Family Support Worker

The Job and What's Involved

Family support workers provide emotional and practical help and advice to families who are experiencing long- or short-term difficulties. They aim to help children (who may otherwise be taken into care) stay with their families.

As a family support worker your duties would vary depending on the particular needs of the family. The kind of challenges facing your clients could include:

- Drug or alcohol addiction
- A parent in hospital or prison
- Marital or financial difficulties
- A child or parent with a disability

Families would usually be referred to you by a social worker, and you would work together to address the family's needs by planning and delivering the right type and level of support.

For example, if your clients needed help to improve their home management and parenting skills, your duties would include teaching and encouraging them to:

  • Develop physical and emotional caring skills.
  • Learn how to educate children through play.
  • Understand the different ways to deal with behavioural difficulties.
  • Gain control of the family budget.
  • Attend local workshops.

You may show parents how things can be done and then support them until they can carry out the tasks on their own.

In crisis situations, for example when a single parent is going into hospital, you may move into your client's home on a very short term basis until alternative care is found. You may also help social workers assess a family's needs when a child has returned home from being in care.

You would work with a range of health and social care professionals and you would keep accurate and up to date client records.

You would usually work around 37 hours a week. Part-time and job sharing options are also often available. When working with a family that includes school age children, you may need to be available early in the morning, during the evening and possibly at weekends.

You would mainly work in families' homes. You would also attend meetings and go into the office to write client case notes and receive peer group support or advice. You may occasionally be called to attend court if children are the subject of a care order.

Family support workers can start on around £18,000 a year.
With experience and additional responsibilities this can rise to around £35,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

You would find most jobs with children's charities (such as the NSPCC) and local authority social services.

Education and Training

Most employers will want you to have experience and qualifications that demonstrate your ability and potential for this work. You could get the experience you need through paid or voluntary work with children and families in, for example:

- Children's homes
- Nurseries
- Family refuge centres
- Probation services
- Family community centres
- Mental health services
- Youth work projects

Within each of these areas, there are qualifications you could take that may give you an advantage when applying for a family support worker job. These include:

  • NVQ levels 2, 3 and 4 in Children's Care, Learning and Development
  • NVQ levels 2, 3 and 4 in Health and Social Care
  • BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in Children's Care, Learning and Development.
  • CACHE Certificate or Diploma in Child Care and Education.

A background and qualifications in counselling or social work would also be a good preparation for family support.

You will also need to have a Criminal Records Bureau check.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Once you are working you will usually receive training from your employer in all aspects of the job including:

  1. The legal context of family support work.
  2. Assessment methods when working with families.
  3. Child protection issues.
  4. Recognising the signs of drug and alcohol misuse, and domestic violence.
  5. Health and safety, and first aid.

You may also be encouraged to work towards qualifications, such as:

  • Foundation degree in Professional Studies in Family Support.
  • BTEC HNC in Advanced Practice in Work with Children and Families.
  • Postgraduate award in Child Protection and Family Support.

You will be expected to keep your skills and knowledge up to date throughout your career and many employers provide on-going supervision, coaching and training opportunities.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A family support worker needs:

  • The ability to communicate sensitively and effectively with children and adults.
  • The ability to build good working relationships with families who may be initially hostile.
  • A good understanding of child development and the needs of children.
  • The ability to help parents develop the skills they need to run their home.
  • A non-judgmental approach.
  • A commitment to supporting people in difficult circumstances.
  • Empathy, patience and good listening skills.
  • The ability to stay calm under pressure.
  • Good time management and organisational skills.
  • A flexible approach.
  • Good team working skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience and qualifications you could focus on a specialist area of support work, for example, working with people with disabilities.

Alternatively, you could progress to team leader (managing a group of support workers) or assistant manager of a family centre or refuge.

Your background in family support would give you insight into social work and some employers in this area will provide financial assistance to support workers who wish to qualify in social work.

Get Further Information

Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC),
2nd Floor, City Exchange, 11 Albion Street,
Leeds LS1 5ES
Tel: 0113 244 6311


Skills for Care, Albion Court,
5 Albion Place, Leeds LS1 6JL
Tel: 0113 245 1716

Social Care Careers, Department of Health
Tel: 0300 123 1100

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