Question from a student:
I am a second-year social work student and have had major problems in finding a placement at a local authority. A lot of people on my course are getting worried because the local council recently cut the number of placements by half. I’ve ended up at an older people’s charity – the people there are lovely but it’s not ideal, and I really want some experience of working for a local authority. Please could you advise?
Answer by Dr Jo Finch (pictured):
All placements, in both statutory and voluntary settings, must provide students with appropriate learning opportunities to show they have met the national occupational standards in social work. The Department of Health’s requirements for the social work degree state that students must experience at least two different practice settings with at least two different service groups and that students must have experience of “undertaking statutory social work tasks involving legal interventions”. This does not mean that students have to have a statutory placement, rather that placements must provide students with the opportunity to experience statutory work.
Your placement co-ordinator at your university will have ensured that this agency is able to provide you with the required learning opportunities. You should also be provided with a qualified practice educator, who will ensure that the appropriate learning opportunities are made available. The initial learning contract should clearly state the learning opportunities available within the agency and you should discuss any concerns you have at the initial meeting with your on-site supervisor (if you have one), practice educator and university tutor. The midway meeting is also a useful venue to explore your progress to date and any impediment to your progress as well as make plans for the remainder of the placement.
There is sometimes an assumption that voluntary sector placements are inferior to statutory placements. However, voluntary agencies can provide equally interesting and varied learning opportunities. There will usually be a “statutory” element within voluntary agencies and it is highly likely that you will have opportunities to work more creatively. This could give you the opportunity to work with service users in different ways to how you might work with them in statutory settings. If you are keen to have experience of working within a statutory agency there might be scope to draw on your practice educators’ and colleagues’ informal networks – for example, you could arrange some shadowing opportunities in a statutory setting. You will of course have another practice learning opportunity in your third year which might well be in a statutory setting.
You say the placement is not ideal. Does this stem from your disappointment about not having a statutory placement or is it because the placement is not offering you appropriate learning opportunities? You need to be clear about your answer. If there is a problem, then you must raise your concerns. On a final note, you are responsible for your learning and your emotional responses so don’t allow your misconceptions or disappointment to get in the way of making the best of your placement.
Dr Jo Finch is a senior lecturer in social work at the University of East London and an independent practice educator.
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