How to become an Independent Family Support Worker

How to become an Independent Family Support Worker

Family support is an integral part of what we do at WillisPalmer as it enables families to stay together where it is safe to do so. Not only is this better for the children and families who get support in their parenting skills and communication and enables them to deal more effectively with short-term and more complex problems, but it is also less costly for the state if children do not go into the care system.

Children are likely to have better outcomes if they stay out of the care system, if it is safe for them to do so. Furthermore, when children become looked after by the local authority, an estimated 92% return home at some stage, usually of their own accord. Therefore, if problems within the family have not been addressed, the reason that children entered care in the first place persists and children remain at risk.

What is family support?

Family Support Work enables trained and skilled professionals to work alongside families to identify problems and to provide effective solutions where possible. This may be practical parenting skills, particularly when the family has a newborn baby, and help establish effective feeding and sleeping routines alongside essential age-appropriate play to help with attachment. For families of teenagers, the intervention may include improving positive communication skills and setting boundaries or helping young people who may be at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation or gang involvement to engage with positive activities such as employment, education, training or volunteering.

Family Support can also help families experiencing a particular problem or issue such as mental ill health, financial difficulties, addiction, grief, loss or divorce.

Family Support Workers use their skills to highlight the families’ strengths and work to those strengths while providing advice and support to overcome difficulties.

How do you become a Family Support Worker?

Family Support Workers typically require 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, for a level 3 course. Options for courses include Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care or a Level 3 Diploma for the Children and Young People's Workforce.

Other routes into Family Support Work include an apprenticeship, volunteering or applying directly.

Experience is essential when applying for training or jobs. This can be gained through paid or voluntary work in:

  • children's homes
  • nurseries
  • family refuge centres
  • probation services
  • family community centres
  • mental health services
  • youth projects

Some people train as a qualified social worker by carrying out a social work degree and specialise in Family Support.

Who do Family Support Workers work for?

Family Support Workers tend to be employed by local authorities or voluntary sector organisations. Some people may work through a recruitment agency and carry out shifts in various settings on a locum basis, particularly where 24/7 family support is required for safeguarding risks. Other Family Support Workers practice independently or as a private family support worker and, as such, can take on private work for one or a number of organisations to provide more flexibility and ownership. As with most professionals including expert witness psychologists and Independent Social Workers, Independent Family Support Workers tend to have more experience in the profession.

How do you become an Independent Family Support Worker, also known as a Private Family Support Worker?

Sometimes, Family Support Workers who have carried out the role for a significant period of time and are skilled at the role but who may not wish to progress into management may become an Independent Family Support Worker. Going independent means they can command a better wage, have more flexibility in their role, and take on the roles they want to, while being their own boss. Often, Family Support Workers will work through an organisation such as WillisPalmer, who can offer shifts and roles in the same way that Independent Social Workers are offered specific assessments by working with WillisPalmer, playing to their strengths and experience. By working in this way, Family Support Workers need to be confident, skilled and happy to work autonomously.

Advantages of working independently


  • Financial – Independent Family Support Workers tend to be paid more.
  • Flexibility – By working independently, FSWs can choose the shifts or roles they want to take in areas they are confident to work in.
  • Work/Life balance – Becoming an independent FSW or private family support worker enables professionals to work days/times that are suitable for them, for example, they can let the organisation who they work through know their availability and are therefore not tied down to a set amount of annual leave each year.
  • Autonomy – While you may choose to work with an organisation like WillisPalmer who can offer you shifts and roles, you will largely be working for yourself.

Helping you to become an Independent FSW

Advantages of being an Independent FSW

Running your own business

As an Independent Family Support Worker, you can become self-employed and therefore you would need to register as self-employed with HMRC before deciding whether you want to contact organisations directly or be matched with cases through an organisation such as WillisPalmer. Alternatively, you can register with an Umbrella Company which takes away the stress of dealing with business administration. Whichever route you choose, you should update your CV, outlining your strengths, experience, training, career history and areas of expertise.


