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Advice for student social workers from those who’ve done the job

Posted on 23/09/2016 by

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I asked people from across the sector to offer some guiding words for students starting their social work journeys. Here's what they said...

You’ll see disturbing situations and extraordinary resilience

Social work is about using your curiosity, your intellect, your emotional intelligence and all your senses to understand people, the situations they are in and how they can move forward. You need to commit to developing yourself on all these aspects and to sustaining yourself through seeking excellent support and guidance.

This applies throughout your career – from your first supervisor to your essential mentor when you are a Director or CEO! Our capacity to help others is directly related to our capacity to look after ourselves. You will face situations that are worrying, disturbing, confusing, tragic – the list goes on. But you will at the very same time meet people who are extraordinary in their resilience and creativity.

Don’t be afraid to be in awe of people’s capacity to solve their own problems with the right support. Let go of egotistical notions of ‘helping’. You are an informed and highly responsible facilitator. Sometimes you will be protector – that is very important – but you should always be looking to find your way back to the facilitator role.

Keep observing practice and asking questions

Helene Brown, Social Work Student of the Year finalist 2015 @HellsBellsOne

My university tutor advised me to “stay positive and keep smiling”. How right he was! You will feel incredibly overwhelmed and exhausted at times and doubt your abilities. Do not compare your knowledge to others, instead observe their practice and ask questions to aid your practice development.

You are not expected to know everything, but you are expected to shout out if unsure. Relationship based approaches with clients and professionals are key to positive outcomes and managing your workload. Be a team player. Finally, look after yourself and reflect on your journey. You will notice your resilience increasing as each month passes. Do not underestimate building your resilience and emotional intelligence.

Avoid jargon and be reliable

Stuart Carlton, Lincolnshire council’s assistant director of children’s services @stuartcarlton

Be honest, direct and clear with families, keep language simple and avoid jargon.

Be simple and specific about concerns. Do things with service users, not to them, and use direct tools to capture what they think.  Assessments are done with people, not remotely at computers. The best plans are those that people create and own.

Talk about networks and who can come in to leave lasting support after you’ve gone. Be reliable and build trust. And lastly, remember, ask, and build on the strengths people have, even in the most difficult circumstances, they are there.

Don’t despair, blame or give up

Professor Richard Barker @swrb1

Never forget that it’s a fantastic privilege to be a social worker. You are privileged by working to try to improve the lives and social circumstances of the disempowered, the damaged, and the disadvantaged. Don’t abuse that trust.

Enjoy small successes, as it mostly won’t be easy, so, when things get tough, look to learn from difficulties and failures. Don’t despair, blame or give up. And work with colleagues as a team, formally and informally, give to them, and receive from them. But, whatever you do, don’t forget to pay your subs to the tea fund!

Some decisions will feel daunting

Lynn Findlay, senior social worker @fostercarelynn

Social work involves tough decisions that may seem daunting at this stage. These could include removing a child from their family (or not), recommending adoption, managing a contact plan or assessing if someone is suitable (or not) to adopt or foster.

You will deliberate research studies, past evidence, experiential knowledge, perhaps even use an assessment tool to guide your thinking, and you will always be guided by that ‘gut feeling’: the practice wisdom we often can’t put into words. But through it all ask the question “would this be ‘good enough’ for my child/family member?” and if not, ask why not.

What are the barriers? Reflect and question, and, for whatever decision you eventually make, keep detailed records of how you reached this; the thought process, actions and challenges. A child may come and read this in the future”

Be yourself, and aim high in your practice

Marie Addy, assistant team manager @xxMarieAddyxx

Someone once said to me early on in my career ‘be real, be yourself and let your personality and attributes shine through’. After I did this I learned that I could grow in confidence and found a self-belief in my abilities.

As you develop in your career, this self-belief in your skills, knowledge and attributes is a must. We must also have high aspirations for our service users. For some, we may be the only people they encounter that have high aspirations for them. So be a dreamer and aim high in your practice!”

Remember to take care of yourself too

Social Work Tutor, social worker @socialworktutor

Don’t think that you always have to be the best. There is no ‘perfect’ social worker and those with the best grades or the most efficient workers in the office aren’t necessarily the ones that make the biggest difference in the world. This career takes time to be confident in and even the most experienced workers are still learning every day.

There is no shortcut to becoming the worker you want to be; it takes time, experience and patience. Cherish your family and friends because they will always be there for you, long after you’ve graduated. But, most of all, take care of yourself.

You cannot have the capacity to protect others if you cannot protect yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

Source: Community Care