Career Clinic – returning to the workforce

Q:  I am 62 years old and retired as a senior children’s social worker two years ago. I have been thinking about returning to the workforce. I have seen stories about a shortage of children’s practitioners, but fear employers may see me as too old. Are there job opportunities for me?

A: First, I take my hat off to you, Cynthia, and thousands of people like you, who have given years of their lives to working with children. Being a children’s social worker is one of the hardest jobs in Britain and the frontline staff take on a truly onerous responsibility.

For councils, it is the toughest job to fill. One in 10 children’s social worker posts are vacant at any one time. It is for that reason that I recently launched the LGA’s campaign to respect, recruit and retain children’s social workers, starting with a drive to help 5,000 who have recently left the profession to return.

Many councils are looking to recruit recently qualified social care staff and are likely to offer inducements to attract people to the profession, but there are also plenty of opportunities for experienced staff considering a return. There is undoubtedly a need for mentors, who can help guide and support the people who are going to be the future of social work. Providing the safety net that keeps so many youngsters safe from abuse and harm is a stressful job, and no one knows that better than someone who has already spent years on the frontline.

Let me be clear though, that there cannot be any short cuts when it comes to protecting vulnerable children. Anyone doing frontline work will have to be able to show sufficient knowledge of recent changes in social care practice and policy. The General Social Care Council can provide guidance on what refresher training will be right for each individual, but I see no reason why experienced and talented professionals would not be welcomed back into teams, whether on a full or part-time.

Councils are developing schemes to make the most of people who are public-spirited enough to offer a few more years of service. A good example is right on your doorstep at West Sussex Council. The authority established the “No Limits” campaign in October, publicising the challenges and opportunities offered by a social work career, whether dealing with adults or children. They’ve made it clear they would be very happy to hear from someone with your level of experience.

For me, it is a boost to hear of people who are considering returning to children’s social work. I hope more will follow suit in displaying such admirable commitment to helping vulnerable children.

Councillor Margaret Eaton is chair of the Local Government Association

Next question:

I have been offered interviews for a new job. When is the best time to bring up conditions of service – salary, relocation, allowance, flexible working and annual leave? Should this form part of the interview, or be discussed once you have been offered a position? Helen, social worker, Herts.

This article is published in the 26 March 2009 edition of Community Care magazine under the headline Will I be able to return to a children’s social work post at my age?

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