the challenges presented by this tough field of

‘Many social workers feel frustrated and disillusioned working
in a large bureaucracy,’ says Tony Ryan, area manager at Turning
Point’s 22-bed drug and alcohol Smithfield project in

Fears that projects would be axed after the government handed
community care budgets to social services departments more than two
years ago have so far proved unfounded. Geoff Dalley, Turning Point
area manager for London and the south east, believes the reforms in
some ways have pushed alcohol and drugs programmes to the fore.

‘We recently advertised a probation liaison officer post and got
a lot of applications from people with a CQSW with a probation
component. Drugs and alcohol services used to be on the fringe but
they are becoming less so now social services hold the budgets,’
says Dalley. ‘There are a lot of job opportunities in this field
with new things happening all the time.’

The field is becoming more professionalised and qualifications
are increasingly sought. Bill Smith, project manager at the Davies
Centre in Battersea, south London, says: ‘We are seeing more people
coming in with a social work background, having done various
courses and diplomas, compared with the past.’

‘Most of the people who come here have a social work background,
apart from drugs projects which involve needle exchange, blood
tests, or handing over the heroin substitute methadone, where a
nursing or medical background would be relevant.’

The sorts of qualifications in demand are CQSW, Diploma in
Social Work, Diploma in Addiction, Diploma in Management Studies ,
MBA, and NVQ level four in management.

‘At the end of the day, people are not employed because of their
qualifications but because of their attitude, enthusiasm and
ability to put professional training into practice,’ says Ryan.

Apart from qualifications, which are not always necessary,
counselling skills are in demand among recruits to this field. ‘We
would be looking for some level of counselling skills so staff can
communicate with clients and give them advice in a sensible way
more likely to be picked up,’ says Dalley.

Interpersonal skills are important as clients can often be
aggressive. Ryan says: ‘We look for people with interpersonal
skills who can get a message across easily, people with
well-developed assertion skills who recognise the difference
between aggression and assertion, who can encourage and persuade
difficult people to do things they don’t necessarily want to

‘Basically we’re talking about counselling skills but which are
used in all sorts of situations to manage sudden crises,’ says

The ability to be flexible is rated highly by recruiters. ‘If
there is one word to sum up the kind of person we’re looking for,
it’s flexibility,’ Ryan says. ‘We want to see a willingness to
learn new things. There is a lot of variety on offer here in terms
of job opportunities.’

Relevant experience is desirable such as experience in group
work, perhaps with comparable client groups. ‘We look for people
with experience of working with young people, be that with
individual clients or in youth work, We also look for knowledge and
understanding of drugs and alcohol,’ says Maria O’Dwyer, project
manager at Hackney-based Lorne House, which deals with 18-25
year-olds who misuse a variety of substances.

Experience or understanding of what is involved in dealing with
people who may be HIV-positive can be helpful. Many of those
employed at drug facilities have been drug users although they will
have been required to have been ‘clean’ for at least two years.

‘We would normally ask for relevant experience which can have
been gained either as a volunteer or in a paid post. But even a
project worker would need some degree of understanding of drug
use,’ says Dalley. As with other areas of social work, managerial
skills are increasingly in demand, particularly higher up the
scale. But project managers lower down the scale may also need to
have managerial and supervisory skills. ‘In the past, project
managers were really super project workers who line-managed. Now

ey need to be full managers,’ he says.

Belinda Morgan, team leader at Brighton-based Arch House, a drug
and alcohol facility run by voluntary charity the St Thomas Fund,
adds: ‘These days you have to have supervisory skills, including on
a one-to-one basis. You have to be able to identify training needs
and have some financial know-how.’

Knowledge of how funding packages are put together and how
voluntary agencies operate in a mixed economy of care will be seen
as a distinct advantage by recruiters. ‘While we try and provide a
directly accessible service to all that need it, there are funding
issues which should be understood so financial and business acumen
is required,’ Ryan explains. ‘The people we employ have to have a
reasonable grasp that we are working as a business, providing a
service to our customers rather than being entrenched i

n old-style thinking of “If they don’t like it, they can lump
it”, which is still around.’

Ryan argues that the ability to liaise successfully with other
agencies is paramount. ‘We’re looking for people who can negotiate,
advise, sell our services, be diplomatic and politically aware.
Networking skills are useful with a willingness to work with other

He also looks for a well-developed sense of public relations,
the ability to deal with a range of agencies from purchasers to the
press. ‘We want people with good literacy, numeracy and
communication skills, who have an awareness of the role of PR.’

Although the community care reforms have not yet meant the
disappearance of hordes of facilities, they have had an impact on
the sorts of services projects can offer. ‘Community care and
shorter programmes have meant more emphasis on behavioural type
groups rather than cognitive,’ says Bill Smith.

Observers say facilities are forced to cram more therapy into a
tighter time scale. Clients are unlikely to be funded for
longer-term programmes, so the programmes have been slashed and the
therapy made correspondingly more intensive. ‘We have to get people
understanding and increase their awareness level over a six month
rather than a 12 month period,’ Smith adds.

Ryan believes the level of job satisfaction is high. ‘You get
greater control in this sector and more responsibility than in
equivalent jobs in the statutory sector. The pressures are high,
you have to work hard, but it’s rewarding.

‘We’ve been attracting a growing number of social workers who
are frustrated by working in statutory agencies. Many find the
voluntary sector offers more job security,’ he says.

One of the rewards is the variety that comes from working in an
environment straddling health, social services and the criminal
justice system. ‘You need to be a real all-rounder,’ says Ryan. ‘At
the end of the day, it is about being the right kind of person for
the job.’

Since clients will come from a wide range of backgrounds, it
pays to have good listening skills and a considerable measure of
tolerance. Morgan explains: ‘It’s a strange job. You have to be
open-minded and non-judgemental. You are faced with people who have
done all sorts of things, who have been through the prison system
and committed crimes you disagree with. But you have to be
accepting of that person and not let your reaction stand in the way
of helping them.

‘Our clients tend to have shattered self-esteem. They need to
feel they are recognised as a worthwhile person. Lots of people
feel they have never been heard in their life and so you need to be
able to listen,’ she says.

Social workers with an inclination to be dogmatic may do better
not to apply. Many alcohol and drug treatment facilities prefer to
focus on harm reduction rather than on complete abstinence,
recognising the limitations of their clients. Helping clients to
break the habit completely is usually a long-term aim. As Bill
Smith puts it: ‘You need a sense of humour and a sense of

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