By Dot Ogden, service user member of the Person Shaped Support social enterprise
I feel well qualified to know the qualities that make a good social worker. Taking part in a project where service users help to select social work students and some staff at Liverpool Hope University has been a big confidence boost for me but I also hope that in a small way I have helped to bring more good people into this role.
I was widowed 25 years ago and left to bring up my son and daughter alone. I left my job as a youth and community worker to re-train as a teacher so I could be around in the holidays for my children, although I’ve since retired. I began a relationship but ended it when my partner was unfaithful.
My mum was diagnosed with dementia and I put all my energy into nursing her. I ploughed on with little support when she went into a care home and, six weeks later, when she died, I fell apart.
‘Lifted my spirits’
Suffering from anxiety and depression, I went to see my GP who recommended me to a health trainer project run by Person Shaped Support (PSS). I went along to their wellbeing centre in Liverpool that works with people with mental health issues.
From staying at home and not talking to anyone, I slowly began to attend sessions at the centre including crafts, coffee mornings and cookery and it really lifted my spirits.
As I became more involved at the centre, they asked me if I’d join a service user group to work on a new project with Hope University and how they recruit potential social work students.
The idea is that service users who have been in contact with numerous social workers during their lives are well placed to know what makes an effective social worker.
Some of our group have grown up in care so they have a child and adult take on it. There are carers too so we bring a range of experience to the group.
We work with lecturers, social care professionals and academics to interview students applying for the BA and MA social work courses at Hope.
One of the aims is to help service users and social workers develop a better understanding of each other. When interviewing for new students I look for people who have some life experience as I think that is really important. I also think if I’d want the person in front of me to be my social worker. Social workers see people at their worst and I think “would this person fight for my needs?”
As well as interviewing them, we take part in role play and the students have to interview us. We assess their approach and techniques to score them and give feedback to the students.
During the group sessions, I also look out for the questions they ask. If they ask the right questions and seem to be trying to dig a bit deeper, it means they are more likely to get the full picture about a service user. We then make our recommendations about which potential students should be offered a place on the social work degree course. We are all very aware that social work isn’t an easy profession to go into so helping to select the next generation of social workers is really important.
Through to graduation
Because I’ve been involved in this project for more than two years, I’ve been able to follow the progress of the students. The first students we interviewed and selected graduated last summer and we attended the ceremony which was really lovely.
We are also involved in the recruitment of professionals and social work lecturers at Hope and I always feel that we are treated as equals and that our opinions are really listened to. I love being part of the project as I feel as though I’m making a difference, in my own small way. Sometimes when you are retired you can get very down thinking you’re no longer of use but being involved in something like this really helps and gives you a new lease of life.
Everyone in the service user group gets on well and we also act as peer supporters for one another, which helps to increase our confidence and self-esteem. We have also spoken at conferences about the project as we all think it’s such a great thing to be doing that we’re keen to spread the word.