‘Why I quit my placement after three weeks’

A social worker recalls a placement in which he was treated with disrespect by staff, forcing him to leave. He advises students in a similar position to always seek help and prioritise their wellbeing

Man looking downcast
Picture posed by model (credit: Viacheslav Yakobchuk/Adobe Stock)

A few years ago, while studying for my social work degree, I started a placement with a third sector agency supporting adults with additional support needs to participate in community activities.

I only managed to complete three weeks before having to terminate the placement. This short article cannot adequately analyse the issues that resulted in my placement being terminated, but I hope to help students understand that feeling unwelcome, unsupported and powerless is frankly unacceptable.

My first week went well. I managed to meet the staff and build the foundations of what I considered would be positive relationships. How wrong I was.

Do you have a story to tell?

We’re looking to amplify social workers’ voices on our site, so if you have an experience or opinion you’d like to write about, have a story to share, or would just like to be considered in the future, please contact our community journalist, Anastasia Koutsounia, at anastasia.koutsounia@markallengroup.com. No writing experience is required.

The first indication that something was wrong at this placement was when I opened a door for a staff member who was carrying outdoor equipment. The staff member abruptly said “move” and brushed past me. I considered this to be extremely rude but dismissed it as I thought it may have simply been a one-off incident. However, similar such instances persisted.

During a conversation with a service user, a staff member interrupted and said: “Why are you both sitting here? You are supposed to be working. Go and help the other service users finish digging the garden.”

To me, this staff member completely disregarded the importance of relationship-based practice, which lies at the heart of all social work interaction. Their ethos was clearly not in the best interests of the service users.

Hostility and disrespect

As the days and weeks progressed, I begun to observe a negative pattern emerging that I was unwelcome at this agency. This pattern was woven together with threads of microaggression, passive aggression, hostility and disrespect.

They criticised me for not cleaning the bathroom correctly. They criticised me for not folding dish towels correctly. They criticised me for not knowing how to do tasks that I had not been previously shown. Furthermore, they did not adequately support me with the mental health issues that I had disclosed before attending the agency.

I also observed worrying undercurrents of anti-intellectualism taking place within the organisation. The staff member who criticised me for speaking with a service user almost fell off her chair in dismay when I asked her a question relating to social work theory.

She replied: “You don’t need to know any of that when you are here. Why are you asking about theories?” My response to that is simple – I wouldn’t be able to do my job without ample knowledge of social work theory.

Towards the end of my third week, I decided to report the agency to my practice educator and university. The reason why I had not reported them until this point was because I felt powerless and was faced with an extremely difficult decision.

A defensive resposne

Reporting the agency to the university made no difference whatsoever. The agency was extremely defensive in their stance, blaming the issues on my mental health. They were essentially implying that I was overreacting to the problems and completely downplayed how I felt.

The placement was formally terminated, and I had to wait several months before being offered another one. This was only thanks to the support of an advocacy worker at the student union. The university did nothing whatsoever to help me.

In summary, it was completely unacceptable to feel unsupported or unwelcome on placement. As a student, you are in a relatively powerless position, at the mercy of the agency and the university. You are continually being assessed, which naturally creates anxiety and stress.

The importance of raising your concerns

However, when these feelings become unnatural and are the direct result of a placement, it is important to raise your concerns.

I have since qualified as a social worker and am now working for a local authority in the UK. This was a very negative period in my life, but I am now more aware and attuned to recognising bad practice and negative attitudes and encourage all students who are on placement to ensure their mental health and wellbeing is the priority.

There will always be another opportunity to study when the time is right, and if in doubt, ensure you speak to a representative from the student union. I cannot stress this enough.

, ,

More from Community Care

23 Responses to ‘Why I quit my placement after three weeks’

  1. Hannah January 18, 2023 at 3:50 pm #

    I had a very similar experience, I was bullied terribly.
    I worked in a DV organisation and was going through DV myself and they completely destroyed my self worth, self esteem, it was bullying . Horrendous , the placement was terminated.
    Since then I’ve been working as a social worker for 5 years.

