How do you show your appreciation for a group of students devoting their working lives to supporting vulnerable people, promoting human rights and social justice?
Here at the University of Hertfordshire we do this through our Valuing Social Work Day, an annual celebration of our social work students and their chosen profession.
Although the day is a lot of fun, its mission is no joke. We want to focus on the impact of good social work on peoples’ lives and to celebrate the very special group of students who, despite the risk of media approbation and cheap shots from some politicians, have decided to embark on social work as a career.
Finding fantastic people to highlight the importance of social work has never been a problem.This year, Clenton Farquharson, co-chair of Think Local Act Personal, gave an emotional and deeply inspiring speech thanking our students for choosing social work. He told his own story of having his life saved by a great social worker who, at a time of deep trauma in his life, “tried to find out who [he] was”. He told the room: “Social workers are like stars in the sky. Even when we don’t see you, we like to know that you are there”.
Tony Hunter, chief executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence, highlighted the prominence of excellent social work practice in the other big news story of the month—the launch of The Care Act. Social work would be nothing without the amazing people who access our services who inspire us with their resilience, he said.
But the real stars of Valuing Social Day are our students and graduates.This is their chance to meet with different year groups and to spend time together sharing ideas and support. There is a pot luck lunch, the traditional annual quiz and the infamous student and lecturer skits. Third year student representatives gave highlights of their university experience to date, the final year group took questions about placements, and a recent Hertfordshire graduate described his experiences as a newly qualified social worker.
Social work programme lead Caroline Meffan had the idea for Valuing Social Work Day five years ago: “We wanted to bring our students together in a less formal but celebratory way. They work so hard and are deeply committed to their profession.
“My aim is to let our students and our community of practice educators and employers know consistently how highly they are valued and I am already making plans to develop this event further for next year.”
The idea has been exceptionally well supported by sector leaders with previous contributors including College of Social Work faculty chair, Ruth Allen and chief social worker for adults, Lyn Romeo.
Valuing new social workers
So does it work? Does Valuing Social Work Day give our students the intended encouragement and confidence boost? Feedback from the day suggests that it does as students told us the day made them feel what they are studying is worthwhile and important.
At the University of Hertfordshire, we want our social work students to start out their careers knowing how very deeply they are valued not just by us as a teaching team but by the wider social work community of which they are now members. Valuing Social Work Day is our opportunity to celebrate our tremendous profession and the very special people who will secure its future.
Tanya Moore is a registered social worker who has worked for 25 years in social work practice and management in local authority and voluntary sector services. She currently teaches on the social work programmes at the University of Hertfordshire. You can find her tweeting @tanyamooreherts or follow the hashtag from the day #VSWDay
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