Ask the expert: ‘Is there a role in social work for me which is not stressful?’

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

Having less stress or being stress-less. Hand turns a cube and changes the word "STRESS" to "LESS".
Photo: Fokussiert/Adobe Stock

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

Is there a role in social work for me which is not too stressful?

Hi Lorna,

After almost a decade working as an active frontline support and housing officer in a young people’s project, I went back to university to do an MA in social work and qualified. I worked with children’s services but did not enjoy it. I went on to start my assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), but left after passing my three-month probation due to personal reasons, and shortly afterwards had an accident, which is still a challenge to my health. But I am looking forward to a brighter future when I am able to work again.

My question is, what area of social work would you suggest would not put pressure on my wellbeing due to the nature of the job? I know that I cannot do frontline practice anymore; although l love engaging with service users, the paperwork stress triggers my anxiety. I was burnt out by the time I left the local authority.

I can’t handle high-level mental stress anymore but I can look at a situation, advise on what’s possible and suggest possible pathways to plan positive outcomes. That was my strength for all my years in the job.

Please help me.

Warm regards



Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for writing to me. You have clearly had a number of difficult years following the completion of your social work MA.

I am sorry that you did not enjoy working in children’s services. I do acknowledge that working in this area of social work can be challenging; however, whichever statutory area of social work that we work in carries its own level of challenge.

You ask for advice on which area of social work would not compromise your wellbeing. It is difficult for me to answer this question without understanding what triggers your anxiety.

I wonder if you have had the opportunity to engage in counselling. If not, I would encourage you to seek counselling to address the issues which led to the “burnout” that you experienced in 2020.

There may well be opportunities in the education and charity sector in which your social work qualification and knowledge may be useful. However, I do know from my own knowledge of these sectors that these roles will also have related pressures which can be challenging.

Reading your letter suggests that you did not complete the ASYE and the window for you to do so has now closed. If you have not maintained your Social Work England registration, legislation stipulates that you will be unable to obtain a role which requires a qualified social worker.  Therefore, I would encourage you to maintain your registration with Social Work England.

I acknowledge that my reply may not have been the reply you may have hoped for but I do believe that it is important that you consider other career options that may well be outside of social work.

I wish you well and hope that you are able to progress your career successfully. The careers clinic will be running again this year at Community Care Live, if you wish to discuss this with me in person, you will need an appointment to do so.

All best wishes,


How can I use my law qualifications in social work?

I’m a newly qualified social worker (NQSW) and will be completing my ASYE by November. I’m now thinking of next steps in my career.

I am in community adult services and prior to social work I qualified as a lawyer in my home country and obtained a master’s in the UK in law and then master’s in social work.

I would like to use my legal background in practice. Are there any areas of social work where I can focus on? I’ve thought of safeguarding adults review tribunals or Court of Protection. Any advice or direction will be appreciated.

Thank you

Kind regards


Dear Amma,

Thank you for writing to me and congratulations on obtaining your first role in social work following your qualification.

This year, as a newly qualified social worker, it is important that you use the 12 months of the assessed and supported year in employment to continue to learn and gain experience in your chosen area of practice.

I can understand your desire to use your legal qualification and to combine this with your social work practice. A thorough understanding of the operation of the law is an important asset which all social workers should have.

My advice however, would be to give yourself a year post-ASYE to gain further extended professional development, either in your current team or in the adult safeguarding services. You should use your supervision to discuss your career progression and explore what opportunities there are for you.

You may also wish to seek further UK legislative training as part of your continuous professional development. I’d suggest exploring areas including the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards in adults’ services and, for children’s services, learning around the Children Act 1989, including amendments since it was first enacted.

Each local authority has a team of lawyers and assistant lawyers. I would advise you to make contact with the team in your local authority to discuss your specific area of law and to see whether there are any opportunities which may be upcoming, either through a secondment to the legal team or applying for a role in the legal team.

Alternatively, you could consider seeking mentoring from one of the lawyers in your local authority to support you in your development as you seek to find ways to use your legal expertise in your social work practice.

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.

You can take a look at previous questions and answers on our ask the expert page.

Questions can be sent to

For the last two years, she has delivered careers clinics to social workers at Community Care Live.

Find out more about how to book a space at this year’s event, which takes place on 10-11 October in London.


7 Responses to Ask the expert: ‘Is there a role in social work for me which is not stressful?’

  1. Smith September 29, 2023 at 9:31 am #

    Anonymous may find a suitable post, regardless of her professional registration, in regulation – CQC or Ofsted, or in the Ombudsman service LGSCO. These will of course have stresses – which job doesn’t? – but they would potentially be less impactful than a frontline social work role.

  2. Claire September 30, 2023 at 10:52 am #

    That was rather a cold, dispassionate, response to the first letter writer. It’s probably put the person off social work for life! A bit more sensitivity to the writer’s situation would have been nice.

    • LO September 30, 2023 at 3:10 pm #

      Exactly my thinking ??. Especially the bit about ‘maybe find another career’. Great for a Children’s Services already strugg to retain Social Workers.

    • Owen October 1, 2023 at 8:01 am #

      Completely agree with Claire, and may suggest that Dame Lorna although having unparalleled insight, may lack recent personal experience of frontline social work. I hope the person who wrote in finds a role where they feel happy whether in or out of the social work proffesion, your skills and knowledge will be useful wherever.

    • Joanna October 2, 2023 at 9:16 am #

      I fully agree with Claire that was a very cold response and could have been a little more sensitive.

      To anonymous writer there is life after social work and front line does not suit everyone it’s a shame we have lost you but more and more leave the profession due to number if reasons bureaucracy, overwhelming negative perception, high caseloads list goes on.

      I would suggest maybe therapeutic services once your strong enough all the best!

    • Black Diamond October 2, 2023 at 10:03 am #

      I think your assessment was very negative of Dame Lorna, and frankly unnecessary. She has analysed the writer’s situation based on the information she provided. She gave an open and honest feedback, about working in other areas of social work, which also has its level stress. It does all depend on the individual and their lived experience in social work.

  3. Cat September 30, 2023 at 3:29 pm #

    Agree with Claire. I recommend reading more on the history of social work to learn how it has changed and deepen political understanding. Then I agree some support to understand what triggered the burnout. That may help you to think about and refind your passions. There may be more interesting roles in different statutory or third sector roles. It all depends on the place at that time and the manager. Tho frankly working in some toxic bullying overloaded services would finish anyone off.

    I recommend paying for your own external consultation. And join basw swu and a tuc affiliated union. Good luck.