    • Jane January 20, 2023 at 10:21 am #

      I am sorry you had to go through such experience. I have been qualified for many years and have witnessed behaviours from managers/team leaders towards newly qualified and social work students. One that comes to mind, is of a newly qualified with disability, during Covid-19, who had to travel great distance to see clients. I was asked to support her on one case, and she did very well with the family and gave quality reports. Rather than praising her, the team manager and service manager asked me if I had done the report/work for her. They doubted her ability to do good work. I notice subsequently a level of discrimination towards her and I believe this to be due to her physical disability. Apparently, this had been observed by other SWs, too. She was well read, smart, intelligent and understood good practice. She was eager to learn. She worked well with families.

      I subsequently left the organisation and learnt she was let go. It was disheartening.

      It is sad that we are in the industry of help, support, empathy, kindness for our clients. I have noticed over the years that some professionals do not have same values towards fellow professionals. People’s insecurity, ego and power-drunk behaviours surface in practice settings and offices. Shame!

    • Dion January 22, 2023 at 1:30 pm #

      I had a similar situation as well . I was discriminated against. I will go for meetings but another staff will go and tell my Practice Supervisor(PS)I was absent at the meeting. I will have to a send an email to the PS on what was said at the meeting and what I got from the meeting as a proof of attendance to the meeting. This happened more than once. There was micro aggression, I was given task last minute so I had to stay behind after my finishing time to complete the task. When I complained I became a task by the team as it was a small office for supporting DV victims.I had an accident on my way to placement all the PS said was if you miss coming in today you will have to add the day to you placement. No empathy with my situation whatsoever. It impacted my mental health. It was a bad and difficult experience. There were unfounded allegations that was later redacted My placement ended after 46 day.

  2. Josephine Peprah January 18, 2023 at 3:54 pm #

    I am extremely startled for reading this to realise how you were treated unfailingly. Thank you for your boldness in sharing this experiences, which will assist students of social work like myself to be on the look out, when it our time for placement.

    I am immensely bewildered how and why the university did nothing about it, when you informed them. I remember my Lecturers emphasise on how vital it is to inform them whenever l go on placement and encounter any mistreatment, hopefully they did not merely say it and that if anything happens, they will act by stepping in.

    Sorry for going through that unfairness!.

  3. Josephine Peprah January 18, 2023 at 3:58 pm #

    And not talking about theories over there implies they just attend to service users any how ! This is highly shocking!

  4. Murdoch January 18, 2023 at 6:29 pm #

    Are you sure you don’t want to title your article Spare? ? I’m just kidding with you, it’s been a long day here in London. I am a service manager and can tell you, after my few years in the trade so far, that you haven’t been unlucky: these unwanted placements happen all the time. And even when they happen some team cultures are simply abhorrent. I have like you left a placement because it was nowhere near conducive to providing a decent learning experience. I have also quit teams as permanent or locum worker, one of them was particularly vulgar and negative.

    The spirit of social care is to adopt towards your colleagues the same ethics that your promote in your relationship with residents. It is therefore a profession where the self is always -or should be- in a state of reevaluation to ensure that all we do and say at and for work should promote equality, fairness, kindness and helpfulness. So there is social theory to dig out of even an ended placement. I can only hope you’re in a better place now and that you find your job rewarding. My best.

  5. Claire Roberts January 18, 2023 at 6:36 pm #

    I’m not shocked or surprised to read this, I had some very similar issues on placement. I also received no support from my university and they even upheld the views of the placement. in my opinion, they need the placements in order to run the courses, and they obviously value revenue over student welfare. Considering social work ethics and values this toxic environment in both the placement and university is extremely disappointing and disgusting. They damaged my life and I’m yet to recover.

  6. Jo January 18, 2023 at 8:44 pm #

    I had a poor placement terminated 3 days before I was due to complete. I was blamed despite there never being any issues with my practice raised before this. I experienced a really difficult placement which didn’t meet the needs of the course. I raised my concerns and was met with closing ranks. I ever finished my degree, it ruined my self confidence. Students are not supported in my experience.

  7. Vaughan January 18, 2023 at 9:34 pm #

    Your experience triggered a memory for me.

    I was a service user rep on a degree in a well known uni in the UK when something very similar came up.

    Getting student placements was quite dificult at the time.

    The course leader and I had a conversation about this situation where a student had walked out.

    We decided between us (because she was that sort of a leader) that if a placement was not workable because of the agencies lack of core Social Work values, the agency should be booted off the programme.

    When word got out of what had happened and why, the university had agencies offering student placements, because they realised that having students on site validated their service and values.

