How do you return to social work?

The key criteria you need to meet and how you should prepare if you want to return to social work

Photo: Thomas Reimer/Fotolia

Updated 21 June 2021

Lots of people take career breaks for a variety of reasons. The good thing about a social work degree is that it is generic and provides with lots of transferable skills. When returning to social work after a long break, it is important to be clear about the kind of role that you are applying for and that it can fit within your life, as well as the criteria you need to tick off to ensure you’re eligible to be employed again. Those criteria are:

1. Are you currently Social Work England registered?

In order to return to the register, social workers need to meet the following requirements, depending on how long they have been out of practice:

  • Under two years: no requirements
  • Two to five years: 30 days of updating your skills and knowledge
  • Five years or over: 60 days of updating your skills and knowledge.
  • These requirements also apply to someone who has never been registered with Social Work England and who has never practised (or who has not practised in the last two years) but who holds an approved qualification which is over five years old. Social Work England has more guidance on returning to practice.

2. Have you applied for a return to social work programme? 

Please visit the Local Government Association’s Return to Social Work website. The LGA is currently not running a programme but it is possible that it may launch one for 2021-22 in due course, so regularly check the website.

3. Have you practised in a statutory setting for over a year or more?

This will be a deciding factor in your application as employers will look to see evidence of your practice within a statutory setting, ie a council.

4. Do you have the right to work in the UK?

You will need to show documentation to evidence that you have the right to work in the UK. More guidance is available on the government’s website.


It is always best to be honest about why you have had time off in interviews and in CVs. Employers and HR do review references and compare them to CVs to ensure the dates match up. Be confident about your career breaks and be willing to discuss them as that will instill more faith in your employer that you are reliable and that the breaks were for legitimate reasons.

Depending on the type of role you’re applying for, recruitment for permanent employees takes time, so employers may look at someone with frequent career breaks and make the decision to choose someone else with no gaps.

However, if the break can be linked to social work, like volunteering or something relevant to the role you are apply for, then this might work in your favour.

Keep up to date

No matter the reason for the career break, it is important to stay up to date with current trends in the profession. Being signed up to Community Care’s e-newsletters, or other magazines,  websites or blogs to do with social work, will keep you up to date with current trends so you can talk about this in your interview.

It will show employers that you are passionate about the profession and will keep you on par with other candidates who have not had career breaks. Be willing to put in the time to do your research and even consider paying for some training or mentoring to get you up to speed even quicker.

Make sure simple things like your Social Work England registration is up to date – this shows your seriousness. Some authorities offer return to social work programmes so make sure you do your research and jump at any opportunities.

Speaking to friends, past colleagues, and past managers is also a good way to ensure that you have the most up-to-date knowledge of the processes and policies for any job you are applying for. Being on employment platforms like LinkedIn not only help with networking, but gives you access to relevant information people share about their organisations.

Make sure your CV is up to date and current. There is nothing worse than reading an old CV that is not relevant and succinct. When it comes to CVs, less is more, and this in itself exudes confidence in your practice. Remember, you just want employers to shortlist you initially. You will then be able to talk about your skills and experience in your interview. Make sure any updated training or volunteering is within your CV to show you have remained up to date.

Processes in the profession do change and can change quickly. Remain humble about any processes you have to follow upon your return. Once you are back in employment, your opportunities immediately improve, and you can develop within your role.

Want more from Community Care’s Careers Zone? See all of our tips on the dedicated careers page. Download our social work CV template and advice page here.

This article is part of Community Care’s Careers Zone, a part of the site giving social workers and social care professionals advice and guidance about the next steps in their social work career. Like many other Careers Zone articles, this one was produced in collaboration with practising social workers and managers, and in association with the Local Government Association’s workforce and policy team. See all of our tips on the dedicated careers page. Download our social work CV template and advice page here.

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3 Responses to How do you return to social work?

  1. Mike June 6, 2019 at 10:59 am #

    60 days of updating your skills is 3 months with no wages

    If your second social work career was 5 years long, this would equate to a 5% pay hit (it’s actually much worse because the lost wages are all up front meaning you need savings to even consider it – but call it 5%)

    That’s on top of 9% student loan repayments – meaning the salary is 14% less than it looks. If a salary was £28k, it would really be worth £24k

    An assistant manager in a popular fast food chain can make £21k (after student loan)

    It would be understandable if the 60 days was going to be productively spent. But even if you read every single relevant court case, research paper, and government policy that had come out over the time you were absent (not that you’d have done that perfectly whilst in active practice!) I doubt it would fill 60 days. I’d guess a few days in the classroom in this LGA programme to cover CSE, county lines, social media – but the employers ought to be able to do that “on the job” and whilst paying wages. Some civil servant has plucked this 60 days number out of the air.

  2. john stephenson June 7, 2019 at 5:27 pm #

    I left social work 7 years ago having taken redundancy and let my H.C.P.C. registration lapse.I often feel my experience and skills could be used,but I have no intention on subjecting myself to bee made to jump through these hoops.Result the profession has lost someone with 25 years experience.

  3. Gail June 19, 2019 at 4:33 pm #

    As a new returnee to the profession after 3 years absence, this is a very good and relevant career advice piece. I won’t go into all the details and the reasons about how hard it was to find something else that mirrors SW, as this is my calling. I also won’t go into the many reasons why I took the long hard decisions to leave either (yes SW’s you all know red tape, bad management, budget cuts…you name it). But despite my many years experience I must admit I found it difficult to walk into a somewhat similar job that paid just above the minimum wage. So to cut a long story short I’m back in SW. I did my 30 day return to practice and was very glad I did, besides you have no choice if you want to practice. I’m glad I took a long break and I have come back with a new perspective, although sadly nothing has changed, if anything they’re getting noticeably worse!! But I’ve decided because I love my profession I will work until I retire, but in the meantime I will still keep an eye out for any social work related opportunities that may arise.