Graduating from university with a degree in social work does not give you the ability to walk straight into a long and happy career as a social worker. The profession is a very tightly regulated one, as social workers are exposed to vulnerable adults and children on a daily basis. Local authorities have to be sure that the people they are employing are suitable for these positions and that they have the qualifications they claim. The consequences for appointing an unregistered social worker could be very serious indeed.
The register of social workers run and maintained by the General Social Care Council is compulsory for all social work graduates and students who are likely to be seeking work. Social workers who qualified abroad can also register with the GSCC if they are likely to be seeking social care work in the UK. For the privilege of registering and having your details kept in a searchable file that is open to prospective employers, you have to pay an annual fee; but of course you cannot get a job in social work without the GSCC registration!
In order to remain registered with the GSCC, you must pay your annual fee and make sure your details are updated every year. You are also obliged to undergo 15 days of additional training every three years, to make sure that your social work education is as up-to-date as possible. Details of this training can also be found in your GSCC file. It can take around three weeks for a social worker to be registered with the GSCC, depending on their backlog of applications, so it is worth applying while a student to hopefully speed the process up once you have graduated.
Social work codes of practice
By registering with the GSCC you agree to adhere to their codes of practice, whether you are a qualified social worker or not. This means that social work has a similar system to the medical profession and that is employers or colleagues feel that some element of a social worker’s behaviour or conduct is bringing their registration into question, then they can be investigated by the GSCC and their case could be heard before a conduct hearing. In serious cases, they can be struck from the register and would no longer be able to work as a social worker. In reality, this would only happen if there had been very serious breaches of the codes of practice, copies of which are given to every social worker upon registration. Social workers are in very trusted positions and should not abuse that trust or take advantage of the situations that they can find themselves in; the General Social Care Council and the Care Quality Commission are responsible for enforcing the correct standards on social work employees in England, while there are similar bodies responsible for the behaviour of social workers registered in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.