Residential social workers, also known as residential support workers or care officers, provide support to vulnerable residents of care homes, children’s homes, hostels, adult and youth centres. Some residents may be young, emotionally vulnerable, drug dependent, elderly, physically disabled, have learning difficulties or mental health problems. They frequently work alongside qualified social workers, doctors and other professionals.
Residential social workers support three main groups of people:
- Children and young people – working with this group involves assessing the needs of each child, and establishing guidelines for behaviour. Young people require social and emotional support, and a safe and happy environment in which to live. Residential social workers will provide leisure, sporting and creative stimulation. They act as a positive role model, and give advice on independent living to those who are about to leave formal care.
- Adults – working with this group involves providing assistance with daily living skills such as budgeting, shopping, and claiming benefits. They are likely to need encouragement to develop social and personal skills, which may be through involvement in the community and participation in leisure activities.
- Elderly people - for this group, checks must be made to ensure that residents are treated with dignity and are living in a safe, comfortable and stimulating environment.
- Recruiting and training other members of staff, and foster parents
- Accompanying residents on trips and holidays
- Attending meetings, writing reports and maintaining case notes.
Residential social workers must remain objective at all times, and act sympathetically and in the residents’ best interests; this may mean restricting their liberty in accordance with the law. Senior residential social workers may be involved with staff supervision, and will have additional administrative and financial responsibilities.
What's the working environment like working as a residential social worker?
Residential social workers typically work 35-40 hours a week, including shifts, weekend and evening work, with a rota for sleeping in. There may be on-call duties in the event of an emergency. Part-time work may be available.
They are usually based in children's homes, hostels, adult or youth centres. These may either be purpose-built or adapted houses.
What does it take to become a residential social worker?
To be a residential social worker, you need:
- The ability to communicate well with a wide range of people from different backgrounds
- To be able to interpret and respond to residents’ needs with sensitivity and patience
- The ability to help people cope with painful situations and decisions
- To be able to anticipate and cope with demanding and stressful situations
- An open-mind, flexibility and the ability to cope with change
- To be self-motivated and able to motivate others
- Strong organisational and negotiating skills
- To be able to detach from work when necessary
- To enjoy working as part of a team
- An understanding of appropriate legislation.
Residential social worker career opportunities
The main employers are local authorities, and increasingly the private sector, voluntary agencies and specialist employment agencies. Work is available in most areas of the UK, and self-employment and freelance work is sometimes possible. It is common to transfer from the public to the private sector.
Qualified social workers are very much in demand, and depending on experience and qualifications, rapid career progression is possible.