How do I move into social work research?

Social work careers expert Dame Lorna Boreland-Kelly offers advice on different routes available for practitioners to progress in their careers

Pexels/George Milton
Pexels/George Milton

We asked you to share your social work career questions with our resident expert, Dame Lorna Boreland-Kelly. Here, Dame Lorna answers queries from practitioners looking to advance their social work careers. Check out our previous ask the expert columns for advice on other topics.

If you would like some careers advice from Dame Lorna, send your questions to

How do I move into social work research? 

Dear Dame Lorna,

I am a frontline child protection social worker with five years of practice experience. I have completed practice supervising training and had a recent part-time secondment working for a local university, teaching and tutoring on its MA social work programme.

I’d like to move into the area of research in social work, taking a more contemplative approach and writing about social work. However, I don’t know how to progress with this. I would very much appreciate some advice.

Many thanks,


Dear Amanda,

Thank you for writing to us. Your letter is concise and to the point. You tell us that you had a recent part-time secondment working for a local university.

Clearly this was a very rewarding experience for you as you now wish to move into the field of research in social work and producing written material.

I was reminded of a previous mentee of mine who is now working as a part-time social work lecturer and researcher at a university.

Reflecting on my mentee’s path and your wish for the future, I would suggest that you contact the university where you recently worked part time and explore employment with them.

State clearly that you wish to move into research and explore if there are any opportunities for you to do this with them. If there are no opportunities with this university, you should widen your search.

I am a member and trustee of the Association of Child Protection Professionals (AoCPP), which has several researchers among its active members.

I know that many of them have been involved in social work research and regularly contribute to ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions for the AoCPP.

It is not the role of Community Care Careers to promote any particular association and there are a number of professional associations which you could reach out to. Becoming a member of these associations will expose you to helpful individuals from whom you can learn.

All best wishes.


Pexels/Abby Chung

Pexels/Abby Chung

I have the skills but not the ‘right piece of paper’ to prove my experience in this country

Dear Dame Lorna,

I am an internationally qualified social worker and graduated in 2013. I also completed a master’s in advanced social work practice in 2018. In my country of origin, I did additional practice-based learning and became what is known as a mental health social worker.

Back home, this enabled me to work privately as a therapist. However, I’ve now lived in the UK for six years, primarily working in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), and have worked my way up to a very senior band 8a position. I provide assessments and therapy as part of my day-to-day work.

Because of my lack of postgraduate certification and training in therapies, my understanding is that I can’t really practise privately here, which was to be my next career move, alongside part-time NHS work.

I understand many social workers here retrain to become systemic family therapists, but I cannot afford that.

Can you advise on how I should proceed?


This is a shortened and edited version of Renae’s letter.

Dear Renae,

Thank you for writing to us.

We have enjoyed reading about your training and the career pathway you have taken in your country of origin and in the UK.  I was reminded of the very happy years that I spent working in child psychiatry (the predecessor of CAMHS), although I was formally employed by the local authority, not the NHS.

In your longer letter, you talked about the accreditation process for mental health social workers being practice-based in your country, while it is university-based in the UK.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) supports the registration and accreditation of counsellors and psychotherapists who practice using a range of models and training.

The minimum requirement to practise in the UK under BACP registration is currently completing a level 4 diploma, undertaken through a course accredited by the association, or passing its certificate of proficiency.

The qualifications framework is currently being reviewed and the BACP and other leading UK professional counselling and psychotherapy bodies have come together to agree on a system of qualifications and competency for the future.

This review is called The Scope of Practice and Education (SCoPEd) and information on it can be found here.

You talked about having the relevant skills but not the relevant certification to prove it. 

I would suggest having a conversation with the BACP to ascertain whether any of the modules completed as part of your qualifications may contribute to modules that would need to be completed in line with UK governance in this area.

You asked if there are any options through employment that is common for social worker training/ certification in therapies that you may be overlooking.

I am afraid I don’t know of any, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t any!

My best suggestion here would be to look at third sector therapeutic organisations that may have more flexibility around employment criteria.

They are likely to have individual projects that will benefit from an experienced mental health professional with cross-cultural experience and expertise, along with a good understanding and working knowledge of UK systems.

I am grateful to my colleague Helen W. from the Association of Child Protection Professionals (AoCPP), who has supported me with the information that I have given to you.

I do hope that our reply will be useful to you. If you come to Community Care Live 2023 in October, do let us know how you are getting on with your planned career change. Sign up here to be notified about our career clinics and how to book a slot.

All best wishes


Send your career questions to our resident expert, Dame Lorna Boreland-Kelly, to get more clarity and guidance on your career progression plans.

Dame Lorna has over 30 years’ experience of leading and developing social care services. She has an unparalleled level of insight into frontline social work and is well-versed in the issues that affect practitioners today. For the last two years, she has delivered careers clinics to social workers at Community Care Live.

We will publish answers to the questions you send in to Dame Lorna every fortnight. You can take a look at previous questions and answers on our ask the expert page.

Questions can be sent to


2 Responses to How do I move into social work research?

  1. Jenny August 9, 2023 at 8:39 pm #

    If you are interested in going into research, I recommend the NIHR Predoctoral Fellowship programme. There is a local authority scheme and a separate Clinical and Practitioner scheme for people not working in a local authority. This will pay salary and tuition costs to take a Masters level degree in research skills and prepare a PhD application if you wish.There is also a PhD programme.

  2. Hugh McLaughlin August 18, 2023 at 5:42 pm #

    The link for NIHR schemes for local authority staff can be found here here: – these are at pre-doctoral -e.g. a MRes programme, doctoral and post doctoral for local authority employees. These are very competitive and there are a number of schemes like ours in the North West for Practitioner Researchers which offers an award of £4,000 to spend towards a research project in their LA supervised by an academic with backfill and a guaranteed 36 days to focus on the project including 3 X2 day residential programmes which can be used as a bridge to a PLAF application or as an opportunity to develop a relationship with a university to look at possible academic opportunities including ESRC Doctoral Training Units which like the PLAFs are competitive and offer fellowships with financial support to complete a PhD. As Dame Lorna suggested it is worthwhile speaking to your University for your will need help and a supervisor if you are applying for any of the competitive awards. Best of luck as one who made the move after 22 years in practice it can be very fulfilling!