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Case study: Social work student Lisa Cassius

Registered Social Work Student Lisa Cassius - Photo: Lisa Cassius

I am a Social Work student at London Metropolitan University entering my final year of the Social Work degree.

I believe that social work is one of the hardest professions and therefore it is essential that workers are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need in order to carry out the job effectively. Skills in areas such as problem-solving, empowering individuals, encouraging independence, promoting a better quality of life for individuals and protecting them from harm are crucial.

Whilst enjoying my training and most of the topics covered, I have enjoyed some modules more than others. I have had a particular interest in Adult Care Planning, Safeguarding Children and Living with Illness and Disability. These modules have given me a real insight into the day to day role of a social worker and the support interventions that can be put in place to work effectively with service users. However, I have found some other topics not to be as relevant. I feel that social work training should have a heavier emphasis on values, ethics, assessing need and risk and communication, rather than social work theory and law although this knowledge is essential to have in the social work role.

Practice placements are certainly relevant and useful as you gain experience and knowledge of working with families, real issues and community-based projects. However, placements can be difficult to find and some placements are simply unsuitable for social work students. Universities need to build stronger relationships with both voluntary and statutory organisations in order to secure long term working relationships and relevant placements for students.

My first year placement was in a counselling, advice and information setting in the voluntary sector. My caseload was focused on supporting young people who had been affected by crime. This placement was perfect as it gave me the opportunity to engage with individuals, exploring their issues, feelings and anxieties, promoting confidence and self-esteem, whilst finding practical ways to address the issues and promote therapeutic interventions where needed.

As I am coming towards the end of my training, I am constantly considering what I will do once I have finished my course. With the negative press from the media, it can certainly make one question a career in social work. However due to my passion and interests in child protection and adolescent mental health, I have every reason to embrace a career in social work and enjoy the job satisfaction of this caring, but challenging, profession.

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3rd yr of a 4yr PT Social work degree this means that I am just finishing my 2nd placement that is 120 days in a residential care home; social work is not central to practice and this negatively impacts on our learning and stunts individual growth. All students were meant to start placements in January but some started between Feb/March but were still expected to meet the December deadline? Students should NOT be accepted on the course if they cannot equip them with relevant the practice knowledge. I certainly do not feel that this is good for the new generation of social workers, we should all have equal access to suitable placements as some students tend to get better placements due to their current work experience, I was told applications for placements are matched against experience. This is hardly fair given the fact that we are all learning to become social workers, hence we are studying to gain knowledge and experience. Universities need to negotiate placements in advanceā€¦ worst case scenario permit students to negotiate their own. Very disappointed.

Donna Kessler
26 Nov 2011


I am a 3rd year student and still waiting to hear about my final placement. I find it really frustrating and demoralising for social work students to go through a tough time waiting to be placed in a suitable placement. social workers are needed in our society and communities, nurses for instance never have to struggle for work placements, why do social work students have to be treated different when it comes to placements. Most social workers in LAs do not wish to take on students for placements, for the simple reason that they feel that students are a destruction to their work. Placements are essential in equipping social work students for a challenging job. I also feel that universities should only enrol a certain number of social work students for the course in order to avoid placements shortages.

Prisca Muenzi
21 Oct 2011


It is an extremely common complaint that social work courses overemphasise the academic and legal contexts but don't actually help enough with the practical side. With this in mind i have set up a website to assist with the practicalities of working with disengaged young people which I hope can be of help to those working in this area.

Sam Ross
29 Sep 2011


I have just started my access course in social work and I am really excited but nervous. Is there any tips or advice for someone starting out?

Michelle Cooper
09 Sep 2011


i will be starting my first year in August and am doing HNC Social Care at a college in Scotland. The modules are equavalent to 1st year and i am enjoying although i think the course is too demanding and to make matters worse in Scotlland its a 4year honours degree and there is no choice. i can only be exempted and be in second if i have good grades at HNC. so thank you guys for enlighting me into what i will be doing. my first placement was at an old age care home, now i am at a social work department day centre for the eldery and i have to put in at least 80 days just for the HNC. I just hope i will pass so that i can into second year and good luck to you all.

gracious chingono
05 Jan 2010


I've just completed my MA in social work and like Angela Thabani i am unable to find work on a permanent basis due to the fact that most employers are asking for one or two years post qualifying experience. My only option is agency work in order to gain essential experience. However, the benefit of agency work, is that you can try out areas of social work that you didn't get the chance to try on student placements. It's a good way of testing the water before you commit to a particular specialism.

