There are different types of social work settings. Find out more about the different roles and settings by catching up with social worker's and student's stories here. 

Social work

'It's a good career where you can make a difference'

Dave Anderson, Social Worker

To download a pdf of this case study, click here.

Dave has worked as a social worker for almost 40 years. Read more about his role as a Children's Services Manager at Barnardo's.

 

 

What type of service do you work in? Barnardo’s Family Support Team provides a range of community based support to children and young people with significant learning disabilities and their families. 
Have you always worked in social services?

I graduated from Moray House College in 1977 with a Certificate of Qualification in Social Work. I started work with Tayside Regional Council as a social worker then moved to Perth and Kinross Council.

I joined Barnardo’s in 1985 as the first family worker in the service. The preceding eight years with the then Tayside Regional Council were really an invaluable apprenticeship giving me both the practice experience and confidence to take on such a new and exciting challenge – helping set up a service from scratch. Indeed for any social worker to gain local authority experience, in my view, is important.

The perceptions of social work 30 years ago were quite different to what they are now. There was a stigma attached to the job title as ‘social worker’ and when I got the job as Family Project Worker I was told “you’re still a social worker – you’re just not using the title”.

Can you tell us more about your job?

Working in Barnardo’s is unlike working in local authority and child protection social work; it’s a voluntary arrangement with families coming and going. We can support up to 120 families and, at the moment, we have another 20 on the waiting list.

It’s important to make sure that the families are happy with the service so having contact with the families and children is vital.

It’s my job to promote the service. I’m active in the social work community and am a representative on local forums including interagency with Dundee City Council and the NHS.

I also promote the needs of young people with learning disabilities.

I have a core team of eight who I support and manage and we also have child care staff, social work practitioners and over 20 support staff. Quite a bit of my time is taken up with staff support and supervision and recruitment and retention. I promote the service to colleges and universities and take students on placement.

I also have a large budget to manage which includes funding for a specialist project and development growth.

As new trends and developments start to emerge eg self-directed support, I keep people aware and up to date with progress.  

Who else is in your team? Three family workers, one play scheme and activities coordinator and a volunteers coordinator. Our Growing Up team has one development worker, a support worker and a gardener/instructor. We also have our project administrator and secretarial assistant, 60 volunteers and 20+ support staff.  
What part of the job motivates you and why?

Making a difference to people’s lives.

I get a lot of satisfaction from my job because I know that the types of activities we run make a difference to (sometimes vulnerable) young people and their families.

It’s different working in the voluntary sector. It’s their choice to come to and use our service.  

What are the challenges, good and not so good that you face in your job?

We have a capacity issue. We can’t take on any more families at the moment and there are 20 families on our waiting list. I have to figure out how we are going to address this with no additional resources. It’s an ongoing issue – an increased demand for the service with a decreasing budget.

Staff turnover is also an issue, as is recruitment. It’s difficult to find the right people. We’re lucky to have over 60 volunteers but they’re not always active and not always available.  

In what way is your career in social services rewarding?

I’ve had lots of students dong their placements over lots of years and it’s good when students come back, either to volunteer or work with us as competent staff members.

It’s also good to see our volunteers get on well in life including gaining employment.  

Can you explain the skills and qualities you think are needed to do the role you're doing?

You’ll need:

  • a passion for the job
  • an interest in children
  • to be proactive for disabled children
  • a sense of humour
  • resilience
  • to know that you’re not going to be everyone’s best friend
  • to have a clear vision for the service
  • to want to help children and families.  
Has your job opened up new learning and development for you? It’s got harder in recent years with funding constraints and a decreasing training budget. But I’ve had lots of opportunities for further development – that’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed in the sector – to develop myself. 
How do you see your career progressing?

I’m semi-retired and now work three days a week.

I’ve worked in social work for nearly 40 years and I think that’s long enough! I’m looking forward to retiring.  

What would you say to someone thinking about a career in social services?

It’s a good career where you can make a difference.

It can be difficult dealing with people and their emotions and you need resilience. You’re not going to change the world, it can be exhausting and you may lose a sense of what’s normal but the small differences that you make help make a difference to people’s lives.

It’s a hard, stressful job but it’s a rewarding career and it’s reasonably well paid.  