    Lost one PLO – gained ten

  8. David January 19, 2023 at 12:58 am #

    How awful! I’m a course leader of a social work programme at a university and I hope that all my students feel they can come and report any issues on placement. We would certainly be investigating and we have stopped using some placement providers where student’s experience were below acceptable standards.
    As a final year social work student myself, I remember my practise supervisor being generally oppressive toward me and setting me up to fail, all because of jealousy. I was fortunate to have support from others in that social work team which helped to keep me in placement. I spoke with my uni field tutor and things changed overnight. I’ve always been so grateful for that support!
    My negative experience and the support I got as a final year social work has made me determined that students should have a nurturing environment, where they’re supernumerary and have all opportunities to succeed.

    • Claire Henderson January 24, 2023 at 12:07 pm #

      Hi David
      You sound like a very supportive and caring person who understands social work values and is willing to share these. My view is similar, I had a very bad experience on my final BA placement in 2010 and was I was told I would not make a good sw, 13 years on I mentor nearly qualified sw and support students in my role. To me this is a privilege to share knowledge and skills. If we want Social Work to be better, we must all do better and not be a PE if we wont do the above. Where abouts in the country are you based as you sound so approachable and supportive.

  9. Cynthia January 19, 2023 at 4:23 am #

    The best option to end this bad practice would be to name and shame these placement places/practice educators! Practice Learning Lead should be held more accountable.
    First final placement I was asked to withdraw because of microaggressions, PE walks in first thing she said to me was “you know I have the power to pass or fail you” lasted 46 days with me ending up in counselling.
    Second final placement after 70 days with PE saying I was doing the bulk of his third sector work completing 3 observations of practice with comments like “you look well looked after for a disabled person”, having 210 minutes of supervision every week and I protest, i become “defensive and prickly”. I speak up to PPL at uni second opinion brought in. She says oh the placement has broken down ?‍♀️?‍♀️.
    I am sent on a third final placement that ends after 26 days because I relocated out of area and they would not allow me to to do any remote placement but all the other members of staff were working from home. I was made to travel 190 miles, meanwhile my DSSR states I should not travel more than 10 miles both ways a day. That placement was needed officially a fail because of all the lies the PE came up with. I challenged what she wrote with a written report of 3600 words instead of the 300 required.
    Now I am with the Office of Independent Adjudication (OIA). I also got BASW involved, which after reading my case called it disheartening and advised that either I went on anther placement wherein they will step in if kicks off again or take it to OIA.
    A 3 year course has now turned into a 7 year course.
    The registrar said is either I withdrew my allegation of racism/ disability discrimination or I would be awarded a diploma after racking up student debts of around £72,000.
    There needs to be change in social work by staff members being accountable.
    SWE said I should take it up with the university ?‍♀️?‍♀️?‍♀️
    As it is now, I just want my degree and nothing else!
    I friend’s son who geot into university to study medicine for 6 years has graduated and he is almost completing his F1 ???

  10. Janice January 19, 2023 at 11:23 am #

    Resonates with my experiences too. When I raised this with my university I was told to “hang in” as it was likely I would experience worse in the future. This is why things never change. Universities and placement providers are dependent on each other so are willfully blind to problems.

  11. Alec Fraher January 19, 2023 at 12:53 pm #

    I was a practice teacher and placement supervision for 10+ years for Leeds Polytechnic.

    Your experience, I’d say, is typical actually.

    Typical also of the difficulty in finding suitable learning opportunities in the so called 3rd Sector.

    Unless,of course, being uncomfortable and supported to give-voice to this is the learning.

    For me it was. The issues were big,thorny and hurt. The issues were real. Ruffling feathers was better than OK for me. And, the students did so.

    There’s a world of difference between the offer of practical and emotional support, which most Vol Orgs do well, and social work. Sadly though the relational side of social work has been eroded and reduced to meeting the statutory minimum records and information management requirements.

    Advocacy, the ethical bedrock in both nursing and social work, a classic example of how the fractured development of services shows up.

    Developed as reaction to the Community Care legislation and the Contract Culture in the 90s, and, New Project Management and Managerialism of the noughties, resulting in the 3rd Sector ibeing in direct competition with the Statutory Sector.

    This is by design not chance or unintended consequence..

    Social Work is inevitably undertaken in a Hostile Environment.

