Social worker Helen Bonnick discusses statutory practice placements
As social work students reach the end of one placement and start to find out where they will be next year, I have been thinking about the widely reported shortage of statutory placements.
The intention is that there should be at least an experience of statutory tasks: that students can rightly expect to feel equipped, through these, to carry out work involving legal interventions in the future. For those intending to pursue their career in children’s services it can be particularly important, where the absence of experience is said to put students at a disadvantage in the job market.
However, I do find it slightly ironic that these placements are pursued by students as if they were the holy grail when staff in children’s services feel under siege and bemoan their lack of face-to-face contact with service users.
It is important to note that social workers increasingly find themselves employed outside the statutory sector and this will surely continue as services fragment under this government. It is often within these non-statutory agencies that students can find an experience of social work “as it once was”.
Working in a substance misuse service, even for a few months, can expose students to poverty, neglect, mental health issues and abuse. Within a therapeutic community a student may gain an understanding of the effects of severe trauma in a way that changes their practice for ever. A family centre placement provides opportunities to develop relationships with service users in depth, highlighting the ways in which change flows through such relationships, testing early intervention and battling daily with the dilemmas of thresholds and realities of multi-agency communication.
There should be the chance to meet or work with a “real” social worker. But the issue for me is not where the placement takes place, but rather the quality of the work on offer, the rigour of the supervision support available and the attitude of the student in determining that they maximise every moment of their time.
Helen Bonnick is a social work practice educator
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