Careers Service Occupations

Social Work & Probation

Social Work and Probation

About

Working in the social care sector, whether as a social or probation worker can be challenging but very rewarding. You are likely to be helping with with society's most complex issues.

Social work is an established professional discipline which works with other professions to play a key role in helping children, adults and families to take control of and to improve their lives in conditions where their security, safety or ability to participate in civic life are restricted. There are approximately 84,000 registered social workers in England. (Community Care 2010)

The National Probation Service (NPS), part of Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) is a statutory criminal justice service that supervises high-risk offenders released into the community. They work with around 30,000 offenders a year, supporting their rehabilitation while protecting the public. (Gov.UK 2018). As a probation officer working for private sector community rehabilitation company (CRC) that manages low and medium-risk offenders your duties may vary from those in the NPS. 

Careers advice and articles

Sector news

Videos

AGCAS: Journey to work (DVD) covers researching social work and gaining relevant work experience.

Sector skills councils

Skills for Care and Skills for Justice provide advice for social work and probation.

Government departments and public bodies

Care councils and regulatory bodies

Professional bodies 

Professional bodies represent and promote the interests of people working in the sector, providing services such as training and networking opportunities. They often provide careers support for students and graduates and development for people already working in the sector.

Follow professional associations on LinkedIn, or visit their websites for useful sources of news, contacts, work experience and vacancies.

The main professional associations for this sector include:

Making contacts

Making contacts will help you gain insight into roles and arrange work experience. You could start with:

Events

Recruitment fairs, open days, talks and other events give insight and opportunities to make contacts.

For events listings see Careers Service events or External Events.

Related sectors

You may also be interested in:

For more options see our Careers Occupations homepage. 

Roles & Skills

it's important that you research the different roles available to help you develop the relevant skills and experience needed before making an application.

Social workers work in a variety of settings. These include local authorities, NHS Trusts, the voluntary and private sectors. They can also work with a range of clients. Client groups include children, adults, the elderly, families, and people with disabilities, learning difficulties and mental health issues and also people with addictions.
 
Social work vacancies in the statutory sector have increased recently and the number entering social work training has decreased. This has created a demand for graduates in this field.

Probation Officers manage offenders to protect the public and reduce potential reoffending.
 
Probation officers work with offenders in custody, courts, and in the community. They also interact with the police, victims and prison service colleagues and liaise with relevant statutory and voluntary agencies. Some may manage residential premises for offenders and ex-prisoners. They also manage and enforce the conditions of community orders.
 
Probation officers work only in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have a separate criminal justice system. 

Skills employers look for

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • good interpersonal skills
  • caring attitude, patience and the ability to remain calm in a crisis
  • resilience, motivation and commitment
  • flexibility to adapt to new roles, tasks and situations
  • initiative, effective decision-making skills and problem-solving ability
  • strong observation, analytical and listening skills
  • case work and report writing ability
  • the capacity to absorb legal and procedural information
  • the ability to negotiate, and influence, mediate and interpret information
  • good planning and organisational skills
  • teamwork and collaboration skills
  • good judgement and the ability to think on your feet
  • understanding of equal opportunities and anti-discriminatory practice.

For probation work you should also have knowledge and understanding of the work of the criminal justice system and the probation service.

The job profiles below have more details typical duties, entry requirements and case studies:

Social worker

Social work assistant

Probation officer

Youth offending team officer

Other roles

Roles within social care are diverse and wide-ranging. For links to a number of relevant job profiles, visit the National Careers Service's Job Profiles: Social services.

Gaining Experience

Paid or voluntary work experience in a related role is highly recommended and often essential for roles in this sector.

Social work

Most routes into social work require experience working with children and young people, families or vulnerable groups.

There are three graduate development programmes where social work experience is not essential. These programmes are more interested in personal attributes: 

However, experience in a social work setting is essential to get onto a postgraduate social work course.

Internships and placements

Undertaking an internship or placement year is a great way to gain in-depth experience, however placement years are not commonly advertised in this sector. It may be possible to arrange a placement by researching relevant organisations and contacting them directly, through a speculative application. Penultimate year undergraduate students can opt to take a 9-12 month placement, extending your degree programme by one year. For more information, or to register your interest, see Careers Service Placement Year.

Finding organisations

Find organisations that interest you (see below for ideas) and get in touch, always with a named contact. Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for. 

Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills. Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.

Opportunities to get experience

In the North East: 

UK wide:

  • LG jobs or Sector1 – for part time or full time public sector jobs, including part-time work as a social work assistant or youth worker
  • Your local council should have details of private care services you could approach for opportunities
  • You could try to get work in an adventure playground group, school or holiday play schemes, or youth project. Your local council will have details of these
  • You could also look for opportunities to gain experience in: children’s homes, nurseries, family refuge centres, eg Refuge and Women's Aidcommunity centres and mental health services such as those listed on Rethink Mental Illness

You may also want to look at the Gaining Experience tab on our Community, Advice and Guidance page.

Probation

To work in probation you will need experience of working with challenging behaviour.

Opportunities to get experience

In the North East: 

UK wide:

If you chose a volunteering opportunity, consider the environment you will be working in. Also consider the people you will be working with and the skills you will be able to develop. For example, volunteering with organisations such as Citizens Advice can help you build on essential advice giving skills.

Check out opportunities listed on Do-it or Volunteering Matters websites.

There are many charities working in this sector. You can apply for advertised opportunities or contact them to see if they need more support. 

Use the Charity Commission register to search for relevant charities.

You may also want to look at the gaining experience section on our Community, Advice and Guidance page for information on youth work.

Finding Jobs

There are a variety of ways to secure a social work and probation role.

Social work

Step Up to Social Work is a 14-month training programme for graduates and career changers. The programme offers a bursary and leads to a Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work. 

Frontline is a two-year leadership programme for high-achieving graduates and career changers keen on children’s social care. The programme offers a bursary and leads to a full Master's qualification.

Think Ahead is a two-year leadership programme for graduates who want to work as mental health social workers. The programme offers a bursary and leads to a full Master's qualification. 

Vacancy sites

Social work

Your local and regional press and local authority and council websites may also advertise social worker vacancies. 

Public sector and healthcare vacancy sites

Newspaper and magazines

Probation work

Specialist recruitment agencies

Recruitment agencies such as Red Snapper Recruitment and Sanctuary Criminal Justice advertise vacancies in the probation field.

Study & Training

Further study is essential for some roles in this sector.

Social work

Entry to the profession is normally via an undergraduate or masters degree approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Both options combine professional and academic training with assessed placements. They qualify the holder to work in both children and adult services. 

Applications for almost all postgraduate courses in social work come through UCAS. But always check with the institution for details of how to apply.

There is also an employer-led route to qualificationStep Up to Social Work. There are two fast-track graduate programmes, ThinkAhead and Frontline. For more information, see finding jobs.

Funding further study in social work

Bursaries are available to support those studying postgraduate courses in social work. These are for those who aren't being sponsored by an employer. 

There are certain criteria you need to meet to qualify for the funding. The amount you get also depends on:

  • where you study
  • whether you study full or part-time
  • the cost of your tuition

Some courses are offered part-time, so it may be possible to qualify while continuing to work.

For more information, visit Gov.uk: social work bursaries.

Probation

HM Prisons and Probation Service and the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) have further information on professional training for probation work.