‘We are not cases that can be closed’: why I help educate the social workers of the future

An expert by experience shares her story of participation in a social work degree course - in terms of both the students' and her own learning

Photo: zinkevych/fotolia

Introduction

Liz Lefroy, Senior Lecturer, Glyndŵr University

Outside In is the tangible expression of participation within the social work degree course at Glyndŵr University. It is a focus group for individuals with expertise through experience of social and health services. A key aspect of the project is the participation of individuals as enrolled students on one module per year of the degree. Here, Jade gives her analysis of the experience of the first of those modules, Learning Together.

Learning Together

Jade Pescod, Outside In, Glyndŵr University

As Outside In, and students on the Learning Together module, we can share our perspectives, experiences and values while educating future social workers, enhancing their knowledge of real life situations and what they might come across in practice. Social workers need to be more user-led, and by Outside In participating, it pushes them to be more user-focused in their practice.

My particular contribution to participation is the knowledge that I have about specific mental health conditions, plus knowledge and experience of the system as a care leaver, a child in need and LAC along with being homeless. This raised awareness as a lot of students hadn’t heard of my condition and struggled to understand how such situations can happen. This furthers the knowledge of the students and their understanding that we are not ‘cases’ that can be closed – we are real people with feelings; not figures, or targets.

We had a session in the class talking about what makes a good social worker and what makes a bad social worker. As Outside In, we can speak from the perspective of having a social worker ourselves; this enlightens the class with what is expected of them and how to work to the best of their abilities as a future social worker.

Sharing my story

I share my story to help improve things for young people in other settings; such as with TGP Cymru who work with children and families. There is a team called Team Around the Tenancy who work with care leavers who are homeless or are experiencing housing issues. They have an advocacy team for those who are involved with social services. I bring a level of understanding to my work with young people – a major advantage.

I’ve bounced between bed and breakfasts and hostels, I’ve experienced this first hand and I know how traumatic it is, but I also know it is possible to make it through to the other side.

Participation in social work education is so important because it gives social work students a clearer level of understanding and a new perspective. They can question the person who has experienced being in the system and explore with them any issues that they want clarified. They are able to see that there are many different roles: such as children and families social workers, disability social workers, renal social workers and adult social workers. Being able to see, hear and ask questions then gives a better level of understanding in comparison to what they would get from books and lectures. It can help them to think about what they would do in the future if they were to work with someone in a similar situation.

With the diversity of individuals in Outside In who students can question, it brings a wider general knowledge of understanding of social work. It can help develop the social work students’ values, for example, saying what makes a good social worker and what we need from services, and why. By being able to understand the problems that Outside In describe, the students can decide what they would and wouldn’t do. Without Outside In there, much less knowledge would be shared. People there have been through a huge variety of different experiences, from sensory impairments to homelessness to physical disabilities. With more of us speaking week by week the confidence of others in the group is built up.

I’ve used my knowledge to educate and influence the social workers of the future through my lived experiences. I’ve learnt that other people’s values can be different. I’ve learnt about where other people are in their lives – how they prefer to be supported, how they prefer to get their emotions out. And I think it’s interesting to hear what students think. Some may have gone through what other individuals have been through. With us accepting questions in a safe space it allows everyone a fuller understanding of what’s really going on. What we bring will perhaps spark an interest in different areas of social work.

One Response to ‘We are not cases that can be closed’: why I help educate the social workers of the future

  1. Sam Newman August 5, 2020 at 10:42 am #

    Hi We really loved this piece – not least the title. We at Partners4Change, using our Three Conversations® approach to revolutionise social work, love to ‘ban’ the word ‘case’ as a way of referring to ‘people’. It is part of what dehumanises people, and social work. We use the art of good conversations to focus on the relationship, rather than the transaction, and recognise people as people in families and communities with hopes and fears, strengths and aspirations. This is in stark contrast, we believe, to the default approach which focusses on processing ‘cases’ through a system or ‘sorting office’, where people are forced to queue and wait, and often get lost. The Three Conversations® approach liberates people to listen hard, understand what matters and do useful things that help people get on with their lives. Not a bad description of good social work.
    And it is great that you are bringing your lived experience to social work education. It is vital that this happens, and social workers are not bred to service the bureaucratic processing of ‘cases’, but are inspired to act as human beings, not afraid to work with kindness and compassion. We would encourage you to also question the use of the term ‘service user’. Our experience is that if you change the conversation the assumption that someone is automatically going to become a ‘user of services’ also radically changes. We would love to participate on your course if you would like us to.

    regards

    Sam Newman Director. Partners for Change