Mandy Wolfe
04 Nov 2009


I am a 3rd yr student at UCS still waiting for my 2nd 100 days placement. This is frustrating and I am starting to lose my confidence in writing up my essay since this essay would have been better if practice information was integrated in it. From the beginning I had this fear that the university will strugle in finding placement taking account the number of the student in our year group (more than 70). I have enjoyed the modules I have gone through so far, however I feel there is lack on emphasis in day to day role of the frontline worker. I feel the modules put alot of focus in elaborating social work theories and values rather than providing factual information on the process of how the services are delivered.

31 Oct 2009


I am a full time student at DR.Nelson Mandela high school.I would like to know more about a socia worker.What does it do,are the people doing social worker enjoying it?Ibelieve social worker is a big challenge but it is manageble right?Ilove this career becouse when you are a social worker you are helping those who cant help themselves and you are changing people's lives.Please guys I need all the information I can get about this career.

Mlanjeni Yonela
09 Oct 2009


hi, i'm in my second year and i have some ups and downs within the first year and even the start of the second year as we have been losing tutors , plm on a regular basis which is stressing the students. It has made my experiences within this career hard but enjoyable. I hope everyone does well and good luck to you all.

04 Oct 2009


Having just completed a 4 year part time degree in Social Work, one thing that has always concerned me is the emphasis put onto the achedemic part of the course rather than the 200 days ability to practice competently. I am aware of students who have really struggled with the practical side of Social Work yet have 'passed' their placements. The 'pass' or 'fail' option does not take into account how hard the student has worked within the placement or how well they have managed with difficult situations. If this part of the placement was measured as a percentage and counted towards a final mark, it would give a more rounded view of how the student has performed. It may also stop those with first class degrees struggling with the practical side of social work when thier practice only just scraped through. I understand that as an honoury degree in Social Work acedemic marks need to be high, but they are not the be all and end all of the qualification and a balance between the two needs to be more equal to ensure that newly qualified students are prepared for practice once their certificates are framed and hanging on the wall.

Melanie Wilson
19 Sep 2009


I am also going into my final year at Sheffield Hallam University. I feel that the placements that have been provided over all are of varying quality, therefore they believe that placements need to be closely monitored and more training needs to be done to prepare the placement for what we need to achieve whilst there! I have enjoyed the course so far and i hope to work within a children and family setting once i qualify. Although i'm very nervous about the work load in the final year ;I wish you all the best of luck with your careers. x

laura coates
17 Sep 2009


I completely agree with you Lisa. I am also entering my third and final year in my social work degree at Manchester Metropolitan University. Its been an interesting experience. Teachers at MMU are so supportive and helpful and so passionate about their work in social work. I feel this has fueled my passion to go in to this career even further! My first year was brilliant, real eye opener at the issues in social work and skills that are required to suppor you in your role within social work, My second year placement was with an organisation that supports asyslum seekers and refugees, this was a difficult placement for me as I encountered a lot of problems within the organisation in regards to managerialism how ever this year I am going in to a child protection placement and irrespect of the media coverage, I am looking forward to the challenge ahead of me! Not just in this placement, but for the rest of my social work career! good luck everyone

Kiran Gill
15 Sep 2009


I WAS a student at Brunel University and in my 2nd year of a Social Work BA Degree. It just so happened that, during my time at Brunel errors arose with regards to examination questions, a lose of a submitted script and an oversight of my attendence during an exam. this however, has resorted to a complaints procedure and a hold on my much wanted career as a Social Worker. I do have to thank one particular Tutor who advised me to seek advise from the effective learning centre, where i found I was dilslexic, yet, empowerment, support and vital feedback lacked when needed. I feel that these are essential when embarking on an Degree of any kind,yet in social work we are told as students that empowerment is what service users need to ecourage independence. But it is not so for the student during times effecting our acedemic study. I can only say, that I look forward to finishing my degree some time in the future & if any student feels down heartened and alone, think again. you're not.

