Spruced-up service

from Norway.

Wilhelmsen reports from Stavanger, where the welfare system is supplemented by
a volunteer scheme that provides extra support for users and experience for
social work students

the fourth biggest town in Norway, is the country’s petroleum centre and has an
international flavour, which is reflected in its French and English schools.

our social work education department at the university college we have 300
students studying full time for three years, with each student spending 22
weeks of their course in the field.

it is difficult to find placements for all of our 100 students each year, so in
1995 the Institute for Social Work Education started its own welfare office,
"independent social counselling" (ISC), providing support and
counselling for everyone in the town needing help. This is a student-run
service provided by 15 students working full-time in the spring semester. The
same number work during the summer holiday and voluntarily in the evenings
during the autumn semester.

ISC was the first of its kind in Norway, and now Oslo, Bergen and Bod¿ have
established similar offices where students can gain this alternative practice
during their education.

ISC is a supplement to the ordinary social welfare offices in the town and
provides no financial help for users or the clients. It is meant to provide
alternative training for the students to use their own initiative in practising
social work. Students are able to be more flexible in meeting with users and
clients than is possible in an ordinary office.

these 22 weeks the students learn a lot about teamwork and the overall social
system. A teacher in social work meets the students each week to counsel them
in personal and professional matters connected to the work.

office is in the centre of the town and provides easy access for people needing
help and advice. In 1999, 74 people contacted ISC. The users and clients of ISC
are from a variety of backgrounds and they have many different kinds of
problems and questions. Many of them have not managed to get help from the
conventional channels and have needed support to find the correct way through
the complicated modern welfare system.

to Liv Schjeldrup and Cecilie Omre, who are the pioneer teachers at ISC, the
most important elements offered by ISC are time and competence training. In the
beginning the statutory social welfare offices were sceptical of the service,
but now they actively seek help from the students. The teachers point out the
importance of the scheme in educating reflective and ethically conscious social

kind of work also strengthens the students’ personal development, as they build
up their responsibility, action-ability, self-confidence and creativity. The
students work on their own and have to rely on their ability to cope with the
complicated problems that arise daily. More often the students are playing
mediators between the user and the social welfare office.

university college uses a lot of resources on this project, with two or three
teachers involved part-time in ISC at any one time. Quite often former students
with ISC experience who have finished their courses work as assistants on the

believe the project is a useful source of experience for students and that
users have gained support from social workers who, for once, can give them lots
of time.

Wilhelmsen is assistant professor, Stavanger University College.


Norway (Norge) covers 325,000 sq km, which is slightly more than 1.3 times the
size of the UK, although the population of nearly 4.5 million is less than
one-tenth the size of the UK.

Ethnic groups: indigenous Norwegian (Nordic, Alpine, Baltic) and about 0.5 per
cent Lapps (Sami).

Stavanger, Norway’s "largest small town", has a population of 110,000
and is situated in the southwest towards the North Sea. It has an unusually
high number – 7 per cent – of inhabitants born outside of Norway. It was a canning
and fishing town before it became the oil capital of Norway. Spending on health
and social services is NOK 1,236m – just under one-third of Stavanger’s budget.

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