A family support worker helps families who are experiencing long- or short-term difficulties. These could include drug or alcohol addiction, the hospitalisation of a parent, or a parent with long-term health problems, financial difficulties or marital issues. Family support workers also help families in which language is a problem or those families in which a parent or a child has a disability.
A family support worker's duties depend on the difficulties faced by the family she is helping. Most workers will have several families to support at any one time so the work will be varied. Generally, a family support worker will help to strengthen and develop parents’ confidence and ability to care for their children, which in turns helps children to deal with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties that could otherwise impact on their education and their future well-being. Support workers achieve this by working closely with the family and other agencies -- such as social services and schools -- to develop planned interventions that enable the family to reach its potential.
A family support worker may help a family to devise and manage a budget. They may also teach parents to help their children learn through play, and give parents advice and support on dealing with aggressive and difficult behaviour. In addition, a family support worker may attend court hearings, either as a witness or to offer support and advice to clients. It may also be necessary to attend child protection conferences, liaising with social workers. A family support worker may help social workers to assess a family’s needs after a period of disruption; for example, if a parent has been hospitalised or if a child has spent some time in foster care.
Working conditions and salary
A family support worker is usually employed by a local council or a charity, such as Barnardo’s. He will mainly work in clients’ homes although some time will be spent in the office and in meetings with various agencies. The work entails some travel. Hours are usually around 37 per week, but you may need to be available early in the morning to help a parent get children off to school. The National Careers Service estimates a starting salary of £18,000 a year rising to £35,000 for those with experience and additional responsibilities.
Qualifications and experience
Gaining practical experience is advisable before you apply for the role. This might include working in a school, particularly with children with special needs, in family community centres, refuge centres or youth work projects. Desirable qualifications 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 or Diploma in Children's Care, Learning and Development; and CACHE Certificate or Diploma in Child Care and Education. You may also wish to undertake a degree in childhood studies or social work.
You will need to be empathetic and able to communicate sensitively with families and children who are experiencing difficulties. It is important to remain calm under pressure and form relationships with those who may be unwilling to accept your help. You must also be non-judgemental and have good listening skills and patience. You will juggle a varied caseload so excellent organisational and time management skills are a must.