as experienced social workers and practice educators, we’ve been asked by a number of student social workers to compile a list of recommended social work books.
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If you want an in-demand career that lets you make a real difference in the world, there’s never been a better time to become a social worker. If you need a little persuasion, here are seven reasons why you should join.
It will challenge you in ways few other careers will
Social work challenges much more than just your typical professional skills. Social work is practically challenging. No two cases are the same, which means social workers must constantly solve problems and apply their studies and experience in creative ways. Social workers also have a direct influence on someone else’s life, which can be extremely rewarding, but also emotionally difficult, which is why social work requires a unique combination of intelligence and emotional strength.
You get to change someone’s life for the better
You may not get a thank you or card every day, or even every year, but when you do occasionally get someone thanking you for helping them to overcome the challenges in their life, you will not be able to stop smiling. To know that you helped another person in some small (or sometimes big) way is quite rewarding and one that you will cherish throughout your career.
You will learn new things about yourself
The situations social work put you in are unique and often extreme. You will learn how to cope when someone feels unwell or has emotional and well-being issues; you will learn how do deal with aggressive or challenging behaviour. You will learn your different strengths and weaknesses as you constantly reflect on your practice.
Being a social worker is really diverse
Whilst training to be a social worker, you will be trained in all aspects of the profession, from child protection to mental health. While you can choose to specialise in one area once you qualify, you will have the opportunity to move around different areas.
It is not just a desk job!
At any point during the day, you may get a phone call that requires you to drop everything and go to the scene of a crisis. You have to attend people’s homes, hospitals, schools, and community centres. Being an effective social worker means engaging with the community and this cannot be done from behind a desk. In fact, when you do eventually get to sit down at your desk, you enjoy the short break.
Your job will never be boring
In social work, each day is completely different than the next. While you may try and plan meticulously, you can guarantee that there will be several unexpected challenges for you to deal with each week. Social work constantly keeps you on your toes, allowing room for new challenges each day.
Opportunities to make a difference
Social work is undeniably stressful, because you witness many challenges firsthand. You might have to help families living in poverty, parents with drug problems or young people who are turning to crime. You might also witness mistreatment of senior citizens or meet victims of sexual violence. Social work careers are not for the faint of heart, but they are for those who want to make a difference. Few careers offer you the opportunity to be an advocate and a positive force for change the way that choosing to become a social worker can.
Deciding on whether or not a career in social work is for you takes a lot of thoughtful consideration. If, however, a passion for social justice and an interest in both your community and job security appeal to you, then social work may be exactly the career you’ve been looking for.
How often do you change your tone of voice or find yourself adjusting your vocabulary when communicating with children? One of the earliest forms of communication for children is the ability to pick up on cues given by adults. Some of these are nonverbal cues, such as a smile, touch, furrowed brow, etc. Others are verbal, and come from reading subtle changes during an interaction, such as inflection and tone of voice. Tone of voice is very important in human interaction, as it tells us more about the topic of conversation than just the words. However, communication is not just about the words you use, but also your manner of speaking, body language and, above all, the effectiveness with which you listen. To communicate effectively it is important to take account of culture and context, for example where English is an additional language.
Good communication is central to working with children, young people, their families and carers. It involves listening, questioning, understanding and responding to what is being communicated by children, young people and those caring for them. To build a rapport with children, young people and those caring for them, it is important to demonstrate understanding, respect and honesty. Continuity in relationships promotes engagement and the improvement of lives.
The importance of listening to children
Children experience a range of problems and worries at home, at school, with their friends and in the community. Some children may talk in a way that ‘normalises’ abuse and neglect because that’s what they have experienced as normal. Alternatively, they may avoid discussing these topics because they are painful to acknowledge or because they’re concerned about the consequences of telling.
With that being said, it is vital that professionals and carers pay attention not only to what the child says, but also to what they are not saying. They also need to pay attention to how the child behaves. Listening to the child’s views will help social workers and others to build a trusting relationship with the child.
