In this issue of Social Work Connections we asked a recent graduate to reflect on the placements that she undertook as part of her social work degree.
Claudia Megele completed her Masters degree in social work at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2009.
Q: Why did you decide to study to become a social worker?
I have a BA in Sociology and a Diploma in Psychology and I graduated with a First in both, giving me a wide range of options for my next move. I chose to do a Masters in Social Work because I felt that it was the most effective way in which I could make a direct and positive difference in other peoples’ lives.
Q: Where were your placements?
As part of my Masters in Social Work I had two placements. My first placement was at Eaves Women’s Aid, and the second was in Initial Response and Assessment (IRAS) Team of Greenwich Children’s Services.
Q: What area of social work did you focus on?
I had worked as a play therapist for terminally ill children, and as a helpline counsellor for sexually and/or physically abused children. Therefore, I entered my MA with the clear idea of specialising in children and families.
Q: What kind of activities did you do on your placement?
I think the IRAS team was perhaps the most challenging placement I could have done, particularly considering that we were working in the aftermath of the Baby Peter tragedy. Duty days were extremely busy, with many referrals requiring immediate action and attention. Under the supervision of a qualified social worker, my activities were diverse and wide ranging. They included taking referrals and completing inter-agency checks, responding to emergency situations and attending to service users who presented at the office with an array of needs, including a case of four vulnerable young children who found themselves homeless. I completed initial and core assessments and organised and presented cases at child protection conferences and panel meetings. It sounds like such a cliché, but no two days were the same.
Q: Did the practical experience help you in your degree?
Yes. My experiences before going into social work and my degree placements helped me enormously in completing my degree and in my work as a practitioner. You can learn a lot from your placements as you tackle the daily realities of social work practice. For example, during my placement I noticed that thresholds for child in need and child protection cases may vary for different professionals. I tried to understand the reasons and dynamics behind these differences of opinion. This, in turn, inspired my dissertation which was focused on social workers’ value attribution and decision making processes.
Q: What were the most valuable things you learnt in your placements?
I realised that excellence in social work is a question of praxis (learning to apply the relevant theories and skills in your practice) rather than simple practice. I learnt that as a social worker you are constantly challenged to contain emotions and carry uncertainties, whilst maintaining a positive attitude and a solution-focused approach. The challenge is to translate theory into practical, effective and empowering solutions for your service users.
Q: Do you think the placement system was valuable?
Social work is a complex art and quite often involves balancing delicate issues. Therefore, it is essential that a student’s knowledge of theory is grounded in practice, and quality placements are meant to do just that. Therefore, I think the placement system is not only valuable, but absolutely essential. It is only through real, on the job experience, that social workers can become true practitioners.
Q: Is there anything you would change about placements?
It would be good if there was greater coordination between universities and employers, particularly local authorities. For instance, universities could invite managers and frontline practitioners to share their experiences and dilemmas with students. This is important to ensure students keep in touch with the realities of practice and understand the intricacies of contemporary social work.
Q: Any other thoughts on placements?
It is important to remember that social work is not a ‘job’. It is a vocation that requires profound dedication and deep- rooted values. Therefore, social work students should reflect on their own values and on what they expect from their practice. I believe that reflexivity is the cornerstone of best practice. In fact, I keep my own reflective journal on a daily basis. Without reflection and proactive enquiry into our own values, there will be no room for empathy, and no room for effective social work practice.