Social Work Student
In this essay I will discuss how I feel that I have developed personally and professionally as a social work student during the first level of the degree course. I will do this through examination of reflective accounts recorded during the placement learning opportunity. I believe that the use of reflection has been very significant in enhancing my personal skills and learning about my own values. I also believe that the course has instilled me with more self awareness and has given me a better understanding of how I am perceived by others.
I have learned that through anti oppressive practice, social workers are able to promote inclusion by challenging discrimination and inequalities. In this essay, I will examine the methods, tools, and techniques that I have learned to date. I will conclude by discussing my particular learning needs and plan for the remainder of the course. As part of this, I will consider my learning style and the necessary methods I will utilise to bridge the learning gaps. As well as benefiting from the academic aspects of the course, I believe that the work placement has been hugely significant in my personal and professional development.
During the placement learning opportunity I was based with a social worker in a small unit attached to a hospital. The unit specialises in palliative care services to patients and carers who are affected by life threatening illnesses. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to liaise with many other agencies that were in some way related to the organisation. During the first year of the course I have become more aware of the importance of personal and professional development.
I agree with Thompson (2002), who states that the development of personal and professional skills is fundamental to becoming a competent social worker and making the transition from student to practitioner. Therefore professional development is essential to social work students and practitioners to increase and revise their knowledge and skills. Attention must be paid to enhancing our abilities to ensure progression occurs on a professional and a personal front. It is important that individuals develop professionally.
Taylor emphasizes this (2010, pg 66) by quoting that ‘students or qualified practitioners cannot solely rely upon personal experience’. He continues with ‘we need to develop our professional knowledge, otherwise conducting our practices solely upon personal experiences will run the risk of bias’ Professionally, I feel I have matured by transferring skills from previous employments to my present role of student. Throughout my working career I have had experience working in nursing and palliative care. Although these are loosely related to social work by virtue of being in the healthcare industry, when I embarked on the course, I didn’t feel that I had the necessary experience to draw from.
However, I have progressively grown to realise that there are indeed some key skills that I have be able to transfer and apply to this social work degree course and in the placement. I believe that another area of improvement in my professional development is my understanding of principles and key concepts in social work practice such as poverty, social exclusion, and accountability. I have a much deeper comprehension of values including empowerment, rights, respect, confidentiality and honesty. I am able to integrate them into all aspects of social work training and am highly aware of the issues surrounding conflicting values.
I am much more familiar with the Codes of Practice for Wales (2003) as a result of identifying them and relating them to practice. In relation to professional development, it is also suggested in the Codes of Practice (2003) that as social care workers, we must ‘undertake relevant training to maintain and improve knowledge and skills to contributing to the learning and development of others’. During my work placement period, I was involved in meetings with many different people working in different streams of the organisation. Additionally, the work placement has also helped me understand how multi-professions collaborate.
This has helped me start to appreciate the diversity of a social workers role. From a professional perspective, I also believe that the ECDL training courses have been very beneficial. I envisage that the day to day work of a social worker will involve the use of software such as Microsoft Word for reports etc. I also believe that a basic understanding of software such as Microsoft PowerPoint will be very useful for creating professional presentations. The academic aspects of the course will hopefully prepare me for the professional demands of social work as my knowledge gradually builds over the remainder of the course.
In addition to this, self reflection, planning, self evaluation and academic learning such as lectures, essay writing, work placement, will help me succeed in becoming a responsible, assertive social worker. As far as my personal development is concerned I feel that there has been a marked improvement in my contribution to discussions and debates. Although some of the subject areas discussed have been extremely challenging, such as issues related to children, I feel that over the year I have started to feel that I have a lot more to offer as my understanding of the subject matter has increased.
I feel better placed to question and challenge other people’s opinions on ethical matters and am also far more confident when having to make presentations to the group. I also feel that advancements in my personal development are vital. Thompson (2002, pg66) discusses the importance of it, ‘it is just as important as professional development. Learning provides us with a basis for personal growth and development by facilitating and encouraging self awareness. It also helps us to promote self esteem and a positive self image’.
As a student, I understand that I am responsible for my own personal and professional development in conjunction with the material delivered on the course. It is important that I continue to improve my standard of practice by embracing all types of learning opportunities available. Social work is a profession that continues to change and develop rapidly Trevithick (2002). Social workers are involved with individuals who are often in situations where there is high risk, complexity, stress, uncertainty and conflicts. Analytical skills and knowledge are required to assess and make judgement in these situations.