Having an abundance of experience makes you become more desirable as an Independent FSW. If you have a wealth of experience in different areas such as in residential children’s homes, with children in the youth justice system, with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, or with families affected by substance misuse or mental health problems, you are automatically in an advantageous position for when different cases come in. Those commissioning you will look for a good grounding in generic family support work but also experience in other settings.

An area of expertise

Another way of standing out to those commissioning services is to have a niche skill which fewer people acquire to carve out a role as an ‘expert’ in that particular area.

Knowledge and understanding of key legislation

While it is not essential to know the ins and outs of all relevant legislation, it can be beneficial in a number of roles to have a good understanding and knowledge  of key pieces of legislation, for example, The Children Act 1989 and Working Together to Safeguard Children.

Up-to-date training

Working as a private Family Support Worker, you will be your own boss and therefore will be responsible for keeping your continued professional development up-to-date to ensure that you are aware of changes in policy and practice. This is important for Family Support Workers working with newborn babies as the guidance around sleeping and feeding may change. Therefore, to enable you to provide best practice guidance to families, it is essential you are aware of the most relevant policies. FSWs working with teenagers should also ensure they are up-to-date on the latest guidance around working children at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation or at risk of gangs.

Strong references

Having good, positive references from relevant previous employers will reiterate what your CV states from an employer’s perspective and highlight your skills and experience.

The ability to work autonomously

As an independent family support worker, you will be required to work autonomously. You will be self-employed and be able to manage your own time effectively and meet deadlines. If you are working directly for organisations such as local authorities, autonomous working is paramount. At WillisPalmer our Head of Services Dave Wareham, who leads the family support services, is on hand to help, as is our Family Support Work Co-ordinator Fay Roffe. You also have our robust Quality Assurance System behind you which ensures that all expert reports are subjected to scrutiny to ensure that your reports meet the requirements outlined in the instructions and are written to meet our high standards.


Working autonomously as an expert, you need to have complete faith in your abilities, your strengths and knowledge. Here at WillisPalmer, we provide you with access to support, but you still need to be confident in your role as an expert.


Working on your own as a private family support worker means you need to be adept at motivating yourself, managing your time, meeting deadlines and thinking creatively to find solutions to problems.

Report writing skills

Excellent written skills and grammar are advantageous in this role. For example, each Family Support Worker carrying out a shift for a WillisPalmer case is required to produce observations following each shift which can form part of the evidence base for a parenting assessment. All reports are subject to our robust quality assurance process at WillisPalmer but other organisations may not invest as heavily in QA and therefore written skills need to be good.

Barriers to Independent Working

Becoming an independent professional is very much a personal choice and is often down to your personality or personal situation rather than your abilities or experience. Professionals from a range of backgrounds may have a wealth of experience and the right skills but, by nature, are risk averse and prefer to know they will earn a set amount each month. Families with young children may prefer to have a set income and hours each week to plan childcare accordingly.

On the other hand, a FSW whose partner is earning a good wage may feel it is worth taking the risk to have a better work-life balance and earn more money some months but have fewer shifts another month. Others like to be part of a regular team and work alongside the same colleagues every day as peer support.

It has to come down to personal preference.


Many independent social workers have told us that they have not taken the leap into independent working for fear and not wishing to leave the ‘safety net’ of a local authority. Others feel it is never the right time. This fear is likely to be the same for FSWs, but you can mitigate this to some extent by signing with an organisation such as WillisPalmer which will be able to outline how much work you can expect.

Lack Of Regular Work

Often professionals feel that they will not have enough work. While no one can be guaranteed a set amount of work, the more skills, training and expertise that you can bring to the role enhances your opportunities of more work. If you are contacting organisations directly to build up a client base, this can take time. However, working with an organisation like WillisPalmer means that the work has been agreed with WillisPalmer and so that ‘start up’ phase is skipped.

