I am a single parent of four children, two of whom have grown up
and left home, while the other two, aged 11 and 16, still live at
home with me.

Some five years ago, I was accepted at university to undertake a
BSc in psychology. Obviously this meant living on a tight budget,
which I supplemented by working in a residential unit for disabled
adults with learning difficulties. The children were superb about
this and we developed a “study together” lifestyle where we would
all do our homework in the same room. My older children did well in
their GCSEs, I passed my course, and we all celebrated each
other’s achievements.

Then I went on an MA Diploma in Social Work. Always challenging,
at times financially stressful, but ultimately rewarding, the past
few years have been good. However, the financial difficulties were
sometimes made worse than was strictly necessary.

I am grateful for the bursary I received while on the course,
although it did not adequately cover living costs, such as rent,
utility bills, food, clothes for the children and books. I worked
part-time whenever possible through an agency with a variety of
young people’s units. In this way, my children did not have
to go totally without.

Towards the end of the course, I went on a practice placement. I
could not have wished for a better experience. Even so, it was many
miles from my home and involved a lot of travel by car, amounting
to much more spent on petrol every week than on my rent.

I completed the mileage application forms and returned them to
the bursaries office. After three months, I had not received any
reimbursement of these travel costs. When I phoned the bursaries
office to explain that I had reached rock bottom financially, that
I could not afford to pay the rent or for food, I was informed that
the department concerned did not prioritise any claim.

I phoned my university to see whether I could extend my
placement by a week so that I could use the extra time to take paid
employment through the agency. My course administrator, who was
always approachable and very supportive, said that this was
contrary to the course regulations, adding that she had received
similar responses from the bursaries department when she had
contacted them on behalf of students. In the end, I was fortunate
that my bank manager increased my overdraft limit.

Social workers historically have had to face countless dilemmas.
Mine was this: should I have attempted to borrow from my disabled
parents? Should I have started bouncing cheques? Should I have
pretended to be sick for a week when really I had taken paid
employment? Should I have begged food from my friends? Or should I
simply have admitted defeat? Is it any wonder that there is a
social work recruitment difficulty?

Carol Collins is a former social work

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