Legislation and research is constantly changing and it is imperative that social workers are well informed of any modifications. If we don’t develop personally and professionally and do not keep pace of these changes we will increasingly become more and more out of touch with the reality of clients lives and therefore less equipped to undertake our duties (Thompson 2009). Reflection has been described as being central to good social work practice, but only if action results from that reflection (Horner 2007). Having the ability to reflect appropriately and effectively is a vital component to developing professionally and maturing personally.
Reflective practice is imperative because practitioners have important roles and the decision we make about service uses should be thoroughly thought through. Reflection helps us to minimise risk and to prevent adopting ‘off the peg’ solutions to practice (Thompson 2009). Reflection supports developing our knowledge and learning from the errors of practice. We can develop ways in which we can empower individuals, be anti discriminatory and have anti oppressive approaches to practice. Interrogation of our actions will provide us with critical feedback and help us assess and evaluate our learning, ultimately enhancing our practice (Oko 2008).
Schon (1991) as cited in Adams et al (2009) breaks down the notion of reflective practice. Firstly, reflection-in-action involves reflecting as the action proceeds. This will evidently help us to identify new aspects of the situation and thinking them through while proceeding with the action. Secondly, Schon writes about reflection-on-action which involves considering what and why something happened after the event has occurred and the importance of translating this information into knowledge (Knott and Scragg 2010).
Reflection is a tool that has allowed me to articulate knowledge from theory in a more meaningful way. I recognize that reflection does not always provide answers but does lead to new understanding. It has helped me challenge the reality of theory whilst on placement and through actual experience. An example I can demonstrate this with is that in social work theory, services should be needs-led as opposed to resource-led (Trevithick 2002). However in reality, resource constraints that operate in some local authorities make this unrealistic. In reality demands far exceed the supply.
Reflecting back on the experience of the placement and working in palliative care, at times I did feel quite tense and despondent. I had not worked intensively in those settings for some time and in some ways it was a relief as the placement came to an end, not to be discussing death, diagnosis and prognosis. I often questioned how my practice assessor managed to achieve goals and practice effectively whilst dealing with such emotive cases. There was one occasion when chatting with a service user who had had a terminal diagnosis, she became quite open and frank about her prognosis.
I didn’t feel that I was fully prepared for her to start discussing her prognosis with me. Whilst, I felt very uncomfortable having the conversation I did remain professional and controlled. I was concerned that she may become distressed or that I would not manage the situation appropriately. Looking back on this experience, I am much more aware of the importance of reflecting upon emotions and hopefully this will help me to manage emotive situations appropriately in future. Self awareness is a way in which we are able to explore our own personalities, traits, beliefs, inclinations, values and tendencies (Oko 2008).
It is important that we are aware and are able to observe ourselves and the image that we portray to others. Without effective self awareness skills I am not going to be conscious of the ways in which I influence people and the signals I indirectly transmit. Self awareness will also allow me to build upon areas of strength and identify areas that may need addressing. Unless social workers are able to be aware of areas of vulnerability it is likely that they will be unable to react and respond to the service user objectively (Taylor 2008). Whilst on placement I encountered a service user’s son who was a substance misuser.
I have previously worked in a drug rehabilitation centre and my experiences of the center were not good as I was threatened and intimidated on many occasions. Whilst observing the situation on placement I quickly became annoyed and frustrated by him. At the time, I felt that he was selfish bearing in mind his mothers terminal illness. I found myself thinking about my job in the rehab center which brought back uncomfortable memories. I did not write or discuss this with my practice assessor as I didn’t want to dedicate any time thinking about such negative experiences.
On reflection, I now understand that it is my responsibility to confront such issues otherwise I will not successfully continue as a competent social worker student. I am aware that this encounter triggered an inappropriate reaction and I am committed to resolving these issues. Lishman 1994 as cited in Trevithick (2000) pg 84 states that failure to be self aware and confront such issues will lead to ‘falling into pockets of distress that will lead to inattention, poor listening and inappropriate actions’.
I am able to see the connection between self awareness and managing prejudice, discrimination and oppressive practice. I am aware that I did not have a great deal of empathy for particular groups in society and before the course started admittedly I did feel that certain individuals in society may have contributed to the crisis’s that they found themselves in. I felt that these citizens did not require prioritization or merit support and guidance from a care service as I felt that there were other more deserving individuals.
