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Social Work Careers


The title ‘social worker’ is protected in the UK, meaning that only people with an approved qualification can practise as a social worker and use that title. People wanting to become social workers should complete an undergraduate or postgraduate social work degree. These courses are available at a large number of UK universities and you can search for these on the Health and Care Professional Council website. The curriculum has been designed to give students the theoretical and practical skills they need in order to work as professional social workers. Courses are delivered in partnership with local authorities to ensure that students undertake up to 200 days of practice learning the field.

"My experience with Sanctuary has always been excellent.

Communication with my consultant has been prompt and dealing with any queries has always been met by enthusiasm and a genuine willingness to help."

You will also need to pass background checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). The DBS makes criminal record and other checks to ensure unsuitable people are not allowed to work with vulnerable adults or children.

Student social workers also have to register with the correct regulator for the UK country they are studying in. These are:
These are also the bodies that qualified social workers have to register with in order to be able to practice.

Once you have completed a relevant degree course and have started work as a Newly Qualified Social Worker you are likely to need further training and guidance during your first two years of work. During this time, newly qualified social workers will have a more limited workload than more experienced colleagues and be given additional feedback and supervision. The exact arrangements for this vary between the four UK countries.


The social work degree allows you to take on a range of specialist roles in statutory, voluntary and independent social work settings providing that you are registered with the appropriate regulator for the UK country you are based in. As you gain more social work experience you will be able to specialise in particular sectors working in either permanent of locum roles.

Areas that you might work in as a registered social worker include:
  • Older people
  • Children or adults with disabilities
  • Children, teenagers or adults with mental health problems
  • Young offenders
  • Adults with learning disabilities
  • People with alcohol, drug or other substance misuse problems
  • Refugees and asylum seekers
  • People who are socially excluded
  • Children who need to live apart from their families
  • Foster carers and adopters
  • People, including children who are at risk of abuse or neglect, or have been abused and neglected
  • Carers
As your career develops you can take on more responsibility in:
  • Management and leadership roles
  • Becoming a practice supervisor or educator
  • Specialist activities, for example child protection chair, senior AMHP, independent reviewing officer
Sanctuary work with clients throughout statutory, voluntary and independent settings. Typically, most social workers work within a statutory setting with a local authority, but there are other more unusual roles such as social work jobs with the national armed forces charity SSAFA.

Our latest social work jobs.


Once you are qualified to practise as a social worker, your career path will be determined by a range of factors, in particular the continuing professional development (CPD) and training you undertake alongside the roles you work in and your personal interests.

The College of Social Work’s Professional Capabilities Framework has been developed in order to help social workers understand what is expected of them at different stages of their career and the options available to them.


In your first couple of years of practice, you are required to undergo further training and development in line with the requirements of your employer and registration body. You will be expected to demonstrate good practice and become more confident in using your own initiative where appropriate.


As you gain more experience, more job opportunities will become available to you. This is when you can start thinking more about specialising in your practice and on seeking professional development opportunities and expertise in your chosen areas.


Experienced social workers are expected to take on more leadership roles within social work and to be more autonomous in their practice.

This can mean taking on more complex or specialist caseloads, chairing meetings and liaising with other professionals as well as taking responsibility for others’ performance, such as mentoring NQSWs or taking on the supervision of other more junior team members.


Historically, the main route for career progression for experienced social workers was into management and potentially executive roles. However, this was not something that appealed to everyone and now there are more options for development available.

Advanced practitioners are expected to provide leadership, promote innovation and improved practice, demonstrate critical thinking and contribute to the development of practice.

This could be through a management role, as a practice educator developing the next generation of social workers or in a specialist advanced role such as, an independent reviewing officer, a senior AMHP, a safeguarding officer or with an emergency duty team.

Latest jobs