Social Work Tip | Making the most of your student social work placement


As an experienced Social Worker and Practice Educator, I have recently been approached by a number of Student Social Workers all seeking some form of advice and guidance relating to their Social Work Placements. Whether first or final year placements, there is often confusion in relation to what Students should be undertaking and in what setting/sector. Ambiguous phrases such as the need to complete ‘statutory work’ from universities can lead to a misrepresentation of the PCF requirements. This can create considerable and unwarranted anxiety.

What makes a good placement?

It is right that Social Work Placements are an essential part of any budding Social Worker. A good placement is about demonstrating your ability. It should give you the opportunity to link theory, legislation, policies and guidance developed during the academic stages to front-line work. Placements should be about bridging learning with real life front-line experiences. This promotes the development of critical reflection, thinking and analysis. It is about developing your core values, ethics and skills – the key foundations of any good Social Worker.

Charity, Third Sector & Private Organisations Vs Local Authority

Throughout my career, there has always been a misconception of the need for Student Social Workers to have at least one placement within a Local Authority (LA). This thinking has come about because of the need to demonstrate their ability to undertake and complete ‘statutory work’.

Now yes, this may vary dependent on which University you go to. However, true Social Work, by its very nature, is ‘statutory work’ no matter what sector or setting you are in. My advice here is don’t get lost in the thought of choosing whether you should go to a Charity, Third Sector or Private Organisation as opposed to a LA. Instead, you must review what core elements of work you will be required to undertake and how these can be met against the PCF (whether first or final placement). For example, ‘Statutory work’ can take many forms. You can contribute to a Section 47 Enquiry (Children’s Act 1989) by co-working with the LA Initial Assessments Team. Likewise, you can co-work with Adult Social Care in the completion of an assessment to identify support for vulnerable adults (section 9 of the Care Act 2014). Even when you are not directly involved with the LA. So, have confidence in your ability to challenge, co-work with external services and use this experience as evidence of how you can and have completed ‘statutory work’.

Identify what support you will receive – including access to qualified Social Workers

You should confirm with the University and identified placement how many qualified Social Workers will be present and available to help offer you support, guidance and development throughout placement. If you have access to an off-site Practice Educator, make sure you are seen minimum of once a fortnight (for at least two hours).

Remember, some LA Services are voluntary and likewise, some Charity, Third Sector and Private Organisations will have access to no qualified Social Workers. Do not lose sight to the fact that placements are about developing good solid Social Work foundations, no matter where you are placed. This can only be achieved if you are supported appropriately. As I say to my Student Social Workers, the most important element is to evidence what you are doing/developed against the PCF requirements.

What to look out for: If you have been identified a placement within a Charity, Third Sector or Private Organisation, ask for and research their core business. This can take the form of a mission statement. E.g. Age UK (Wigan Borough) are active members of the Homelessness Forum. As such, they support housing and care options and are key members in addressing homelessness within their locality. They co-work with LA and support those in undertaking core LA business. Age UK are a registered Charity.

LA experience does not automatically mean it will look better on you CV

There is a common belief that having a LA placement instead of a Charity, Third Sector or Private Organisation placement will look better on your CV. For me, this is inaccurate and does other services a significant injustice. As I have detailed above, placements should be measured against the quality of work undertaken and not in how their business is registered. For example, my first placement was with an Adult’s Disability Service. Now, I went into Social Work to work primarily with young people who offend. However, I saw this placement as an essential learning opportunity for me and I believe it is the reason as to why one of my key strengths in Social Work is communication skills.

What to look out for: During the Practice Learning Agreement, use the PCF to actively discuss what opportunities and core tasks you will undertake. Identify that it will be essential for you to co-work with experienced staff/Social Workers. You can use the PCF to help write your CV following completion of placement.

Demonstrate your transferable skills

As part of my management role in Children’s Services and Youth Offending, I have been involved in the recruitment and retention of a number of Social Workers. In this time, I have conducted countless interviews – ranging from newly qualified to experienced Practitioners.

For me, a Social Work Interviewer should be able to identify transferable skills in a practitioner. They should not just base their decisions solely on previous placement(s)/work experience. For example, some of the best Social Workers I have interviewed and subsequently employed were those that had no relevant front-line experience in the team/role they were applying for. What they were able to do was demonstrate their core transferable skills and how this could be applied to their new role. 

The makeup for any successful team no matter whether you are working with children, young people or vulnerable adults, is in the awareness and understanding that you need a mixture of skill sets. Therefore, when you are completing applications and interviews, you should highlight the skills you have gained/achieved on placement and what transferable skills you can bring to a team. Remember, there is nothing wrong in identifying how you believe, with your skill set, you can improve/strengthen a team.

I hope this has offered some insight into how you should make the most of your placements. I also hope that I have busted a few myths about Social Work Placements. If you would like any further information or advice, please feel free to contact us. 

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