Could taking on a carer support role damage my social work career?

A newly qualified social worker is considering taking on a carer support role, but is worried about how this could affect her future. The College of Social Work's helpdesk answers her enquiry.

Q: I am 35 and currently on placement in a mental health team in Brighton. I love the work I’m doing and my aim is to be a social worker in mental health. I have now decided to move to London to live with my boyfriend, but I don’t know anyone in the statutory mental health services there and, although I’ve trawled through websites, I’ve found no social work jobs. However, on one jobsite, Mind is advertising an acute carers recovery worker position, to help develop support for carers in a London borough.

Now, I know this is not a social worker’s role, but if I took this job, would it be detrimental to my ultimate goal of working as a mental health social worker? Does a role like this have progression and, if I were to get this job, would I still be considered a newly qualified social worker (NQSW) two years down the line and still be unemployable? Basically, would this be a good career move for me?

Leah, NQSW

A: The post you are considering would give you relevant experience of mental health issues, albeit from a carer perspective. Even experienced adult social workers who wish to move into mental health work are having difficulty getting mental health social work jobs, as the workforce has shrunk with the recession. Many employers will only employ people with previous mental health social work experience, often expecting – and getting – applications from people at least two years into the job. So my only concern would be that this Mind job is a little too ‘on the fringe’. 

If you can obtain a job working with adult social workers directly, even if it is not a social work role, this would stand you in better stead to eventually fit the specification for a mental health social worker post.

With regard to NQSW status, newly qualified social workers have up to three years to begin their assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) programme, and up to two years to then complete the programme. You don’t mention exactly how long you have been an NQSW for, but if it is less than one year you do have the option of taking an interim role for a couple of years before starting your ASYE.

Tony Bowyer is a learning and development consultant (mental health and learning disabilities), Approved Mental Health Professional training programme co-ordinator and College of Social Work helpdesk expert

Skills for Care’s guidance on the ASYE states:

All NQSWs are eligible to complete the ASYE provided they register within two years of successfully completing a recognised social work degree programme. For those outside that timescale, employers will want to be satisfied with the currency of the NQSW’s skills and knowledge prior to approving eligibility for the programme.

If you are applying for a first post as a social worker more than two years after qualifying, it is likely you have at least maintained, if not developed, your knowledge and skills. Generally the way to do that is by employment in a social care or other related role and by complementing this by reading, reflecting and taking advantage of opportunities for continuing professional development. In the same way as this will equip you for gaining future employment, it will also be necessary if you wish to maintain your registration with the Health and Care Professions Council.

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