 

'I like supporting service users and their families.'

Eleanor (Lenny) Curin, Social Worker

To download a pdf of this case study, click here.

 Lenny works with older people, aged over 65, with mental health problems (mostly dementia).

Have you always worked in social services?  No. I worked for the civil service in what is now known as the Benefits Agency, when I started it was the DHSS.
What made you choose the career you have now?  I did a degree in food, health and welfare and a post graduate qualification in social work. I felt I could use my knowledge and skills in food, health and welfare into social work where a job was almost guaranteed.
Can you tell us more about your job? We are a multi-disciplinary team. Most of the people we work with are referred by their GP and probably have used health services before social work becomes involved. 
What are you working on at the moment?  I am working with a man who has dementia. He believed he was managing fine but his self-care was poor and he would not accept help in the community. My role has been crucial in ensuring he was admitted to hospital and his family obtaining guardianship. He is now awaiting a care home placement.
What qualifications do you need to do your job? I need to be a qualified and registered social worker. 
Who else is in your team? We have support workers, team managers, community mental health nurses, occupational therapists, dieticians, pharmacists, consultant psychiatrists and psychologists. 
Do you work with other professionals in other sectors? We are a health and social work team and we work collaboratively. 
What part of the job motivates you and why? I like supporting services users and their families. 
What are the best bits about your job? Seeing service users looked after and the burden of care being shared. 
What are the challenges that you face in your job?  Some service users are difficult to work with because of personality or cognitive impairment.
In what way is your career in social services rewarding? You know you have been productive in enhancing some people’s lives. 
Can you explain the skills and qualities you think are needed to do the role you're doing? You need an understanding of other people’s roles and the way other disciplines operate. You also need good planning and communication skills. 
Has your job opened up new learning and development for you?  Yes. I knew very little about dementia and medicines before I started in this job.
How do you see your career progressing? I will probably remain in this job until I retire. 
What would you say to someone thinking about a career in social services? You really have to be physically and mentally well and able to ‘switch off’. While the job can be rewarding it can be quite harrowing at times. If you find one area of social work doesn’t suit you try another, you will normally find a role that fits. 
 

 

'Working with people is a real privilege. My social work qualification opened doors to a realm of diversity.'

Paula Brown, Social Worker

To download a pdf of this case study, click here.

Paula works for a local authority. She is a qualified social worker currently on a seconded post looking at co-production work for people living with dementia. Read her story here. 

Have you always worked in social services? If not, what did you do before?

I used to work in a drug project attached to a hospital. This role involved counselling people who were trying to manage their drug use, some of them were supported with community detox and part of the role included promoting alternative lifestyle choices. We worked closely with an outdoor organisation and every fortnight we did outdoor pursuits including hillwalking, skiing, mountain biking. This was a great way to improve people’s self-esteem and also show the benefits of exercise.

I also worked as a voluntary counsellor with a local alcohol organisation. They delivered certified counselling training. This was largely 121 support for people who were affected by alcohol misuse.

What made you choose the career you have now?

I had practiced as a social worker in a generic adult community care team then as a social worker in a learning disability team. One of my strong values is the importance of a person centred approach when working with people and their carers, family and friends.

In the area I work there is a strong network and partnership working. We have the highest percentage of older people aged over 65 in Scotland. Dementia is an illness of the brain that affects not just older people but is more prevalent in older people. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding dementia and a fear factor that will not go away unless people talk about it. It is likened to how we approached cancer 20 years ago. Unlike treatment for cancer, support for people living with dementia is not free and we need to look at how we can support people better.

I have always enjoyed working with groups and it is a powerful way of addressing issues.

Can you tell us more about your job?

I work directly with people living with dementia, their families, carers and community support providers. Over the period of the Transforming Older People Services Change Fund I have moved into a new role created exclusively to improve daily life for people living with dementia and to facilitate culture change within social work teams and local communities through improved practice and testing different practice models.

I work exclusively with people living with dementia at all stages of their dementia journey. I provide advice and support through individual meetings, as a social work advisor in a dementia advice hub resource.