I have grown to understand that my judgments and thoughts were unjustified. By being more self aware and using reflection, I am able to be clear of my own values and how they may shape my practice. As I progress, I feel that by working with these groups of people that I will to grow to understand how and why individuals find themselves in these situations. I will continue to strive to develop my knowledge and hopefully as I progress, I will take time to educate myself and learn more about human behaviour. Whilst on placement, I was unaware of any form of oppression or any
significant injustice issues. Dominelli (1996) pg states that ’anti oppressive practice is a form of social work practice which addresses social divisions and structural inequalities in the work that is done with people whether they are users (‘clients’) or workers. AOP aims to provide more appropriate and sensitive services by responding to people’s needs regardless of their social status’. Reflecting back I recall a situation that occurred with a service user who was terminally ill. He had expressed a wish to die at home.
Whilst visiting the gentleman with my practice assessor, a community healthcare professional was present. It became apparent that the professional was eager for the service user to be admitted into hospital. She portrayed a negative image of being nursed at home and persistently pointed out the problems that she envisaged. I personally felt that this was because there would be a lot more pressure upon her workload to care for him and make the necessary calls throughout the day. It later became apparent that the community professional were experiencing difficulties with staff sicknesses.
This was his final wish to die at home and in my opinion she was using her authority to influence him to be admitted for her own benefit. I believe that her workload pressured her to do this. He was disadvantaged, very poorly and with very little to strength to debate this issue with her. At the time, I didn’t connect this to oppressive practice where the other professional exercised inappropriate use of power. I am now more aware of issues surrounding continuing healthcare and funding. I now feel that I am much more alert to these issues and in the future I would question other individual’s actions.
Anti oppressive practise begins with understanding myself and aspects of society were oppression is embedded. As a social work student, I will strive to value and promote every human being and their rights to be respected. I will attempt to work towards combating oppressive practice by acting as an advocate and practice methods of inclusion. I will try to ensure that I do not contribute to such acts and will become more aware of social divisions, power differences and the relationship between the myself and service users (Adams et al).
As part of my progression as a student, I have identified many areas that I need to address and expand upon during the remainder of the course. In order to successfully address these learning needs I have studied a learning model established by Kolb (1975). He suggests that there are four types of concepts that are needed to be effective learners. These include concrete experience, observation and reflection, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation (Knott and Scragg 2010). I will attempt to adopt his hypothesis to make the learning process a more straightforward procedure.
The main learning needs I have identified are firstly developing my understanding of theories and acknowledging the importance of the role that they play in practice. Initially I was apprehensive about making links but now I feel more confident as I approach the next stage. I wish to relate and recognize the connections between significant theories and social work thinking and practice and problem solving. I will achieve through this through lectures, reading and from practice on the level 6 placement. I also wish to become more aware of issues surrounding children and young people.
More specifically, a deeper understanding of safeguarding issues and the legislation and policies related to this that shapes and guide social work duties. This will be achieved through lectures, learning actual legislation from books, documents and through placement (if this is the area in which I am allocated). I would also like to become more aware of social work in the Welsh context and familiarise myself with cultures in Wales. The overall picture of the Welsh population is older, poorer and in worse health that the entire UK (Scourfield 2008).
I want discover why this is the case and how it impacts upon social work practice. I also wish to learn more about different identities and ethnic groups living in Wales and develop a better understanding of the use of languages and how these compare to other regions in the UK. I also think it is important that I build upon my existing knowledge of the Codes of Practice for Wales (2003), and have the ability to instinctively relate them to practice. This will achieved through lectures, reading literature and hands on learning whilst in practice.
In addition to trying to adopt the Kolb learning method, I completed a questionnaire to establish what type of learner I was. After reading Honey and Mumford (1995) literature I was not able to categorise myself into one particular learning style or preference but was able to relate to aspects of all categories. My knowledge and skills will develop with experience over the forthcoming years. I will take full advantage of placement to maximize my learning. I will try to become more observant of others by studying them.
I will try to adopt good techniques and practice when I identify them and also to learn from bad practice. I will attempt to make the most of tutorials and supervision particularly in the discussion of emotive, stress and management issues. Additionally, I will try to develop and improve my reflective. To conclude it can be stated that personal and professional development is an essential part of social work practice. Due to the complex nature of social work and the diversity of human behaviour, it is imperative that students and qualified practitioners continue to progress alongside an ever changing society.
Reflection is an important catalyst to support social workers in enhancing their practice. I am much more self aware and familiar with adopting anti- oppressive methods of practice. Whilst I am pleased with my progression to date, I am fully aware that I have many unmet learning needs which I hope to address throughout the remainder of the course. I am enthusiastic about the journey ahead and look forward to learning the skills that will enable me to launch my social work career.