Some students are disappointed to learn their first placement will be in a non-statutory setting, worried it will harm their future chances of getting a job. Others express concern that non-statutory placements are not relevant to real-life social work practice. But I would argue that this is an unfair judgement.
Statutory placements – i.e. those in local authority children and adult teams, such as child protection, adult safeguarding; and within NHS teams such as mental health – are beneficial because you gain direct social work experience and have the opportunity to understand the structure of various teams such as referrals and assessments, locality teams and early prevention teams. Because you are working alongside other social workers and professionals, you are able to easily share information and give each other support; there are many opportunities for learning and developing your knowledge, using intervention and theories and career development.
However, my first placement was with a charity, which works with adults with learning disabilities to achieve personal goals such as using public transport independently and provides domiciliary care to vulnerable people in London. Although it was not a statutory placement, I was able to negotiate a learning agreement which included the managing of four supervised caseloads, conducting initial assessments, designing support plans, writing risk assessments and reviewing care plans. I was also able to empower service users by explaining their rights to them, supporting them with benefit and job applications and helping them to build on their strengths. In doing this, I gained statutory and advocacy experience, guided by the professional capabilities framework.
If you have been placed in a non-statutory setting, do not be disheartened; instead, make the most of your placement. The important thing is to be proactive in setting up your learning agreement, by expressing to your work-based supervisor and your practice educator that you would like to have statutory learning opportunities.
Course providers can also do their part to offer as much experience of statutory social work as possible. On my course, we learn about all service user groups and have a skills lab where students can practise interviewing skills, learn how to complete referral forms and do role plays with service users and carers. This experiential learning can be enhanced by having a mock court in the skills lab and by having students practise writing court reports and court cases. You could use facilities in the health faculty, such as the mock wards, for hospital visits. This will prepare students to gain statutory experience even before going out on placement, and will enable them to gain the confidence they need to apply for both statutory and non-statutory social work roles.