Business Administration

Many self-employed people fear going independent because of the business administration that comes with it. However, like many of WillisPalmer’s FSWs, you can work through an umbrella company which will deal with business administration. Other FSWs may employ an accountant for a reasonable fee to carry out your tax returns for the HMRC.

Getting Paid

The lack of a regular specified amount of income each month working as a private family support worker can be off-putting, especially with mortgages and bills to pay. While we cannot guarantee what other organisations offer, WillisPalmer guarantees payment following invoices. Furthermore, as our multi-disciplinary work expands including our Multi-disciplinary Family Assessments and Systemic Family Assessments we have increasing opportunities for private family support workers.

WillisPalmer’s Family Support Work services

WillisPalmer provides Family Support Work as an essential component of our multi-disciplinary parenting assessment and also as a stand-alone service, depending on the requirements of the commissioner.

Multidisciplinary Family Assessment (MFA)

WillisPalmer is proud to be a genuinely multi-disciplinary organisation providing multi-agency responses to vulnerable children and families. Our innovative MFA uses the strengths and skills of a multi-disciplinary combing specialists including Independent Social Workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and Family Support Workers.

The MFA is tailored to the needs of the family and led by the ISW. The model works with the family in their own home so they are in familiar surroundings and thus removing the need for costly residential alternatives. The professionals work together collaboratively and the work feeds into the parenting assessment produced following the eight-week intervention. Family Support Workers are utilised to provide 24/7 practical and emotional support to families where there are safeguarding concerns to ensure the child or children remain safe throughout. After each shift, the FSW writes their observations down which are used as part of the evidence base for the parenting assessment.

The co-authored final report is produced by the assessment team after eight weeks. The report will be evidence based with clear recommendations and conclusions. It will also be scrutinised by WillisPalmer’s robust quality assurance process.

Stand Alone Family Support

Following the success of our MFA, WillisPalmer launched a stand-alone Family Support service. Families often require support without the need for formal intensive assessments and that is where the stand-alone service comes into play.

The local authority will refer a case where there are concerns about a family and a package of measures for stand alone family support intervention is agreed between the local authority, WillisPalmer and the family, with clear objectives as to what improvements need to be evidenced and what needs to change.

At the end of the intervention, a factual report is produced highlighting strengths and concerns against the initial objectives set.

ABC package of support

ABC Family Support Family support service for parents with babies from birth to 12 months. Informed by NHS guidance for baby care, the main aim of this intervention is to promote attachment and help establish basic care skills and routines.

PEP Family Support

PEP Family Support is a 10-week parenting esteem programme for parent/carers with children aged two to 10 years. During the first half of the intervention, the Family Support Worker supports the parent to complete a positive parenting programme at home. In the second half of the intervention, strategies learned during the programme are modelled and reiterated at home with the parent for a further five weeks.

Benefits of Working with WillisPalmer

  • WillisPalmer has been established for 19 years and has a reputation for high standards
  • Genuinely multi-disciplinary organisation
  • Places the child at the heart of everything we do
  • Bespoke approach tailored to the needs of the family
  • Helping to keep families together where it is safe to do so
  • Robust quality assurance process in place scrutinising every report
  • Highly experienced and skilled professionals

Opportunities at WillisPalmer

WillisPalmer is actively recruiting a national network of Family Support Workers to enable us to meet a growing demand of multi-disciplinary assessments requiring an element of family support or a stand alone family support service.

These Independent Family Support Workers work alongside social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists to deliver our Multi-Disciplinary Family Assessment Service.

  • Regular and varied portfolio of work
  • Discounted training courses
  • Opportunity to become part of an experienced network of professionals
  • Support from a dedicated case manager
  • Free quality assurance from a highly experienced consultant.

Contact Details

If you are interested in finding out more about our Family Support Services and the roles we have available, please get in touch.

Faye Roffe – Family Support Team Manager | 01206 878165

Dave Wareham – Operations Director | 01206 878169

Make an email enquiry.

Find out more on our dedicated website page.

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