Yvonne corr
14 Sep 2009


Social work theory may seem less interesting while studying but it is so important to give it at least equal weight. An understanding of theoretical issues gives social work it's unique perspective and equips practitioners with the confidence to question and criticise rather that just accept the practices and opinions of the organisation they work for. When new to social work it's understandable to want practical advice of how to do various tasks but this, i feel, must be done on placement. Sadly, many placements fall short. Students on my, and other, courses are told not to question placements, they are hard to find etc.. but universities should not take on more students than they can find good quality placements for! If placements and practice assesors are of good quality they can teach the practicl skills and university time can provide the theory and legal knowledge needed to enble social workers to retain their core values when surrounded by stress and burn out!

Christina Cheney
14 Sep 2009


Hi Lisa, I am about to start my second year of the degree and have enjoyed all aspects of training so far. I have recently completed my first 'long' placement in a statutory setting with older people. I learnt a lot during my time there and was lucky to have a really enthusiastic practice teacher although I know some of my colleagues were not so lucky. I agree that universities and colleges must work harder to establish greater links with potential placements as we are all well aware it is getting harder and harder to find appropriate placements. I worked with many disillusioned Social Workers and AP's who were disillusioned with the profession sadly, although I also met many others who want to make a difference. Good luck in whatever career path you choose and stay positive, Aaron Bagshaw student social worker

aaron bagshaw
12 Sep 2009


As a social work student just coming into year 3 myself although the tutors at our university are excellent, there just does not seem to be enough time to learn it all and apply it practice. I feel that there should be another module added to the course about the pressures on social worker, for example, stress management, what to do if you get stuck etc. It is all very well saying in university that you need to discuss issues in supervision, but what happens if you do not have a supervisor who is good at supervision? After the recent negative press about social workers, I am pleased that the new Help Give Them a Voice campaign is attempting to bring others into the profession who might not otherwise have thought about it. Personally I am past caring what the media thinks of social work (most professions seem to be detested: solicitors, estate agents, bankers etc.) I only need to hear the stories from social workers or listen to service users that make me feel it is right for me, even the bad makes me determined to do a good job.

11 Sep 2009


I just hope this enthusiastic and committed young person will not become disillusioned and stressed out like so many others when she starts working as a social worker. Politicians need to stop their hypocrisy about social care and start resourcing it properly and then there would be far fewer problems and tradgedies in this work.

Gabriella Machokas
11 Sep 2009


Its' interesting to see the differences in how universities teach the social work degree. I am a social work student entering into my third year with Open University funded by the Adult Services department I work for. There is a constant emphasis on effective communication throughout the course and an expectation that essays will include debates with regard to values (how your own and professional values may impact on analysis) , ethical dillemmas and critical evaluation of knowledge and theory. I have also been very fortunate to have a had an excellent placement with a Children and Families Referral Team and my next placement is planned to be with a Mental Health team, both being statutory in nature, so the relationship between university and placements is very proactive. Maybe this is a good arguement for standardising training!

Gill Naylor
11 Sep 2009


I am so gutted by what is in the actual work field. I qualified last year 2008 but up to now I have no job. To my surprise jobs are advertised and one of the criterion is two or more years of experience. Where will I get the experience from if they do not offer me the job. This is a million dollar question I can not answer please help me

Angela Thabani
11 Sep 2009


I am a year qualified and by no means does the degree programe equip us to carry out frontline work. In my experience, team managers have unrealistic expectations of our ability to manage difficucult and confrontational situations. I am pleased to hear that the NQSW programe is to be rolled out nationally. When i returned to practice as a qualified worker, I was very much against the idea of the NQSW programe, thinking that it wouldn't be necessary for me, as i already had several years of unqualified practice under my belt. However, I was so wrong and after a year in the job, i wish i had taken up the program as i am feeling unsupported by my local authority and struggling with much of the practical element of the job. Much of my BA Social work course concentrated heavilly on theory. Whilst i agree that some theory is useful , I feel let down by the program and agree that there needs to be much more emphasis on assessment skills, dealing with confrontation, as well as a comprehensive toolkit of methods and skills to encourage reluctant service users to engage.

