Q: I am a psychology graduate and am considering embarking on a social work masters course but want to know more about what career options this would open up before committing myself. Also, are there work experience placements on the masters courses?
A: Work experience placements are a component of all masters in social work courses and these placements could be based in a voluntary, statutory or educational environment. Most commonly, students spend 100 days in a social care setting twice during their degree course.
Ideally, these two placements will be based in different environments, so that students can gain an insight into different types of social work practice. Historically, local authorities have not been forthcoming with offering placements to students, but it seems that it is now more frequently recognised that the placements students undertake can have a significant impact on how well equipped they are to practise social work after completing their courses.
This is to the advantage of the individuals as well. It is challenging to be a newly qualified social worker and arrive at work on your first day in a local authority, having never before set foot in a comparable setting.
It is also critical that, throughout the course, students work alongside professionals who have expertise in a range of disciplines. This is much more likely to be the case if you have been based in two contrasting placements.
While on placement you will have a nominated practice teacher who will meet you regularly to go through the required work.
This person will liaise with your tutor and may be based either on or off site.
Various universities have different criteria with relation to logistics (and content) so it is probably best to shop around and be sure that you find the course that best suits your requirements. There are several sites that you can use to obtain this information – two good websites to start are www.ucas.com and www.findamasters.com
Generally, courses are likely to cover a range of topics, including communication skills, the impact of the social work role, practice dilemmas, professional values and ethics, legal and policy frameworks and practice approaches and methodologies.
Once you are qualified you will be in an excellent position to apply for a range of social work roles in different departments, such as leaving care, children in need or youth offending in a statutory setting. Organisations in the voluntary sector also advertise social work posts, as do child and adolescent mental health services, so the next step, once qualified, will depend on where your interests lie.
Mary Jackson is project manager for the Reclaim Social Work campaign at Hackney Council, London