PCF Domains in Social Work | Important?

Do you know which competencies social workers need to demonstrate at different stages of their career?

The Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) domains identifies these domains clearly. 


What is the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF)?

The Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) is a supporting structure that helps both aspiring and qualified social workers think about the skills, knowledge, and values they use in their practice.

The framework lays out what is expected at all stages of a social worker’s career, from entry level into training to the most advanced level.


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Why is the PCF important in social work?

As a social worker advances in their career, the framework highlights what is required of them.

It is an evolving document, so it is likely to be revised as the social work profession develops.

With an understanding of the various levels of the PCF, a social work will know what they need to demonstrate in the early stages of their career.  

In addition, they will plan their personal development around areas they need more experience or training in. 

What are the PCF domains?

It is usually represented by a rainbow image and reflects the 9 domains or social work competencies at levels that someone with those capabilities could implement.

Progression between levels is determined by people’s abilities to manage issues such as complexity, risk, and responsibility in a range of professional settings.

It is a very useful professional framework because it supports workers to progress from being students towards being advanced and strategic practitioners and educators as well as managers.

Application of the PCF follows a holistic approach to learning and practice.

The domains are not used in isolation and are inter-related in professional practice.

Being holistic means that this approach moves away from the ‘tick box’ approach to an approach that steers from competencies to professional capabilities and highlights lifelong learning.

The ability to develop your social work career around these domains is essential to enhance skills and abilities. 

The levels are:


  1. Entry to training
  2. Readiness for direct practice
  3. End of first placement
  4. End of last placement (qualification)

Entry level capabilities focus on abilities that are expected of an individual entering social work training programmes.

There is a range of personal qualities that all social workers require, and an awareness of social context and the impact this can have are essential prerequisites for undertaking training to be a professional social worker. 

Capabilities may include excellent communication skills, ability to stay composed, basic knowledge of relevant social work legislation and policies, an awareness of social issues and ability to work as part of a team. 

Readiness for direct practice capabilities – this includes competencies that are expected of social work students who are about to go on their first placements.

Capabilities may include ability to work effectively within a team, report writing skills, ability to reflect, critical thinking skills, ability to collate information from reliable sources and core social work values. 

End of first placement – this includes the capabilities that are expected of social work students completing their first placement.

This includes the ability to link theory to practice, the ability to analyse situations and a steady growth towards understanding of reflective practice using relevant reflective models such as the Weather Model, Gibbs Reflective Cycle or Kolb’s Reflective Model. 

The end of the social work training programme – this includes the competencies expected of a newly qualified social worker.

These are designed to evidence a foundation level of capability across all areas and form the starting point for Continuing Professional Development activities in social work. 

Once qualified, a Newly Qualified Social Worker (NQSW) will be able to register with Social Work England in order to practice and call themselves a social worker. 

Registering as a social worker also means that your name will appear on the public social work register. 


  • Newly Qualified Social Worker (ASYE)–ASYE Year
  • Social Worker
  • Advanced SW practitioner.
  • Professional SW educator,
  • SW Manager
  • Principal Social Worker,
  • Strategic SW educator,
  • Strategic SW Manager

PCF Domains and overarching statements

pcf domains


1. Professionalism

2. Values and ethics

3. Diversity

4. Rights, justice and economic well-being

5. Knowledge

6. Critical reflection and analysis

7. Intervention and skills

8. Contexts and organisations

9. Professional leadership


1. Professionalism


Identify and behave as a professional social worker, committed to professional development.

  • How do social workers demonstrate professionalism?

Professionalism can be demonstrated through respect, maintaining professional boundaries, being reliable and upholding the values of social work practice. 

In addition, social workers can demonstrate professionalism when they take responsibility of their;

  • self care
  • conduct
  • practice
  • self-development and
  • safeguard the reputation of the social work profession. 

I must highlight the fact that although we face challenges as social workers, the professional regulator expects us to maintain professionalism in these challenging circumstances.


Maintain appropriate personal/professional boundaries in even more challenging circumstances.

Example, continue to show respect. 

Here’s how to show respect. 

You may also develop your professional identity in social work based on your motives, values, and beliefs. 

2. Values and ethics

values and ethics

Apply social work, ethical principles and values to guide professional practice. 

  • Why are ethics and values important in social work?

Social workers have a responsibility to conduct themselves ethically and to engage in ethical decision making through a partnership with people who use their services.

Values and ethics form the basis of relationship based social work practice.

By setting out our sense of worth and how we perceive others, we form a moral philosophy. 

Values such as honesty, authenticity and trustworthiness are vital in relationship based social work practice. 

In social work practice, it is common to come across ethical dilemmas.

