The realities of a statutory social work placement in child protection

A social work student and newly qualified social worker tell Andy McNicoll about the highs and lows of statutory placements on the child protection frontline.

Image: Charlie Milligan

When I visit Lambeth’s families and child protection team, two young social workers at different stages of the qualifying process are on placement.

Johanna Burke-Richards is a third year student who is on placement as part of her course. Tom Taylor is a newly qualified social worker who graduated in October. He is shadowing the team for a week as he bids to keep boosting his experience alongside applying for jobs.

Johanna’s experience

How have you found the placement so far?

Johanna: It’s been great but it’s really fast-paced. I’m not used to having clients who are quite harsh to me. Before, I’ve been in environments that have been a lot more, well, rosy!

But this is real life. It’s inner London, it’s a sensitive area of work the team is in, and there’s a lot of confrontation.

They prepared me for that before. This is what it’s going to be like when I qualify so I’m really glad I’m getting this experience.

How did you handle being shouted at for the first time?

J: The first time I did take it personally. That’s why supervision is so important.

I had a phone call out of the blue from a client. The first time I’d spoken to them they had been nice as pie, but this time they had a real go at me and made it really personal.

I took it to heart and felt really hurt. That was my first taste of how it can be.

What area of social work do you hope to go into?

J: Well, before this, I was always adamant I wanted to work in adults services. I’d had a great first year placement in mental health and loved it.

But now I’ve seen working with children and parents too, I think I want to go into statutory children’s work. I’ve also heard a placement and job in child protection is a good grounding to work from as I’d like to move around and try different things in my career.

What’s the difference you’ve found between statutory and voluntary placements?

J: In voluntary there wasn’t the same duty of care. I was doing a lot of assessing and signposting. It was good to have the interaction but in this role I feel I can apply my learning in practice a bit more.

Tom’s experience

How have you found the placement so far?

Tom: It’s been really good from the off. I was very speculative in even approaching Lambeth as it’s not like I had any ties through having done a placement here, or knowing a worker in the borough.

Originally I was going to do a day of shadowing but it turned from one day, into ‘do you want to come for a week’? Yesterday they asked if I wanted to go to a legal planning meeting, which was great as I’d never been to one before.

What was your first legal planning meeting like?

T: As a newly qualified sometimes these things can seem a bit daunting.

You’ve read about them, you know about them, but never actually sat in on one. So you can build it up in your head and it seems a massive deal.

Then you go along, sit through it and it takes a load off your mind. You’ve made another step.

How have you found the job hunt?

T: It has been tricky to be honest. It’s about perseverance a lot of the time but sometimes it’s a bit demoralising because the application forms really aren’t quick to do.

I’ve been pretty much focusing on applying for social work roles but a lot come back demanding two years post-qualifying experience.

Despite me saying ‘I’ve got two placements behind me, I’ve got voluntary experience and I’m willing to learn’, it gets to that stage when you know that all you’ll hear back from a lot of them is ‘sorry’.

That kind of thing can sap your motivation at times but there are jobs out there. A lot of it is plugging away and being proactive.

That’s how I got this placement – I spoke to the head of service after he presented at a recruitment event and followed it up with an email – and it’s been great.

Check out more articles from our ’24 hours on the social work frontline’ series

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