How to return to social work after a career break

Social work policy and practice is constantly changing, so what should you do if you want to get back into the profession after a long break? Social worker Glynis Marsh gives some top tips.

Keeping your skills and knowledge up-to-date

Children’s services

  • Visit the Department for Education’s website and check for recent legislation, policy and research updates, such as changes to the adoption system.
  • Sign up to free bulletins from the NSPCC’s library service and bookmark websites belonging to organisations such as Barnardo’s, Coram and British Association for Adoption and Fostering, checking occasionally for news and research.
  • Visit the Local Safeguarding Children Board’s website for your area and book onto some courses; this is a good way to network with other professionals and pick up the key issues for safeguarding practice in your area.
  • Read recent serious case reviews for the area you are seeking to work in.
  • Keep tabs on national issues, such as sexual exploitation and trafficking, by reading, watching or listening to the news every day.

Adult services

  • Visit the Department of Health’s website and update your knowledge on recent research, policy and legislation.
  • Again, bookmark websites belonging to organisations such as Skills for care and the Social Care Institute for Excellence in check for updates. They also have learning resources.

In general

  • Community Care Live has interesting workshops and recruiters in attendance where you can find out about re-entry routes into the profession and their HR induction and processes. Attending professional workshops and conferences is a good way to keep your registration relevant when not practising and retain practice awareness.

Routes back into social work

Volunteering is not an easy option, as statutory services do not use volunteers to undertake social work tasks. You will need to look for other opportunities such as being an advocate, an independent visitor or taking a role working in a voluntary agency such as working with the homeless, in women’s refuge or family centre, as an appropriate adult or as a mentor for a young offender.

Looking for a new job?

Join recruitment experts and fellow social workers for Community Care’s live online job hunting advice clinic on 30 January from 7-8pm. Register now for an email reminder and we’ll make sure you don’t miss out on this one-off event by sending you an alert nearer the time.

It may be possible for you to arrange work shadowing opportunities, but this will be subject to you being able to evidence your registration and CRB documents and to consent from service users. Another valuable route back into social work practice is taking up supportive and assistant roles in social work organisations. This offers a good experience of the work place, context of the organisation and service delivery, access to policies and practitioner discussions and to in-house training. You can then apply for internal social work positions when they become available.

If you are not sure where you wish to work next, entry via agency work can offer you short term opportunities to experience different services and meet different teams – and this could help inform longer-term decision making.

If you have the means to undertake post-qualifying training, it would be worth exploring what local universities and the Open University programmes have to offer and their entry criteria. You may wish to undertake refresher modules of the social work undergraduate degree.

Once you have secured a job

Whichever route you take, make sure during the induction process that you are properly introduced to the internal processes and recording systems and will have access to a good level of supervision. Find out what internal training opportunities could help to ease the transition. Some employers may support your return by linking you with a programme such as the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) programme, even though you have been qualified for longer.


In England, if you have been out of practice for more than two years you will need to undertake a period of updating your skills and knowledge before you can re-register with the Health and Care Professions Council. This can comprise a combination of supervised practice, formal study and private study and the amount you amount you are required to do depends on how long you have been out of practice:

  • Out of practice for up to 2 years – no requirements
  • Two to five years – 30 days of updating your skills and knowledge
  • Five years or over – 60 days

The Care Council for Wales treats readmission to the register as a new application.

The Scottish Social Services Council does not have a return to practice requirement. Social workers must undertake 15 days of post-registration training and learning (PRTL) during their three-year registration period. Readmission to the register is treated as a new application. 

In Northern Ireland, a social worker on a career break can choose to remain on the register, as long as they complete their PRTL as required, or voluntarily remove themselves. In the latter case, when they want to return to the register they must submit a new application to the Northern Ireland Social Care Council – and the application must be endorsed by an employer.

Glynis Marsh is a registered social worker, practice educator, peer mentor for the College of Social Work and staff development officer. Peer mentoring is available to all College members. To find out more about this service contact

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