    Ironically those seeking to change this can only do so through mechanisms of completive processes. Processes that are and never were designed for public and social welfare and protection.

    Except, of course, when it suited the incumbent leadership of the sector to do so.

    If all I have is a hammer someone is going to get hit and hurt, no?

  12. Kirsty January 19, 2023 at 1:01 pm #

    TLDR: My final placement was ruined by a toxic management team and a culture completely influenced by a contemptuous consultant.

    This article really resonated with me. My 3rd-year social work practice placement (100 days) was rife with passive-aggressive, underhanded and toxic workplace behaviours.

    There was a staff member (we will call him David) who decided he was my self-appointment workplace manager and practice educator (he was neither). He was hyper-critical of me from the word go and constantly called me in for “a chat” in his office for arbitrary reasons like “talking to colleagues”, “acting like an employee and not a student”, and “being too hasty to work with service users” (when I had been there over a month).

    In addition, I attended a consultation with a service user to see the service’ consultant. During the appointment, the Dr kept talking to the service user through me. I redirected him to talk to the service user directly, in line with my learning. After this, it turns out the Dr complained about me to David. He said I was unprofessional for not giving him the service user’s history when asked and that I was flippant and unsafe. He also told David that I was not allowed any 1:1 time with service users after this for two weeks and that he would not work with me for the rest of my placement.

    My placement sided with the Dr 100%; they held meetings about my ability to practice (!?) and completely manipulated and gaslit me throughout the process. It was clear that this Dr held far too much social power if he could convince the entire leadership team to turn against me on a whim. David, who was already very critical, lapped it up. The leadership team decided to honour the Dr’s request that I could have no 1:1 work with service users and “wanted me to write a 1000 reflection on what went wrong” to show my learning during this time.

    My practice educator found out about this and hit the roof. She held an urgent meeting, and the placement leadership attended too. My PE ripped them all to shreds, demanding to know why they thought they had the power to make such decisions about my placement without talking to her. Of course, they then began backtracking and gaslighting again.

    In the end, my PE went back to the uni and spoke to the placement coordinator, explaining this service was not suitable for social work students. I, unfortunately, had to complete my placement there, but the Uni never sent another student there again.

    I now work in a CMHT, and when I first started, I was so terrified to work with the Consultants I almost threw up before our meetings. I was hyper-alert regarding my candour and almost quit my job on occasion. I was utterly convinced I was unprofessional and was not fit to be a social worker. It made asking for professional feedback a minefield of worry and panic.

    As I have progressed, I have become more confidence in my knowledge, skills and partnership working with medical professionals, and I now can confidently say that the placement was totally in the wrong and should never have treated me like that. I make a concerted effort to be warm and welcoming to all social work students and NQSWs that join our team, and eager to support them with any professional dynamic issues they encounter. I don;t want anyone to go through what I went through, and will happily challenge any doctor or medical professional who mistreat student social workers.

    Thanks for reading.

  13. Tee January 19, 2023 at 1:50 pm #

    I had a similar experience at a drug and alcohol service for my second placement. The female manager did not like my honesty about my learning needs and neither did the staff. They just expected me to be quiet a comply with everything rather than for it to be a learning experience for me where my input as a student was valued. She hauled me into her office one day and started berating me to the point where I burst into tears. I remember needing emotional support from my family to get through the placement. I managed to complete the placement because I became compliant and very quiet for the final few weeks. The university did not help with this situation.

  14. Elizabeth Moorehead January 19, 2023 at 5:22 pm #

    So pleased not lost you to social work. I had bad experience with my practice teacher, but luckily my university backed me. Also lucky to have other great social workers/nurses on placement. I bumped into the person a few years later as joined my LA. TBH when they tried to speak to me could not be bothered. Learnt a lot about how to manage negative people and cherish the supportive ones. BW

  15. Opal Lady January 19, 2023 at 6:35 pm #

    Unfortunately, nothing changes. I had a similar experience at a LA in the West Midlands nearly 23 years ago.

    I got on especially well with a police man/i had previously been a Special Constable and we were ‘overheard’ talking about truncheons and it was taken out of context. As I challenged my neurotic practice teacher it was clear she didn’t like it!

    Lies was told about me and the placement terminated.

    Initially I contemplated suicide…I then decided to ‘fight fire with fire’ as ‘they’ had done the same thing to another black student.

