Letters to Community Care 10 September 2009

Student placements and quick fixes

Two articles in Community Care (27 August) highlight the difficulties relating to student placements and the need to look beyond quick fixes. A news item (“GSCC to probe West Midlands universities over placement gaps“) explained that the GSCC would be visiting universities to try to improve the number of statutory placements.

In a footnote and in a feature (“In need of a skills upgrade“) academic John Barraclough states that local authorities should be “forced” to take students. There is clearly a crisis in providing enough placements of adequate quality.

Placing blame with or looking for instant solutions from either universities or local authority teams misses two points.

First, placements are learning opportunities, not apprenticeships. They were never intended to fully equip students for practice and should not be seen in isolation from the need for adequate post-qualifying work and learning.

Second, the difficulties that many local authority teams face make them unsuitable places to facilitate students’ learning beyond crisis intervention and management.

From my own recent experience of university teaching and my work as an external examiner, I have seen tremendous effort going into finding creative placement opportunities that will enable students to consolidate and extend their learning.

Students can gain much from placements in settings where they can reflect on practice and consider statutory obligations which a local authority team may not be able to provide.

If undue pressure is put on universities or local authorities, without acknowledging the extent of the difficulties, placements risk being reduced to a checklist of key roles. This would devalue social work education and, indeed, the profession itself.

Dr Karen Postle, social worker, Hampshire

Here we go again . Social work training means “preparation for the front line”, which presumably means bureau-based case management, a small part of social work.

It’s just not possible to do it all in one qualification. The four qualifying social work programmes I have been tutor to since 1990 have been much the same: preparation for case management dependent on a house of cards of placement “opportunities”, and drawing on students who want to make a difference.

Let’s split it twice. First split: adults (and their families) and children (and their families); second split: looker-afters and case managers. As for children and families, make the undergraduate route for looker-afters – residential, foster carers, day care, family centres, children centres, homestart workers, and so on. Then, have a dedicated postgraduate case manager programme, drawing from a wider pool than just the looker-afters, only some of whom are ever potential case managers.

As for the house of cards of placements, my instinct is that expectations of learners representing looker-afters and case managers would strengthen both tiers of activity.

Dr Chris Warren-Adamson, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, University of Southampton


Opportunities for freelance care work

Gary Vaux explains how, with the onset of the personalisation agenda, freelance care workers may be able to benefit from self-employment credit .

He rightly states that this will give more opportunities for “freelance” care workers. The article does not make it clear how he defines “freelance” but I would assume he would be talking about care workers forming a franchise or co-operative.

In the early 1990s it wasn’t unusual for disabled people to engage personal assistants/carers on a self-employed basis. For many of us this was preferable especially when there was a problem between the disabled person and their employee.

Being the person receiving the support and the one having to adhere to employment law can be daunting. Mind you, most of my PAs have been with me between six and 12 years so I must not be too bad an employer.

But many disabled people are too frightened to challenge the employee because they feel vulnerable. When “push comes to shove” it will always be the employee’s word against the disabled employer.

There will never be witnesses and disciplinary procedures may be started while knowing that personal tasks still need doing and knowing that you might be with that person for 24 hours.

Anne Pridmore, disability consultant, http://www.beingtheboss.co.uk

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