By Mollie Heywood
1) Use the title of ‘student social worker’…
I found being the ‘student social worker’ a valuable position.
Although at times being ‘the student’ can be difficult, it can also be a great way to ask awkward questions and look at things from a different perspective. I felt I was able to use this to point out the things I saw as problematic, or suggest different ways of doing things as well as just asking why something was happening.
2)…but do not be a robot
Make sure you inject your personality into your placement. It will be whatever you want to make of it, but if something sparks your interest, pursue it and speak up if you want to work with someone or in an area you know you can learn from.
3) Have an open mind
Real life clearly is not the same as reading case studies and textbooks for lectures, but I think that can be easily forgotten. Remember that just because the case study you learned about in week three had a specific resolution, that won’t always work well in every single situation.
4) Take every opportunity – and make your own
I was lucky to have a practice educator that let me make my own opportunities and meet people across different job roles (both inside and outside social work).
Do not be afraid of looking outside the social work umbrella either – you’ll meet so many different people and they can all teach you something worth knowing about the field.
For example, in my placement I organised time shadowing the community learning disability team, so I got to see what physios and district nurses got up to, which was a completely different perspective. I also spent time with individuals with mental health concerns and I’m even getting to go on an exchange trip to Germany. These have all helped broaden my knowledge and awareness in a way I probably wouldn’t have been able to if I hadn’t asked to shadow or see something new.
5) Ask questions
To your supervisor or educator, to staff, or to the individuals you are working with.
One of the most valuable things I learned was from sitting with a group of people and asking questions about what they thought about social workers and what advice they had for me. The individuals are the real experts and have lots of invaluable advice.
6) Remember the people you are working with
For my placement, I felt 70 days wasn’t a lot of time, but every encounter is an opportunity and there are so many ways you can make a change. It doesn’t have to be monumental, but it can still make a difference to someone’s life.
7) Don’t be too hard on yourself
It is not all going to be easy or fun, but that is part of the package. It is important to not let this get to you, remember the positives and keep going! You’ll have a good support system around you if you need it.
Finally, if you’re reading this, I imagine that this is just one of many similar things you’ve read. My main bit of advice? No amount of online articles is going to prepare you for your first placement.
Sure, it can be scary going in, but that’s the whole point. Just go for it, take and make every opportunity you can, and enjoy the entire experience.
Mollie Heywood is an MA social work student at Lancaster University. She has just completed her first year placement. She tweets @mollieaheywood.