    I took the matter to a Practice Enquiry Team. I ‘threw everything back at them’ I’d learnt at university..During the break I can remember one of the members of the team asking me how I had put up with the situation?

    PET found in my favour. My tutor didn’t seem to like the outcome. I was ‘up in front of the Dean’..I left the university/took a year out (was nearly put off social work).

    I went to Birmingham University and had a positive experience. I qualified in 2004.

    I totally agree. These vile creatures/placements should be exposed!

  16. Tom J January 20, 2023 at 1:31 pm #

    This is my regular- Thankyou to Community Care for allowing these voices and perspectives which would otherwise never gain a public airing.

  17. Jada January 20, 2023 at 8:10 pm #

    Man…I resonate with this post so much. My very 1st placement was awful! I was suspended by the manager of a day centre for adults with learning disabilities because I spoke up. She was going through a divorce from a failed marriage of 46 years and took it out on me. Finished my degree in 4 years because of this. Didn’t practice as a SW until last year because I was so put off by the profession and how I was tested by my uni.

  18. Buddy January 20, 2023 at 10:22 pm #

    Hi everyone. Many thanks to you all for reading my article. It would take me too long to reply and discuss each of your stories with you individually but I am very touched by all of your support and kind words and also the way we have connected our experiences which have a number of common themes and similarities. It scares me how common this actually is, and I never realised until now that there are clearly many other students struggling with their placements. I hope my article has reached you all in a way that is meaningful and I am very grateful that Community Care allowed me to share it. Unfortunately I am not able to share my name or the placement due to anonymity reasons which were agreed with the magazine, but let me take the time to thank everyone for sharing their experiences and persevering in times of pain and setback. Being a student is not easy and the last thing we need is a lack of support and hostility from those who hold power. It’s thought me a lot of lessons and I can also see this from everyone’s responses too. Thanks.

  19. Elizabeth January 21, 2023 at 5:21 pm #

    Having been a SW for over 21 years, I took up a Practice Educator role in a voluntary agency following my retirement (Having completed my PE training at a local University) One of my students had a bad experience in her first placement in a Cambridge social work team (I had worked in a similar team in London) and was lacking in self confidence – I needed to work on her self esteem and allow her to talk about her experiences which reeked of racism and discrimination (she was dyslexic) The voluntary agency’s manager expected the impossible of the students often dismissing their worries and concerns. I discussed my concerns with the other PE at the agency and we were going to tackle the manager prior to a new influx of students but the universities concerned, having spoken to their students. refused to place students at the agency. However, Covid intervened and the voluntary agency had to close.

  20. Abdul January 21, 2023 at 10:22 pm #

    I had a similar experience 22 years ago, in my 3-month social work placement in Australia. I already had a diploma in Welfare, and was allowed to work in Child Protection there, whilst I was completing my 4-year-social work degree via distance learning. I took leave from my work, and did my last 3-month placement in adult discharge at a semi rural hospital.

    The hospital was staffed by one lone Social Worker employed there by a local Community Health Centre, and she was also my work place manager. She was a horrible woman. She would daily belittle, berate, and put me down for quite minor things, such as using a larger envelope to post a work letter, and being angry at the money it would cost, and it was not even coming out of her pocket. It got so bad I did not want to go to my placement, and I would be crying when I was driving home.

    The bullying and verbal abuse got so bad that other staff noticed as it was done in front of them, but nobody said anything. I told my Mother, who told a friend of her’s, who said it sounded like my manager was on the verge of a mental health break-down, and she was taking her stress out of me, although I felt like I was the one on the verge of having the breakdown, due to all the stress I was being put through.

    As a Christian, it was only my faith which kept me going, and then I got a miracle 4 weeks in, when I was considering walking away from the placement.

    The manager called in sick, but her own manager was so alarmed as she recognised she was on the verge of a mental health break-down, and signed her off work for the remainder of my placement.

    I was able to have a long sit down with her manager, where I told her all about the abuse and bullying I had experienced, and they were so sorry I had been through that, and supported me through to the completion of my placement, which I passed. It changed the whole experience, and I was able to relax and starting enjoying my placement.

    I never saw or spoke to my work place manager again, not that I wanted too, and I doubt she would have passed my placement had she not been signed off sick.

    The author of the article did the right thing in walking away, as your own mental health and well-being is more important than a placement or a job.