I am the social work representative in our local Community Mental Health team working closely with post diagnostic support workers to advise on transitions to social work services and personnel, I also work closely with all of the professionals who work in community mental health services. I work daily with people supported by Alzheimer Scotland’s five pillars of support and with those people who may benefit from the proposed eight pillars of support.

I am also a practice teacher and strongly believe in supporting and encouraging others to enter a career in social work.

I am also exploring the role of co-production in moving social work practice to a citizen model that will enable people living with dementia to retain and utilise existing skills and abilities and promote capacity building in the community. This is a key role in the development of a Dementia Friendly Community. As part of my role I act as an advisor to social worker colleagues about current issues that affect people with dementia, social work policy that impacts on dementia and developing social media and IT systems to support an engaged, effective work force. Part of my role also entails delivering Dementia Aware training to the community including to other public and emergency services such as local Police Scotland and Fire and Rescue colleagues and schools. I am also a dementia ambassador and having recently completed the dementia champion course, both roles are beneficial to my professional development and for the organisation through my continuous professional development portfolio.

Can you give us an example of something you're working on at the moment?

We support young people to be part of a network committed to developing ideas and initiatives which seek to have people with dementia as active participants not as passive recipients. We aim to build on the existing work of East Dunbartonshire’s dementia schools pack for primary school and early secondary pupils. We are looking at introducing a pathway starting with Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Friends to S3 pupils then S4-S6 using the Promoting Excellence “Informed about Dementia” DVD coupled with a locally-focussed dementia awareness presentation.

Working with school pupils presents challenges due to timetables and exams but we have developed good communication with some teaching staff that is very supportive. Undoubtedly there is an emotional impact for some pupils and we have outlined support at the beginning of every session. As a dementia champion I will be responsible for liaising with the education department as there is discussion about incorporating this training into their curriculum. Some pupils now help run a community café at a local care home once a month.

What qualifications do you need for this job? I have a postgraduate diploma in social work and am a dementia ambassador. You need to have good communication and networking skills and an enthusiasm and energy and passion to share with others.
Who else is in your team? I work closely with a colleague from the local advocacy service who is the Network Coordinator and a dementia ambassador. We work with teaching staff, pupils and a local care home manager. The youth volunteering coordinator was vital in this work and being part of the Generations Working Together network too was an advantage. A representative from Scottish Care helped promote the work at the care home managers’ forum.
Do you work with other professionals in other sectors eg health, teaching, justice? I work with professionals across business, health, fire and rescue, police and education, including nurseries. The major focus is on training and awareness raising together with sign posting people so they know where they can access support.
What part of the job motivates you and why? Social workers are described as ‘agents of change’, this is a real motivator in my current role. During this difficult time in social care, my job is about promoting a change in culture, building on what we have and supporting others to bring about change.
What are the best bits about your job? The diversity in my role is a real privilege, working with people and having time to spend with them, finding out what is important.
What are the challenges, good and not so good that you face in your job? I am working in a unique role. I am looking at community capacity building and asking my colleagues for support whilst they are juggling working with people who require intensive support and intervention. This discrepancy can be a challenge and there are no immediate results, this is part of a longer term culture change, moving away, not replacing supports, in their current form. The Christie Commission report on future of public services outlines that we cannot continue with more of the same. Change needs to be resourced.
In what way is your career in social services rewarding? Working with people is a real privilege. My social work qualification opened doors to a realm of real diversity. I have worked with people, supporting them to move into their own homes and promote life skills to working with older people in care homes and the community to come to singing groups. There is real potential to improve people’s quality of life and that in itself is so rewarding.
Can you explain the skills and qualities you think are needed to do the role you're doing? You need to be enthusiastic, motivated and believe in what you are doing. I think honesty is another quality, as it is a process, reflecting at every stage and asking what could be done differently is so important too.
Has your job opened up new learning and development for you? Part of my role has included developing a partnership dementia website: www.eddn.org.uk This is something I would not have thought I would have ever done.
How do you see your career progressing?

I have been very fortunate in my seconded role and hope that the local authority embeds this way of working into practice and I continue in my role as coordinator.

I would like to develop an infrastructure for sustaining co-production and believe a time banking model would be an appropriate tool.

What would you say to someone thinking about a career in social services?

Do it!