11 Sep 2009


A qualified social worker will only be skilled in the application of theory with practice but no skills of imparting Knowledge to others which I find very dangerous. An assessor should be competent in practice teaching and assessment and therefore be able to successfully supervise students. Some qualified social workers (assessors) forget that most of the student social workers are adult learners and therefore fail to apply adult learning principles. This is through my own experience as an MA social work finalist having been allocated a qualified social work assessor who didnt apply adult learning principles in supervising me, which I found very unfair. For some people, It is a sacrifice to invest their time in education. I therefore highly recommend that social work finalists should be assessed by competend assessors in practice teaching and assessment.

Rita Cossie Isingoma
11 Sep 2009


The above article is an interesting one. But I will like to add that there is no good practice as good theory. Also, in a modernised society as we find ourselves, as well as given the intrusive nature of social work, social workers can practice effectively and safely with good legal background. Therefore, as much as I agree with Lisa on most of the issues raised in her article, I also think, theory and Law modules should be given greater emphasis during training. Ruth Lusanie, Social Work Student, London Metropolitan University.

Ruth Lusanie
11 Sep 2009


I'm also a social work student entering my third year at Sheffield Hallam University. I do agree with Lisa's statement especially with regards to placements as I and so many other students find work experience, putting theory into practice essential for widening knowledge base and skills, I do believe that law is a very important module to do and have knowledge off. Having knowledge off Laws, Acts and Guidence ect enables workers to be more thorough in assessing, intervening, planning when working with service users.

carmen castledine
10 Sep 2009


I am also coming into my final year of a Social Work degree studying at Teesside University in Middlesbrough. I agree with Lisa's article, especially regarding placements. Universtites need to be more involved in all sectors so that students can gain a variety of experience, which will help to build a more valuable knowledge base. Today's students should be provided with appropriate and adequate training methods so that when they become tomorrow's Social Worker's, attitudes towards them and the profession may change into a positive one. In order for opinions of Social Work to change into a more positive light, changes need to occur across the board in both training and the profession. I believe collectively we can and must make these changes happen, in order to help improve the lives of others and to effectively 'save' Social Work itself.

Anne-Louise Gascoyne
10 Sep 2009


From the other end of a social work career, I enjoyed Lisa's article and hope she'll continue in social work. It's varied, frustrating, sometimes a nightmare, but it's never been boring! I found the voluntary sector allowed for more creativity and depth, but statutory work is good too, especially if you're allowed to get real experience in an area of work you feel passionate about. Go for it!

Liz Olive
10 Sep 2009


I am a Social Work student at the London Metropolitan University aswell. I agree with Lisa, however, I am currently going into my second year and I also want to work in children and families but often worried about the media and stigma of society towards Social Workers. I am enjoying challenges of being a Social work Student and looking forward to my first placement.

kayon simpson
10 Sep 2009


Yes I do agree with Lisa that some placements do not really offer a sound basis for Social work Practice . I do feel that universites need to have sufficient knowledge or insight on the roles and responsibilities of students in their placements enough for the university to assess if the roles are relevant to social work practice or as well to cover the units and elements. I also feel that during placements, that is the time when students need wholesome support as at this stage , it is when their confidence and motivation is vulnerable.

Debra Nyamukure
10 Sep 2009


keep at it, the profession needs the input of individuals such as yourself, thank you for sharing your thoughts with everyone. Kev Brown Social worker

Kev Brown
10 Sep 2009


While i have found this article interesting to read. I do feel that the relevant of social worker theory and law will become more evident to you once you are a qualified practioner in the working on the front line. basic skills enhanced by a theoretical basis are essential for positive and effective social work intervention.

Craig Campbell
10 Sep 2009


As a fellow Social Work Trainee I completely agree with agencies working better with universities to provide excellent placements. I also think that some relationships between voluntary and statutory settings need to be improved. In my placement setting i was in a voluntary setting supporting people with mental ill health and I asked to shadow a worker from the CMHT for one day. The local CMHT were really unhelpful and unsupportive and never responded to my requests. I found that statutory agencies can undermine and de-value the excellent work which many voluntary agencies undertake. It would be helpful for all agencies to be supportive of social work students to provide fulfilling and educative placements because so much more can be learnt from hands on experience.

Kathryn Gasser
10 Sep 2009


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