The importance of relationships
Looked after children and young people are vulnerable individuals. The experiences that led to placement, including mistreatment or neglect, will have resulted in separation from their birth family which, even if unsafe, was the home they knew. Developing trusting relationships is important for these children to help them build security through attachments. Continuity of relationships is key to helping children construct their identity and develop a strong sense of belonging.
A consistent message is that children value relationships with people who:
- are always there for them
- love, accept and respect them for who they are
- are ambitious for them and help them succeed
- are willing to go the extra mile, and
- treat them as part of their family, or part of their life, beyond childhood and into adulthood.
What skills do you need to communicate effectively with children and young people?
In order to communicate effectively with children, social workers need to be confident and have a range of skills. These include:
- active listening
- empathising with the child’s point of view
- developing trusting relationships
- understanding non-verbal communication
- building rapport
- explaining, summarising and providing information
- giving feedback in a clear way
- understanding and explaining the boundaries of confidentiality
Check out our Children Services resources out here.
In summary, spend some time reflecting on the words you use when communicating with children. Build a rapport, develop a trusting relationship and use language that the child will understand, but above all – listen.
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Social work requires a diverse and demanding range of professional, emotional, and cognitive skills. While many people who become social workers have a natural aptitude for these skills, it is essential to sharpen them throughout one’s career. In fact, becoming a life-long learner is an ethical requirement of professional social workers. While there is no definitive list, here are a few qualities and skills required to be a social worker.
This is vital in the world of social work. We need to be able to effectively communicate to do our job efficiently. We need to have the ability to speak appropriately to a wide range of people e.g. children, parents, supportive family members and professionals. These will all be tailored at different levels depending on their ability and understanding. From having this key skill we are then able to communicate effectively with a wide number of people who are also from different lifestyles and backgrounds.
Active listening and being fully present with others cannot be underestimated. Every person has a story and every person wants to be heard. In today’s busy world of technology, doing more, and pressures to meet deadlines, a client’s need to be listened to is sometimes rushed. However, building a therapeutic relationship means listening, really listening, to the person sitting in front of you. Active listening validates one’s need to vent, one’s need to be understood, and one’s need to be heard. It helps with empathy as social workers put themselves in the shoes of another to try to understand what life is like for the client. The bonding formed through the use of active listening makes social workers the go-to persons for clients and colleagues alike.
Honesty and Empathy
Even for the most experienced professional, working with people who are different from ourselves can be both challenging and rewarding. It is often in our experience as an intern in field placement that we are initially faced with dealing with worker-client differences. It can sometimes be awkward or scary, but it is those experiences that will force us to break through boundaries and rely on the power of empathy to engage our clients and develop sound interventions with them.
Technical and academic skills
As a social worker we must be able to use a computer and have a reasonable speed for typing. We need to have the skills to be able to use the system that we document our reports and progress on. It is important that we can write reports to a professional standard. We need all parties to clearly understand what we have written and we should use clear language and avoid jargon as much as possible. This can take time when you first start but you soon learn what words or phrases are best to use. We need to have an analytical mind and be able to identify conclusions and required outcomes. Again, this takes time and is always going to improve.
Self-care is fundamental for everyone. It is part of self-regulation, the physical and mental processes through which we create inner and outer balance. If we cannot self-regulate, we are prone to overwork, overplay, burn-out, and unhealthy living. The need for balance is particularly important for social work students, who must manage their own stressors (for example: balancing their desire to pursue a master’s degree with other responsibilities), and the feelings they experience when working with clients.
The following is a guest article from The University of Manchester’s short series on MA Social Work, which has covered everything from what it’s like to study from an international student’s perspective to the kinds of student support you’ll receive and even the University of Manchester’s reputation as a whole.
Katherine Almond is about to enter her second and final year: in the fourth and final instalment, she talks us through the kind of theory and practical skills-based training you receive whilst studying on the master’s, how this has helped her on placement and will prepare her for becoming a fully qualified social worker…
Upon starting the first year of the MA course, the structure is split between academic teaching hours within the university and your first placement. Teaching runs from September until January and your first 70-day placement runs from around February until June.