Here are 6 No Fuss Ways to Handle Ethical Dilemmas in Social Work Practice. 

3. Diversity

values in social work

Recognise diversity and apply anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive principles in practice. 

  • How do social workers promote equality and diversity?

Social workers recognise diversity by ensuring people are treated equally and have equal opportunity.

By recognising diversity, social workers can put a positive value on those identified differences. 

Here’s How to Promote Anti-discriminatory Practice.

4. Rights, justice and economic well-being

values and ethics

Social workers recognise and promote the basic principles of social justice, human rights, social justice and economic wellbeing embedded in legislation and case law.

Where possible, social workers challenge inequality and injustice, promote people’s strengths, hope and self-determination. 

Social workers also work in partnership with service users or clients, carers and families. 

  • How do social workers promote social and economic justice?

Social workers may promote the fundamental rights of individuals through advocacy.

To understand how to maximise the welfare of individuals, 

Here’s an article using Max Weber’s Social Action Theory 

5. Knowledge

knowledge and skills in social work

Apply knowledge of social sciences, law and social work practice theory.

Social workers can gain knowledge from a variety of sources such as research, supervision, training programmes or learning from the people we support within the community.  

Sometimes, social workers may opt to spend time and money on personal growth and self-development opportunities. 

Here are my Ultimate Personal Development Tips to Uplevel Your Life.

6. Critical reflection and analysis

Apply critical reflection and analysis to inform and provide a rationale for professional decision making.

7. Intervention and skills

Use judgement and authority to intervene with individuals, families and communities to promote independence, provide support and prevent harm, neglect and abuse.

  • What is an intervention in social work?

An intervention may be a service or changing a situation to improve outcomes. 

Social workers may use assessments to determine an appropriate intervention for an individual.

Example of assessment could be a Care Act 2014 Needs Assessment or a Mental Capacity Act 2005 Assessment. 

Here’s How to Write a Care Act Needs Assessment 

Here’s How to Write a Mental Capacity Assessment

8. Contexts and organisations

context and organisation

Engage with, inform and adapt to change contexts that shape practice.

Operate effectively within one’s own organisational frameworks and contribute to the development of services and organisations.

Operate effectively within multi-agency and inter-professional settings. 

9. Professional leadership

Take responsibility for the professional learning and development of others through supervision, mentoring, assessing, research, teaching, leadership and management. 

Importance of the PCF

Each domain contains a range of capabilities.

These become increasingly complex and require more autonomous action and decision making as you progress through your social work career.

Re-registration, ongoing CPD and in some contexts career progression with employers will be based upon social workers’ ability to demonstrate their capabilities against the PCF framework.

Training, supervision, and other development activities should be focused upon social workers’ developmental needs within this context.


How to use the PCF to Structure Your Portfolio

Think about a recent training or supervision experience where you reflected and analysed your practice and identified a learning point.

Now answer the following questions. 

  • Which PCF domains does your learning apply to? (This may cross more than one domain, depending on the experience you are reflecting on)
  • Which capabilities within the identified domain does your learning apply to? Again, this may include multiple capabilities.
  • How will your learning activities change or improve your practice?
  • What benefit does your learning and the subsequent impact on practice have for your service users, those you supervise or other social work policies or practices?
  • How can you evidence these improvements and outcomes?

Your answers in this activity help you map your learning to the relevant PCF capabilities, and to consider the impact of learning on practice.

However, as you record your answers, they can be used to evidence both your understanding of the PCF and demonstrate how it applies to your practice.

They will also help you think through how best to evidence your overall CPD and application of critical social work practice. 

How can you meet the requirements of the PCF?

How to demonstrate these outcomes is detailed under each domain.

Here is a link to the PCF domains https://www.basw.co.uk/professional-development/professional-capabilities-framework-pcf/the-pcf


I hope this article has provided you with an excellent overview of the PCF domains.

As members of an internationally recognised profession, social workers must continue to demonstrate professional commitment to the role.

Remember, we are accountable to service users or clients, our employers and Social Work England.

We should make ethical decisions in line with the requirements of the professional regulator. 



PCF domains in social work


For further details about application of PCF and the holistic approach, please see the following links:

  • https://www.basw.co.uk/professional-development/professional-capabilities-framework-pcf/the-pcf
  • http://www.collegeofsocialwork.org/pcf.aspx for an interactive version of the PCF and several articles about its application www.skillsforcare.org.uk
  • https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2018/03/02/new-professional-capabilities-framework-adds-three-overarching-principles-social-workers/
  • “Guide to the Professional Capability Framework and the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment”: by Dr Hilary Lawson; University of Sussex, February 2013: available through Community Care INFORM

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