Senior practice educator Chris Laycock has seen positive results from placing social work students in schools
(Pic model released: Garry Moore/Mood Board/Rex Features)
Schools offer a ready environment for accessible preventive and therapeutic work if set up with some sense of collaboration.
The limited research available suggests having social workers based in schools can have encouraging results. Mark Doel’s evaluation of Wolgarston High School in Staffordshire shows a marked drop in permanent exclusions and persistent absences at the school in response to the presence of a social worker.
From my own experience and from the limited amount of research on student satisfaction, school placements have been seen positively, because of opportunities for direct work with children which social services placements often fail to provide.
Newly qualified social workers on CareSpace have complained that they are struggling to develop ‘therapeutic skills’ and blame universities for failing to prepare them. From my experience of completing direct observations the opportunities provided for ‘therapeutic’ group work with young people in schools has been exceptional and clearly beyond what I have seen in the statutory or voluntary sectors. We clearly can’t afford to ignore these experiences.
There are also clear opportunities to address legislation as all schools work to the Every Child Matters Agenda and students have frequently completed Common
Assessment Frameworks. Some pupils may also be on a social worker’s caseload, as child in need, at risk or looked after. Such pupils provide plenty of opportunities for joint working.
Suitability for practice
But despite all of this positivity it is still important to ask whether school placements are robust enough to assess students’ suitability for practice.
When I came to Derbyshire as a senior practice educator in Aug 2010 I was encouraged to develop placement pilots in both secondary and primary school across rural and semi rural areas. Derbyshire is in the process of developing multi disciplinary teams and I was keen that any placements reflected this development as well as some opportunities for students to experience both the power invested in social workers and ‘therapeutic’ opportunities.
Through careful planning and cooperation students have spent one day per week in the local social services office undertaking duty tasks and contributing to initial assessments. This has familiarised them with the computer systems and the time frames for intervention. One student also supported the Children in Care team by completing a life story for two little girls.
In some cases students have picked up issues from the school relating to children in care which has resulted in better integration akin to a social pedagogic model. The results to date have been very encouraging both on a personal level and on a developmental level as students have gained much experience in direct work with children as well as direct statutory involvement in fieldwork teams, which allows them to put the placement opportunity within the context of social work.
The placements have also been valuable for the schools in forging better relationships with social services and, based on feedback received from teachers, some very challenging young people are now engaging with school as a result.
More questions about placements?
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