In the first term, the teaching is split into several modules, taught through formal lectures and workshops. One of these modules is ‘Practice Learning and Professional Development’ which runs from September to January and focuses specifically on skills preparation.
20-day skills course
However, when returning from the Christmas break, all other teaching ceases and students undergo a 20-day skills course in January, which gives students an opportunity to develop their practical skills before beginning their first placement in February.
This module is taught using various methods and strategies to give you both theoretical and practical opportunities to develop some initial skills crucial for your first placement. These include lectures, seminars, workshops and simulation exercises, as well as meeting service users and carers to discuss their role in various areas of social work.
In terms of practical preparation, there are several simulation rooms within the University, such as ‘the home environment’, the ‘hospital wing’ and sometimes we even get to use mock courtrooms! In these spaces, students are given the opportunity to practice with service users (who are actually actors employed by the University simply playing a role), conduct assessments and look at case management as well.
These simulation exercises are great for giving students a first real go at taking on the role and practical duties of a social worker in a safe environment where they are overseen by the teaching staff who can give you guidance and constructive feedback.
I found these sessions really useful as it allowed me to look at how I was interacting with service users and identify the things I was doing well as well as what I needed to improve on. This definitely helped me on placement when meeting real service users as I had already had the semi-authentic experience in the simulation rooms.
On this module, we also had the chance to meet groups of service users and carers on a few occasions. During this time, we had a chance to chat with them and understand their experiences with social work. It gave me a chance to see both the positives and the negatives, informing my own practice going forward, as well as gaining more experience in dialogue and just being more comfortable chatting openly and honestly with service users and carers.
Simulated ‘busy office day’
During the January skills days, there is also a simulated ‘busy office day’ which mimics a busy day in a real social work office. We undertook several tasks which practitioners encounter daily, such as prioritising incoming work, taking urgent safeguarding referrals; creating referrals for service users, completing a case record and undertaking a simulated ‘duty visit’. Here is a photo of my course mates and I having a much-deserved celebration in the Student’s Union after surviving a busy day at the office!
Social Work ‘speed-dating’
Another way you develop your skillset in first year is by meeting current practitioners who work in various areas of social work. We did a few types of sessions but my favourite was the ‘speed-dating’ one. We were split into small groups and had 5 different social workers chat to us for 20 minutes about their area of social work, focusing on the service user assessments they undertake with and how they go about conducting them.
I met social workers in working in mental health, frontline children and families; hospital discharge, fostering, learning disabilities teams and learnt about many of the key assessments they undertake, such the assessment for fostering care applicants.
From these discussions, we were able to gain an insight into how to have honest and open conversations with service users and, equally, how to have difficult conversations during assessments, all the while keeping the relationship professional.
I hope this blog has given you a brief but helpful overview of the kinds of work and skills preparation you’ll be doing in the first year of your MA in Social Work. Hopefully, this will help you feel more prepared for going into your first placement and build a strong foundation for your future career in social work!
Study MA in Social Work at the University of Manchester
NHS Bursaries for Social Work Students
Our Teaching Consultants and Service User Group working together on admissions processes
Teaching Partnerships were developed by the Department for Education (DfE) following Croisdale-Appleby’s 2014 independent review of social work education – the principle aim being to improve the teaching on pre and post qualifying social work courses by strengthening the links between Higher Education Institutes (HEI) and Local Authority (LA) partners to ensure that social work education is closely linked to direct practice.
The South West London and Surrey Teaching Partnership – Developing Together – successfully bid for funding as part of the third phase of Teaching Partnerships in April 2018. Since this time there has been a flurry of activity working with our Local Authority partners; Merton, Surrey, Sutton, Kingston, Achieving For Children, Croydon, and Richmond and Wandsworth, along with our HEI partner Kingston University, and Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) partners National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and Welcare. Overseeing and driving forward the vision of the ‘Developing Together’ partnership are the Programme Lead and Social Work Lead, Libbi Aldred and Sue Lansley, who, following their appointment in October 2018, have been responsible for ensuring that the key aims are achieved. In this blog we have looked at success and some of the challenges in two key areas; student selection processes and the development of the teaching curriculum on pre-qualifying social work courses.