Working in social care is a real challenge and privilege. The possibilities are endless and there is always the opportunity to change.

 

'I enjoy working in a challenging, busy environment where there's a variety of learning opportunities available'

Caroline McDonald, social work student

To download a pdf of this case study, click here.

Caroline is in her third year student placement with the Maryhill Children and Families Team, Glasgow City Council. Read more about her role.

 

 

What type of service do you work in?

Maryhill Children and Families Team provides a statutory service to support children and families at risk in the community. The service aims to improve positive outcomes for children. This approach includes the wellbeing and development of children.

In addition, the service manages and reduces possible risks to children by working collaboratively with families, carers and other statutory/voluntary agencies.  

Have you always worked in social services?  Yes, I worked within housing and homeless services for 18 years.
Can you tell us more about your job?

My role is to bring my knowledge, theory and ongoing learning into my placement to develop my practice skills further.

On this placement I have been learning about the national practice model of assessment known as Getting it Right for Every Child. I have applied this model of practice in assessing children and young people’s needs.

I work with other agencies and service users during the assessment process. I have also submitted reports to the Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration on behalf of the young people I have been working with.

I attend weekly supervision sessions with my Practice Educator. This gives me the opportunity to reflect upon my learning and to develop my understanding of social work theory, knowledge and laws applicable to social work.  

Who else is in your team?  My team is made up of a team leader, six social workers and a social care officer. My Practice Educator is also part of my team.
What part of the job motivates you and why?

I enjoy working in a challenging, busy environment where there’s a variety of learning opportunities available.

I am motivated to work with children/young people and have enjoyed being able to promote their rights and views during assessments. I find this work interesting and insightful.

On placement I have the opportunity to build on my knowledge of the law and social work theories. I can bring my learning into the practice environment and improve my readiness to practice. I am motivated to develop my learning and take the opportunity to learn new skills that will benefit my overall work.  

What are the challenges that you face in your job?

It can be challenging working with families who are reluctant to engage with social work. I have used my communications skills to build relationships with service users and their carers to overcome the barriers.

Often there are deadlines for reports for the Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration. This can be challenging at times, collating information and liaising with partner agencies to ensure reports are completed and on time.  

In what way is your career in social services rewarding?

I have been working with a child and his mother to help bring about positive changes to their lives. Together we have taken steps to reduce possible harm or risks to the child in the future by agreeing to a person-centred care plan.

I have worked in partnership with the child, his mother and a specialist support provider to meet their needs. It has been rewarding to see positive changes in the child and to see him feeling safe and happy. I find this method of work empowering for the child and seek to promote his rights.  

Can you explain the skills and qualities you think are needed to do the role you're doing?

In a social work children and families team good communication skills is key.

Being able to speak to children/young people in a way that they understand is important because children are at the heart of the assessment process. Being able to work in partnership with children, their families and other agencies such as health, education, and the third sector is integral to good practice.

Having an awareness of the law, policies and procedures relevant to the practice setting is crucial. It is essential that I know my role and responsibilities to keep people who use services free from harm and abuse.

Having good personal qualities in social work helps immensely. Such as being approachable, interested in people and having the skills to put a young person at ease during difficult circumstances. Listening to children/young people is also very important because often decisions are made that affect their lives and their views should be respected.  

Has your job opened up new learning and development for you?

My employer, Glasgow City Council, is sponsoring me through the BA (Honours) (Scotland) degree programme with The Open University. I am currently in my third year placement learning opportunity.

Since being on placement I have attended child protection awareness training and domestic abuse and gender based violence training.  

How do you see your career progressing? Hopefully I will complete my studies by October 2016 and will be a qualified social worker for Glasgow City Council. 
What would you say to someone thinking about a career in social services?

Working in social work children and families is a rewarding job, even although it can be challenging at times.

If you enjoy a variety of work, enjoy working with children/families and have a passion for making positive changes in a child’s life then a career in social work may be the right step.  

 

Are you inspired and looking for more info on careers in care?

You’ll find lots of information here.

But before you do, have a go at our quiz to see if you could have what it takes for a career in care.

Do you work in social services and would you like to share your story about your career to help raise awareness of the difference you make? Get in touch with us at communications@sssc.uk.com