Centre for the Development of Social Care Practice leads the way in university and local authority partnerships

This article appear on page 40 of the magazine, under the title A seamless transition

A university and its local authority has a unique partnership approach to the training of social work students, including postqualification. Centre manager Marisa Forbes explains how it works

A progressive approach to training social work students and developing their careers after qualification is what the Centre for the Development of Social Care Practice is all about. The idea of combining developmental work at pre- and  post-qualifying levels in one centre was developed by Jo Cleary, the director of Luton Council’s housing and community living department, and Professor Michael Preston-Shoot, dean of the health and social sciences faculty at the University of Bedfordshire.

The centre is a partnership between the local authority and the university. The authority is assisted in meeting its obligations towards providing “learning opportunities” and benefits from recruitment and retention; the university can ensure that its students receive high-quality teaching.

Preston-Shoot says: “By becoming a service provider a higher education institution is making a distinctive additional contribution to its local community.”

The centre offers a learning experience different from that offered by traditional placements. Sited on the Park Square campus in Luton, it provides students with a base for their second or final year of study.

Up to eight students can be accommodated and have use of computers, telephones and two interview rooms.

The practice teacher oversees the work of the students alongside the centre manager. The university’s pattern of placements
means students are available all year, providing continuity of service to agencies. Students undertake specific project work,
casework referred from Luton Council’s children and learning department with which there is a service-level agreement, work from Project Re-group (which coordinates common assessment framework referrals) and work with members of the Experts by Experience group. These are service users and carers who take part in the university’s social work programme.

The first cohort of students have now completed their practice learning. Their projects provided the referring agencies
with a resource to explore practice issues and contributed to workforce development.

As one student noted, they were able “to get in at the planning and commissioning level rather than just service delivery”.

One student helped the adult learning disability service with the restructuring of their community café. It is now open for
extended hours with an enhanced menu, and its continued development is monitored as part of the modernising day care agenda.

Another student assisted the Luton Teaching Primary Care Trust with its advanced practitioner project. The council and PCT now have a clearer understanding of each other’s roles, and lines of communication have improved.

A third student evaluated whether a social work post in the domestic violence unit at Luton police station would assist
the services provided; a fourth praises the “greater insight into what goes on in the community” from her involvement in
consultation with the community about the development of a children’s centre.

Continuing professional development opportunities are a feature of the partnership. Newly qualified social work staff,
experienced social workers and social care staff can all acquire further experience and qualifications.

Although the centre only opened this January the work undertaken by students has already aided service development. Cleary says: “The centre’s vision is to extend the range of work available, allowing longer term professional development opportunities to be provided, making this learning initiative truly different.”

Lessons learned
●Establishing and developing a centre requires the full-time commitment of an individual with knowledge of local social care organisations and contacts within them.
● Commitment from management is needed to encourage practitioners and managers to refer work and projects and to generate a culture of learning.
● Each project needs an individual learning agreement identifying clearly the boundaries of the work and the expectations of all parties.
● Students need to be selected carefully to ensure that their learning needs are met and that the work is completed  successfully.

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