Career clinic: Newly qualified social worker feels unconfident

I am a newly qualified social worker looking for a job in children’s services, but I don’t feel particularly confident about going into a social work post straight away. Is there a more junior level I could start at and what kind of roles are out there for someone who doesn’t feel ready yet?

This is an excellent question. So many newly qualified social workers come out of university, go straight into a social work position and on their first day find they are managing a caseload in a new fast paced environment – this can be absolutely overwhelming and cause some people to be put off the job.

Everyone seems to agree that it is essential for students to be given placements within a range of different environments and teams during their course. They need to get a true indication of what being a practicing social worker involves. For a range of reasons, local authorities and third sector employers have been historically reticent about offering students practice placements. A new pilot programme being run by the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) looks to address this by offering local authorities a financial incentive (and framework), if they recruit newly qualified workers.

The difficulty with such projects is that there is a need for monitoring, which brings us back to a fundamental challenge the social work profession faces – do we want social workers using their professional skills to work with service users, or to spend their time filling in forms? I believe we need to ensure practitioners are given the autonomy to use their skills and the infrastructure to support them in doing so.

I imagine you want a role which enables you to use your skills, while not feeling like you have bitten off more than you can chew – jobs like this do exist. In Hackney we’ve created the post of children’s practitioner to appeal to newly qualified workers. Applicants need a degree, but not necessarily in social work and do a range of social work tasks under the close supervision and support of a consultant social worker. The role has proved incredibly popular and several newly qualified social workers have been appointed. The position offers the opportunity to work within one of our units, alongside experienced and excellent social workers and therapists. There is a real need for such roles newly qualified people need guidance, training and mentorship to make it possible for them to manage this demanding role.

In any role it is important to feel that you are on top of the workload, this is particularly important for the people who work with the most vulnerable members of our society. With all the training in the world, the reality is always different when you step into a new role, Social Work is a complex task and organisations need to do everything possible to support people when they are making their first step into a career.

Mary Jackson is project manager for Hackney Council’s Reclaim Social Work campaign

6 November question

The nature of the work in our team means that we all sometimes do evening home visits. But with it getting darker so much earlier at this time of year I feel less confident. What would be good practice in minimising risk and making me feel safer?

Responses to Derren Hayes by 30 October.

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