As part of the changes to student selection processes it was agreed by the partnership that the entry requirements for students on the BA in Social Work would be raised from 112 to 120 UCAS points in the hope that this would see improved academic abilities in students accepted and thus a higher calibre of social worker once qualified. Role plays and group exercises were also introduced with service users and practitioners being considerably more involved in the assessment process. Whilst these changes have identified academically able students who have been offered places on the course, there are also some unforeseen difficulties.
There has been a significant drop in the number of students applying for places on social work courses nationally and this is mirrored at Kingston University. Whilst wanting entry standards to be maintained, Universities need to ensure that there are enough students on the course so that it is financially viable and this may require entry requirements to be lowered. These dilemmas are part of the discussions held in the student selection meetings and it will not be until the clearing period is upon us in August that we will have a clearer idea of what entry requirements have been for the social work courses for the 2019 student intake.
Those attending the student selection days have provided positive feedback around the interviews and roleplays, however it is clear that whilst the bar has been raised on course entry requirements, we will not be able to see if there has been an improvement in academic achievements until the end of students’ teaching. Looking further ahead, understanding whether higher academic ability will translate into an improved calibre of social work practitioner may not be seen until five plus years from the time of the current intake.
One of the most exciting and tangible areas of development for the Developing Together Teaching Partnership has been the recruitment of Teaching Consultants. These practitioners from our partner agencies are involved in the teaching of students alongside academics, as well as supporting in reviewing modules on social work courses to ensure that they are being informed by contemporary practice. After interviewing over seventy social workers for the Teaching Consultant roles, thirty four were appointed with a broad range of specialisms and expertise in social work practice. Training was delivered by the University around the planning and delivery of teaching and assessing students and research methodologies. This was gratefully received by the Teaching Consultants who have fed back that the role has invigorated their enthusiasm for practice and is a key area of development for them. The MA module ‘Applied Social Work Practice’ taught by senior lecturer, Maria Brent, saw the fantastic achievement of Teaching Consultants being part of the delivery of every session, bringing examples from practice to the classroom and ensuring that teaching is current around law and policy. The feedback from students as to the most helpful elements of the module has been extremely powerful:
“different practitioners sharing their own experiences”
“the ideas to bring different people in to run the sessions opened up a wide range of experiences”
“I found the lectures and afternoon sessions interesting and also enjoyed the teaching [consultants]”
“teaching partnerships v. interesting”
There have been a few challenges alongside the success as it was agreed by senior leaders that Teaching Consultants would have 10% of their time freed for the role. This has proved to be difficult as Teaching Consultants juggle a challenging day job with their role at the University. Although, this has not dampened their spirits and many are keen to be involved and see how the role is developing their skills and knowledge in the training and development of our future social workers.
So it would seem that Teaching Consultants are here to stay as part of Kingston University’s delivery of teaching – all those involved academics, students and Teaching Consultants can see the value of having current practice being taught by a social worker who is sharing every day practice examples. Our senior managers are keen to see how the Teaching Consultant role is developing their own workforce and contributing to the retention of these experienced social workers. Again, time will tell whether the input of Teaching Consultants in the curriculum will see an improvement in student social workers’ knowledge and skills when they embark on their placements and then into their Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) role.
If you’re reading this and are interested in the work of our Teaching Partnership, please keep an eye on our website www.developingtogetherswtp.org.uk where you can find details of upcoming events, blogs, vacancies, and ways that you can get involved.
Our next blog will look at the activity being driven by our ‘Readiness for Practice’ stream of work and how our Practice Education Team are working with partners to improve statutory placement provision and the quality of placements for students on Kingston University’s BA and MSW in Social Work courses.
Authors: Libbi Aldred – Programme Lead & Sue Lansley – Social Work Lead