Student case studies – six social work students share their experiences and thoughts as they come to the end of their training

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In April 2002 Community Care spoke to six Diploma Social Work students about their training experiences and hopes for the future.

Name: Helen Woolgar 

Age: 23

Lives: In student accommodation.

Previous experience: “I worked for a charity helping people with physical disabilities live independently and at Gateshead Council as a support worker in a summer scheme for children with disabilities. I am also involved with befriending, which I love.”

Why social work? “My degree was in anthropology and archaeology and I wanted to be an archaeologist. But, as part of my charity work, I was a full-time enabler for a lady with cerebral palsy and this inspired me. I had done voluntary work through university, but didn’t realise it could be a career.”

Training: Two-year DipSW/MSc Green College, Oxford University.

Good points about the course: “It is a generic course, which was good for me as I wasn’t sure which area I wanted to work in.”

Bad points: “It took too academic a view of social work. There should be more front-line social workers talking to us about their experiences and jobs.”

Funding: A CCETSW grant, but I also worked 16 hours a week with people with learning difficulties through an agency.

Where will you be working in six months’ time? “I want to work in a children with disabilities team, initially in a local authority in London, to give me a good grounding in social work values and skills. I will research the local authority beforehand to ensure they have a good system to protect new workers.”

Salary expectation: £20,000 to £22,000.

Career ambition: “To work in the development of services, have some research published and learn British Sign Language.”

Name: Toby Flight      

Age: 30

Lives: Watford, Hertfordshire with partner.

Previous experience: “I did specialist therapeutic work for four and a half years and statutory residential work for adolescents. Despite the tremendous experience, which shaped me to be the person I am today, I was tired of the antisocial hours and violence, so I had to get qualified or leave the profession.”

Why social work? “I didn’t want to do anything conventional so went into voluntary work and charity fundraising. I wanted a job where I could respect myself and find it interesting, worthwhile and exciting.”

Training: Two-year DipSW and MA at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Good points about course: “The idea of non-directive learning meant the lectures would give you the bare bones, and working in groups you would have to find information for yourself. It forces you to work at a constant pace.”

Bad points: “High pressure. Also it wouldn’t be to everybody’s taste, but it suited me.”

Funding: “CCETSW grant – I just kept afloat.”

Where will you be working in six months’ time? Working in a child protection team to get experience and professional credibility, and in a year look to apply for a play therapy course.

Salary expectation: “£21,000 progressing quickly, with golden hello and perks.”

Career ambition: “To gain a play therapist qualification.”

Name: Nora Dudley   

Age: 23

Lives: Sheffield, house shared with four students.

Previous experience: “I worked in a voluntary playgroup, in nursing, did respite work and residential work for young people and support work for teenage girls, people with learning difficulties and older people.”

Why social work? “I always wanted to do social work or teaching, but working at a holiday camp run by a charity when I was 17 confirmed I wanted to be a social worker. I found it really productive and wanted to help improve people’s lives, not just their educational attainment.”

Training: Two-year postgraduate DipSW/MA, University of Sheffield.

Good things about course?: Accessibility of resources

Bad things: “The financial side.”

Funding: “Funding has been a complete nightmare for me. Because I’m under 25, I get judged on my parents’ income, despite having lived independently for five years. We get so much teaching on antidiscrimination, yet the General Social Care Council discriminates against us on the grounds of age and marital status. I work 22 hours a week as a childminder, just to keep afloat, but on placement I can’t work as I already work 36 hours per week.”

What will you be doing in six months’ time?: A field worker with looked-after team of young people aged 11 up to care leavers. I expect to start in a local authority where the jobs are – in the south of England.”

Salary expectation: “With MA and experience, I expect £20,000.”

Career ambition?: Project manager of care leavers team.

Name: Leslie Wilson   

Age: 34

Lives: East Midlands, with a partner and two children.

Previous experience: “I started working in a home for older people in London and, via an agency, ended up working with looked-after children. I went on to work with children with disabilities and then disabled adults and people with learning difficulties. For nine years I had various management posts within statutory and voluntary sectors. For the past four years I have been working in a hostel for homeless care leavers and ex-offenders.”

Why social work? “In my teens I went through my fair share of jobs and although they involved working with people, this did not fulfil me. I felt I had something to offer others and social work would be the most fulfilling way of doing this.”

Training: Two-year DipSW/MA, University of Nottingham.

Good things about course: “Some of the best learning experiences have been discussing with other students why they would act in a particular way.”

Bad things: “The length of written assignments at 3,000-4,000 words is too long. During course work I have found it insulting constantly having to explain my understanding of oppression. As a black person living and working in the UK, I feel over the past 34 years I have had a pretty good understanding of oppression.”

Funding: “A bursary of £4,000 per year, but I have also had to take on a part-time job and agency work to support myself. If social work is to attract more students something needs to be done to make studying less financially stressful.”

Where will you be working in six months’ time? “Restarting my career in a management position, possibly in residential services for adults with learning difficulties or physical disabilities in the voluntary sector. I am also interested in registration and inspection.”

Salary expectation: “£18,000 to £23,000 but I may be forced to start from the beginning and a salary of £16,800.”

Career ambition: “I want to know that when I retire I do so because I have given all I can to my profession, not that I have taken all I could stand from it.”

Name: Abbi Adair    

Age: 28

Lives: South Shields, Tyne and Wear with husband and two dogs.

Previous experience: “I was a support worker for a year with adults with learning difficulties and physical disabilities. At sixth-form college I visited a school for people with severe learning difficulties and physical disabilities weekly and I now visit a local hospital with my two Newfoundland dogs, who are registered as therapy dogs.”

Why social work?: “My parents fostered two children and were involved with community work when I was younger, and this gave me an insight into the profession and the problems that children in care face. I want to work proactively with people and make a difference.”

Training: Two-year DipSW/MA, University of Durham.

Good things about course: “The course was not just text book and taught me to be self-reflective. The learning curve was tremendous.”

Bad things about course: “It is extremely intensive.”

Funding: “CCETSW funded me through the course, taking into consideration my husband’s income.”

Where will you be working in six months’ time? “Children and families social worker in a local authority.”

Salary expectation: “The going rate locally of about £16,000.”

Career ambition: “To be contented in work.”

Name: Nik Flavell      

Age: 28

Lives: London with partner.

Previous experience: I worked for nine months as an assistant social worker in a youth offending team.

Why social work: “I trained to be a barrister and practised for a year. I did a lot of pre-sentence reports and met a lot of vulnerable, socially excluded people who due to my privileged background I had never come into contact with before. I felt it would be personally rewarding to get involved earlier on in the process, not just at court. I was motivated by genuine compassion sourced through my Christian faith. People thought I was mad at the time, but I never saw it as downgrading.”

Training: Two-year DipSW/Msc, Jesus College, Oxford University.

Good points about course: “Great placements.”

Bad points: “It gave me a little bit of knowledge in a lot of areas, but it was disappointing that it heavily relied on placement to fill in the gaps.”

Funding: “Through my wife! I got funding of £4,500 a year but it wasn’t enough. To qualify for the course you need six months’ experience and an average unqualified worker would earn £15,000, but to progress and get qualifications, you have to go from that to £4,000 a year – a major disincentive.”

Where will you be working in six months’ time? “In a children and families department working on a referral and assessment team, in the north east because of the cost of living in London.”

Salary: About £20,000.

Career ambition: “To be director of social services in a city, making a difference to the lives of children and their families and not on the front of the Daily Mail.”

In October 2002 Community Care reporter Clare Jerrom revisited the six to find out how their careers were progressing.  Click here for more.


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