Placements are central to the social work student experience but the system could soon change, writes Corinne May-Chahal, co-chair of the College of Social Work.
Why do we have placements on social work degrees?
Placements create opportunities for learning and practising social work knowledge and skills, ensuring that students meet the standards for professional conduct in practice.
It is not possible for students to become practitioners through writing and college based assessments alone. Practice requires complex skills, involving assessment, analysis, decision making and professional judgement. These skills can be supported by reading and discussions, but we can only identify what students have really learnt when they are assessed in real life situations.
During training, tutors and students must adhere to the standards set by the General Social Care Council (2004) and TOPPS (2002 – now Skills for Care) in assessing whether a student is “suitable for practice”.
If the need arises, tutors may have to assess issues of misconduct and take decisions as to whether a student should remain on the course and be recommended for registration.
How can placements prepare students for a career in social work?
Placements give students the opportunity to:
• Meet the standards of professional practice.
Under the GSCC Code of Practice, students must learn to protect the rights and promote the interests and independence of service users and carers while, as far as possible, protecting them from danger or harm. They must also learn to maintain the trust and confidence of the public and those who use social care services, be accountable for the quality of their work and take responsibility for improving their knowledge and skills.
• Develop a range of knowledge, skills and practice qualities.
Placements enable students to work with individuals, families, carers, groups and communities.
• Work in multi-agency environments.
Placements give students the opportunity to interact with other professionals and learn more about how to work effectively in a multi-agency environment. It’s one thing to hear in college about what health visitors, police officers or community mental health nurses do, but quite another to work together to support a service user. Through their placements, students will get to know what everyday practice is really like and will be able to make informed career decisions. Students often change their career options when they discover new interests and abilities.
What should students and employers gain from placements?
Placements are a three-way partnership between the student, the organisation, and the college or university.
Practice assessors supervise and mentor students, and in doing so they are contributing to their own professional development.
University tutors have ongoing relationships with placement providers and can feed in new learning through placement visits, information sharing and training days.
Employers also have the chance to get to know students and consider their potential as future employees. In cases where the employer sponsors an employee to train as a social worker, placements enable the retention of good staff by offering a career development opportunity.
Service users can often benefit from an organisation that provides placements, because their student social worker will have smaller caseloads and more time to dedicate to learning new ways of working.
How are placements likely to develop in the future, particularly in light of the work the College of Social Work is doing, and how will this affect students?
The continuation of high quality practice-based learning is essential. Some people feel that time spent on placements could be reduced and that some aspects might be transferred to a university based learning environment. This could lower the number of days spent in a placement, although it would not reduce time spent on practice learning.
A major consultation process involving the social work profession and service users is now underway and is due to finish in October 2010. The outcomes of the consultation will determine the purpose and functions of the college.
Do you have questions about placements?
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