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A social work student reflects on her placements

Claudia Megele. Photo: Claudia Megele

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.

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As someone currently finishing their second placement I found this an an inspirational article and very eloquently put,

mary wright
10 Oct 2011

The social work degree I'm on seems to strugle to get placements with statutory agencies and after completing the degree the newly qualified social workers only seem to get jobs with social services if they had them before they took the qualification. I'm thinking of dropping out because of this and doing something voluntary that doesn't require a degree instead. Hope Claudia's qualification opens doors to the career she hopes to have.

Liz Banks
03 Apr 2010

I found it absolutely inspiring to read Claudias comments. I have been extremely lucky as a student (I qualified in September 2009 and am about to join an Initial Response Team). The placements I was allocated on the degree programme gave me insight into so many areas of practice. One of my concerns with Social Work study and the experiences gained from placements is that very little is available around Substance Misuse. In every single placement I have attended and my subsequent work there have been a high majority of cases directly involving either drug use or alcohol dependency and I feel it's time to include this as part of the degree programme in all establishments.

Sam Taylor
27 Mar 2010

I am currently working in a child protection team & I work along side Claudia. I will be leaving the team as I have been a frontline worker for many years and am moving into consultation. I can confidently say that Claudia is one of the best social workers I have ever worked with and my congratulations to her for a great and inspiring article.

18 Mar 2010

Weldone Claudia.rnPractice Placement is meant to prepare students for work, to assist them in all areas however, some practice assessors can ruin students careers because they know their word is final. They write anything about students and their voices are heard without questioning.rnIn my case I passed all my modules and my life was ruined by practice assessors in the final placement. rnI will forward my question to the GSCC.rnThankyou.

barbra Fortune.
18 Mar 2010

Claudia, this is to say congratulations you are very clear about who you are as a social worker. I hope that with the introduction of Interprofessional Education, there will be a good collaboration and understanding between students, frontline practitioners and managers. Once again congrats. Julia

Julia Walimbwa
14 Mar 2010

Eloquently put ............. but I'd suggest the last point requires a little more reflection! Social work is a job. A form of employment that you will undertake as a professional. It is possible to have deeply held beliefs and values, to be empathic and effective without becoming the 'wounded helper' that a 'vocational' stance might require. You can't save the world and being 'professional' allows for this. I'm not sure that a vocational viewpoint will allow you the same room for self care that many of us doing this 'job' will tell you is essential. I wish you well in your first paid position

Pete Fallon
13 Mar 2010

After reading the article and profile of the graduate and her reflective experiences, I said to myself if other students have gone through and mad it possible, I can also do it

Allieu Sheriff
13 Mar 2010

l am going for my first placement and reading this article has made me realise that keeping a reflective journal will help me.its good to hear from someone who has done it. thank you for putting this article.

nokuthula maplanka
12 Mar 2010

I am just wondering if you have now found employment as i have found that many of my fellow students from last year (including myself) are finding it very difficult to gain employment. partially due to the study by the gscc (I think) where social workers have said that students are not capable when first qualifying and partially due to there being no jobs available.

12 Mar 2010

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