Top things a social worker can do

Posted: Apr 16 2020

In 2019, there were 113,300 adult social worker jobs, which the NHS shows is up 0.9% from the previous year. This figure does not include children and family social workers, of which there were 28,500 in the UK when last counted in 2017. The different social workers are totalled separately because of the vastly different tasks they can perform, yet there are some similarities.


By definition, a social worker’s role is to help a patient strengthen their inner resources and refer them onto external assistance where necessary with the ultimate goal being to encourage harmony between the patient and their community. It’s clear to see that the roles and responsibilities of a social worker will change dependent on the case and as well as which area they have specialised in.


With this in mind, we’re going to outline the top things a social worker can and can’t do and highlight the essential work they do for our communities.



What a social worker can do

Because social work is such a broad term it can be confusing to understand what a social worker does. Here are some of the core roles and responsibilities that are based on specialised knowledge and training:


Build relationships

Relationships are key to good social care and every social worker’s primary focus is to build strong connections with their patients. It will therefore come as no shock that interpersonal skills are a key requirement of a social worker. Having a genuine connection with a patient is essential for good communication, particularly as some adults and children will have difficulty expressing their own thoughts. This aspect of social care is just one of the many reasons we can be sure that social workers won’t be replaced by robots – a concern for many in other professions.


Connect people with resources

When a social worker takes on a new case the first thing they’ll do is assess the person’s relationships, support system and interaction with their community. Using this they’ll develop a care plan, highlighting where there are gaps in their support and then connect them with the resources they need. This practice is known as social prescribing, an initiative that in 2018 the UK government invested £4.5 million in.


Offer holistic care

Because social prescribing considers a person’s mental wellbeing, physical health, independence and financial stability it supports a holistic approach. Social workers understand the importance of assessing every aspect of a client’s health – physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual. The care they provide addresses all these aspects and considers how external stressors have an impact.


Provide mental health support

While some social workers will specialise in mental health, it’s an ambition of every professional in this field of work to promote better mental health. It is through experience and specialist knowledge that social workers are able to evaluate a patient’s mental health and use this assessment to influence their care plan.


Over the years there’s been an added focus on mental wellbeing, which is not surprising when you consider that each year 1 in 4 people in the UK face a mental health challenge. And this is just one of the reasons why social workers are in high demand.


Support those with substance abuse

A substance abuse social worker will help those with a strong addiction try to overcome this problem and provide support along their road to recovery. Addictions are damaging and can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s physical and mental wellbeing, as well as a harmful impact on their community. The role of a substance abuse social worker will change from day-to-day, ranging from setting up transportation, appointments and helping clients adhere to their care plans. The real reward in this job is seeing a patient turn their life around and it is why many choose social work as a career.



What a social worker can’t do

Social work is blurred with many other professions - therapists, psychologists, counsellors and nurses. In truth, there are many elements of these jobs that a social worker fulfils but there are several areas they are not qualified in. Here are some common misconceptions about the tasks a social worker can perform.



Diagnosing is a tricky area because some social workers have the authority to do so while others do not. In short, a clinical social worker can diagnose patients with mental illnesses while those without clinical training can assess a patient and make professional recommendations.


Prescribe medication

Plain and simple, social workers are not authorised to prescribe medication. All social workers, including clinical, do not have the training to make drug prescriptions for clients. Additionally, within the realm of social work, medication is not generally promoted but rather there is an emphasis on creating a care plan that protects the wellbeing of the patient.


Despite clarity around the prescription of medication, there is often confusion regarding drug administration, which social work nurses are permitted to perform.


Provide therapy or counselling

It’s common for social workers to be confused with counsellors and therapists because the roles overlap yet they are distinctly different. Counselling and therapy are a facet of social work but unless a professional has received their qualifications – usually a master’s degree and a clinical license – they cannot conduct these sessions. Instead, a social worker will focus on coaching individuals through their internal struggles and identify when they need to be referred onto a healthcare professional. This is one reason why social work is unique.


Take a child away

Child and family social workers will provide a professional assessment of whether they think a child is safe in the custody of their caregiver, but they do not have the authority to remove a child from its home. A child and family social worker’s role is to improve the functioning of a family and this may be done by speaking to school teachers, liaising with the court and consulting medical professionals on the family’s behalf.


In summary

It’s not easy to understand the roles and responsibilities of a social worker because the scope of their job is so broad and will change significantly between each case. Social work is a job that overlaps with many others so there will understandably always be some confusion about what a social worker can and can’t do. But there is one thing we can be sure of - social work matters. To understand more about what a social worker does read our top 10 social work jobs blog.


Find your next social worker job with us

Whether you’re looking for adult social worker jobs, fostering social worker roles or opportunities in our other specialisms we can help you. Tradewind Recruitment is the premier provider of Social Care professionals into temporary and permanent roles around the UK. Make your next career move with us.

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