If you want to make a positive difference to children and their families' lives, and help them have a better future, this job could be perfect for you.
Most employers will want you to have experience and qualifications that show your ability and potential for this work and you can get the experience you need through paid or voluntary work in children’s homes, nurseries, refuge centres or family community centres, for example. You will also need to have a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.
Once working you can expect training in all aspects of the job. You’ll need to be able to build relationships with families facing difficult circumstances, have a non-judgemental approach and have lots of patience and understanding.
As a family support worker, you would give emotional and practical help and advice to families that are having long or short-term difficulties. This would include support in helping children to stay with their families if that is what's best for them in the particular situation.
Your job would vary depending on the particular needs of the family (also known as the client). The kind of difficulties 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
- problems accessing services due to language barriers.
Families would usually be referred to you by a social worker, and you would work together to help them by planning and providing 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 caring skills
- learn how to teach children through play
- understand the how to deal with behaviour difficulties
- manage the family budget
- go to local workshops.
You may show parents how things can be done, then support them until they can do these on their own.
In emergency situations, for example when a single parent is going into hospital, you may move into your client's home for a very short time to look after the children until other care is found. You may also help social workers assess a family's needs when a child has returned home after 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 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 work with families in their own homes but also attend meetings and go into the office to write case notes and receive support or advice from colleagues. You may occasionally need to be present in court concerning care orders for children.
A driving licence may be needed for some jobs.
The starting salary for family support workers can be around £18,000 a year. With experience and additional responsibilities this can rise to around £35,000.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
Most employers will want you to have experience and qualifications that show your ability and potential for this type of work. You could get the experience you need through paid or voluntary work with children, young people and their families in a number of settings, such as:
- children's homes
- family refuge centres
- probation services
- family community centres
- mental health services
- youth projects.
Qualifications in childcare, social work, social care, counselling, youth work and education could all help you to find work in this field.
Employers would normally look for a minimum of a level 3 qualification in one of these areas, although you may be taken on with level 2 qualifications if you have a lot of experience behind you. Examples of qualifications might include:
- Level 3 Certificate in Work with Parents
- Level 2 and 3 Diplomas in Health and Social Care
- Level 3 Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce (all pathways).
Higher-level qualifications might include a social work degree or an advanced diploma in counselling.
Please see the job profiles for the job areas mentioned above for more detailed information.
You will also need to have a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. You can find more details about DBS checks on the DBS website.
- Disclosure and Barring Service (Home Office website)
Training and development
Once you are working you will usually receive training from your employer in all aspects of the job including:
- legal and policy guidelines
- assessment methods
- child protection issues
- recognising the signs of drug and alcohol misuse, and domestic violence
- health and safety, and first aid.
If you do not already hold a higher-level qualification, you may be encouraged to work towards one, for example:
- foundation degree/HND in family support work
- degree in social work, childhood studies or working with families and children.
Postgraduate awards in child and family studies are also available for experienced staff who have a degree.
You will be expected to keep your skills and knowledge up to date throughout your career. Many employers provide on-going supervision, coaching and training opportunities to help you do this.
Skills, interests and qualities
As a family support worker you will need:
- the ability to communicate sensitively and effectively with children and adults
- the ability to build good relationships with families that may be unfriendly at first
- 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
- understanding, 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
- language skills (for certain jobs).
You would find most jobs with children's charities and local authority social services.
With experience and qualifications you could focus on a particular area, for example working with people with disabilities. Or 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 an understanding of social work, and some employers will provide financial help if you want to gain a social worker qualification.
Related industry information
Early years, children and young people’s services are represented by the Skills for Care and Development Sector Skills Council. This includes those working in early years, children and young people’s services, and those working in social work and social care for children and adults in the UK. The social care sector comprises two sub-sectors:
- Adult social care – with a workforce of nearly 1.5 million, accounting for 5% of England’s workforce, and 38,000 employers
- Children and young people – with an estimated workforce of 2.7 million
Early years, children and young people’s services provide publicly funded services accessed by between 1.5 and 2.5 million families per year, including early years education, childcare, children’s social care, family support, child protection, fostering and adoption services. There are more than 500,000 workers delivering these services in England.
[N.B. Following the change of Government on 11th May, all statutory guidance and legislation referred to here continues to reflect the current legal position unless indicated otherwise, but this document may not reflect Government policy.]
- The children and young people’s social care workforce includes:
- Over a quarter of a million people working within early years and childcare settings, with 165,200 employed in full day care and 58,300 workers in sessional day care
- An estimated 111,484 nannies
- An estimated 1,152 portage workers in England (who provide a home-visiting service for pre-school children who have developmental or learning difficulties, physical disabilities or other special needs)
- About 1,985 in the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS)
- An estimated 7,500 residential childcare workers in children’s homes and 2,100 in care homes for disabled children
- 25,460 full-time equivalent social workers
- Approximately 37,000 foster families in England
- Approximately 14,000 learning mentors
- 2,247 educational psychologists
- Between 3,000 and 5,000 education welfare officers in England
- 65% of full day care provision is privately run, with 22% of settings run by a voluntary organisation.
- The majority of sessional care settings are run by voluntary organisations or are privately run.
The children and young people’s workforce includes a wide range of workers, jobs and professional occupations, including:
- Early years and childcare – Early years/nursery teachers; Nursery nurses/workers; Portage workers; Nannies; Home Child carers; Heads of children’s centres; Volunteers in childcare settings
- Children and young people’s social care – children and family court advisory and support service officers, foster carers, residential childcare workers, children and family social workers
- Learning, development and support services (LDSS) – learning mentors, educational psychologists, education welfare officers, behaviour and education support teams, family support workers
- Skills for Care and Development (Children and Young People's Workforce England)
- A Question of Care (interactive careers tool)
- National Children's Bureau
- National Day Nurseries Association
- Pre-School Learning Alliance
- The Daycare Trust
- Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years
- The Association of Nanny Agencies
- Children England (formerly The National Council for Voluntary Child Care Organisations)