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Getting back into social work after a break

By Gemma Raw

Social work policy and practice is constantly evolving, so how do you return from a career break?

Only those who have worked in social work will truly understand how rewarding it can be, despite the challenges. The personal satisfaction of helping vulnerable people is why many find themselves drawn back into the profession. 

The answer as to how easy it is to return to practice though largely depends on how long you have been absent for, where you intend to work in the UK, and what you are proactively doing to make the move. 


In England, if you have been out of practice for up to two years you will not be required to update your skills and knowledge before you can re-register with Social Work England. If you are returning after a period of two to five years, you must spend 30 days updating your skills and knowledge and for those over five years, it is 60 days. This can comprise a combination of supervised practice, formal study and private study. There's more info about returning to the profession on their website.

It will depend where in the UK you are looking to register. In Wales, The Care Council for Wales regards readmission to the register as a new application. And in Scotland, the Scottish Social Services Council does not have a return to practice requirement. Instead, social workers must undertake 15 days of post-registration training as learning (PRTL) within their three-year registration. 

Shaping your own route 

There’s no single route for re-entering the profession. If you’ve not practiced for several years, you will need to think more creatively about how you might gain some tangible experience. This is not just for registration purposes, but to demonstrate to an employer that your skills are relevant to the needs of those you would be supporting.

You’re unlikely to gain voluntary social work experience at a council due to the statutory nature of the work, but it is possible to arrange work shadowing opportunities. Some councils are keen to offer this as a way of supporting those returning to the profession. You will still need to evidence your registration though and have all the relevant DBS checks. 

You could also consider closely related voluntary work; for instance, as a support worker within a homeless shelter, refuge or family centre. 

Keeping up-to-date

We all know how quickly legislation changes, and with that social work practice. There are some very practical things you can do to make refreshing your knowledge that much easier. Here are a few pointers…

  • Check for recent legislation, policy and research updates from the Department of Health and Department for Education.

  • Read case reviews for your local area that have helped shape best practice 

  • Be familiar with the national concerns most councils will be seeking to address. In each issue of Sanctuary Social Work News, we include articles from practitioners working in specific practice areas. 

  • For children’s social work, research your Local Safeguarding Children Board’s website. You might even be able to book onto some courses, which is a great way to network and form new relationships with social work professionals in your area. 

We can help you take those first steps back into the profession, register with Sanctuary today. We have also written a selection of pieces around starting and navigating your social work career which may be of interest.