Skip to content
Skip to main content
Author: Ellen Parker

Stress and rewards: My life as a social worker

Updated Wednesday, 25th January 2012
What's it really like being a social worker? Ellen Parker - one of the team shadowed for Protecting Our Children - shares the highs and lows.

This page was published over 11 years ago. Please be aware that due to the passage of time, the information provided on this page may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate, and any views or opinions expressed may no longer be relevant. Some technical elements such as audio-visual and interactive media may no longer work. For more detail, see how we deal with older content.

I qualified as a social worker with The Open University in October 2004. I worked for a Welsh Local Authority for just under five years before returning to Bristol to work in April 2009.

During my time as a Social Worker, I have experienced different aspects which include Youth Offending; Looked After Children; Fostering, and, since being back in Bristol, longer-term locality work including Child Protection; Child in Need and Court Proceedings. For the past year I have been a Senior Practitioner in one of Bristol's Duty and Assessment Teams.

All aspects of child care social work have elements of stress as well as their rewards. For me, I have found my niche in Duty and Assessment as I feel the skills required suit my personality, for example being flexible, having a diverse approach to assessment, the capacity to assess risk, and the ability to prioritise and respond to crisis.

My reasons for going into social work were around wanting to support families through difficult periods in their lives and the belief that I would be able to commit to one-to-one working with families.

However, the reality is that at the time of writing, social work often feels as if it is more crisis-led rather than needs-led which requires a creative and adaptive approach to practice in order to meet the needs of service users.

It can be frustrating when families do not reach the threshold for a statutory service, and because resources in the community have been lost through funding cuts this group of service users fall by the wayside until the situation reaches crisis point. Sadly, with all the financial constraints, we are often working with 'cure' rather than prevention.

Whilst I, along with many of my colleagues, feel the stress of the job all too often I could not imagine doing anything else. I thrive on the unknown and get real satisfaction from making a difference to the lives of children and young people. I see social work as a vocation rather than simply a job. The primary role of social work is to keep children safe, this is not always easy and can be met with anger and hostility from parents and carers so I have to be prepared to be seen as the enemy!

Social work is such a worthwhile and rewarding career but it does have its pitfalls. It is not an 8.30 to 5 job. There are always demands on a social workers' time to meet deadlines for assessments and reports, and the amount of paperwork is increasing. There are many different areas of social work but if you thrive on uncertainty and are flexible, dynamic and enjoy an adrenalin rush Duty and Assessment may be for you.

Accountability is key, you have to be able to justify the decisions that you make, but you are never alone. Decisions are often made following discussions with the team manager and the law plays an important part in determining actions.

Protecting Our Children: Professional Voices


Become an OU student


Ratings & Comments

Share this free course

Copyright information

Skip Rate and Review

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?