Chris Russell sets out what you can you do to sustain peer learning when you’re the only social worker around.
The Social Work Reform Board identified peer learning as an essential part of practice and development, and there is clear and strong support for it across the sector, including in the General Social Care Council’s codes of practice. But frontline practitioners are increasingly expected to work from home or as the only social worker within a multi-disciplinary team, making peer learning much harder to achieve.
1. Expect the best from supervision
Whatever the setting, supervision should be provided by your employer in a manner that promotes peer learning. For example, arrangements can be made for social workers to receive professional supervision from a qualified colleague from a partner agency, if there is no-one appropriate within their organisation.
2. Find a mentor
The reform board sees providing opportunities for mentoring as a fundamental part of professional leadership, and wants to place shared learning amongst peers at the heart of continuing professional development. Mentoring might take the form of one-to-one discussions with social work colleagues specifically identified as having the expertise to enhance your own practice, or as part of a professional development group.
3. Use technology
Email can be a powerful and effective way of sharing information with other social workers, and learning from them. This comes with an essential and absolute warning about upholding and maintaining client confidentiality at all times. Peer learning via electronic media is suited to discussions involving changes in services, policies, procedure, practice and legislation, but avoid discussions involving individuals or families. Smart phones are becoming an indispensible tool for practice, and can assist social workers based from home maintain their professional links with colleagues.
4. Use social media
Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter give isolated social workers a virtual space in which to discuss certain issues, although the same warning applies regarding confidentiality. Community Care’s forum, CareSpace, attracts thousands of social care professionals, so it’s a great sounding board for specific problems – or a place to go for a chat about biscuits.
5. Maximise contact with colleagues
Professor Eileen Munro’s review of child protection in England recommended having more conversations with colleagues, but this doesn’t have to take place in a formal setting. There are often a few minutes spare before a team meeting gets going, and this can be an opportunity to quickly catch up on new developments with colleagues. Better still, make time to have lunch or coffee together before or after the meeting.
6. Use professional networks
The Children’s Workforce Development Council recently led initiatives to create peer support networks, so find out if there is anything similar in your locale. There are also a myriad of networks enabling professionals to share expertise. The College of Social Work aims to develop into a central hub of information, where social workers will be able to connect to the wider profession.
7. Become a practice teacher
Finally, why not consider supervising a social work student? Depending on the student, this could give you access to a network of new professional contacts and a wealth of up-to-date expertise and information.
Chris Russell is a social worker, lecturer and interim board member of the College of Social Work
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