My interests have always been within the domain of health and social care, and additionally issues such as inequality and social injustice. Thus, I ensured that a couple of my GCSE and A-level subject choices enabled me to further study my interests. I made the decision to study GCSE and A-level Health and Social Care and Sociology. This provided me with the opportunity to explore different health and social care roles and obtain a deeper understanding of sociological theories and perspectives.
Once I recognised the broad field of work that social work offers, I was so intrigued. Knowing that I could go into a career that would identify where my strengths are and allow me to match these with a particular field of work really sat well with me as opposed to a career that didn’t have much room to diversify.
What kind of impact do you want to make on people’s lives?
I am determined to be able to advocate for individuals and families to ensure their rights and needs are being met and to help them overcome difficult situations. It is often the case that individuals are not aware of their entitlements and are being downtrodden. Thus, challenging inequality and creating opportunities for service users to feel empowered is additionally a positive impact I want to bring to my role as a social worker.
What advice would you give to any A Level or BTEC students about their studies?
Do not worry if your current studies don’t link to social work as students who study social work at university come from very different educational backgrounds. The teaching at the University of York is in-depth and does not require you to know a lot before the course begins. Thus, if you think you have the right goals and values, then social work could be the path for you. However, I think it would be extremely useful to keep up to date with the current world of social work which is easily accessible via the news and online articles. You could also use your social media platforms to connect with the world of social work – I find Twitter great for this.
What advice would you give to these students about: a) getting relevant work experience; and b) about developing the right skills and knowledge for social work?
I understand that finding work experience as a school or college/sixth form student can be difficult to obtain or fit around your studies. If you’re struggling to find relevant work experience, I think it would be most important to focus on finding experience which involves working with people in your half-term breaks, at the weekend, or during the summer.
As a social worker, you will always be working with people whether this is a service user or your colleagues and other professionals. Therefore, work experience can enable you to develop your communication skills which are critical. If you can obtain some experience within the health and social care setting such as care homes, schools, and community resources then this is great. I was able to spend two weeks in a primary school working closely with teachers and young pupils once I had finished my exams in my first year of sixth form which was insightful into children’s development. I also found that working part-time in retail provided me with a massive confidence boost and not only did this enable me to build on my communication and people skills, but also my professionalism.
It is beneficial to use any work experience to think about the skills and knowledge that you’re developing. However, do not put pressure on yourself to come to university having developed the right skills and knowledge. This development will come with practice and experience and there is always room to develop, even as a fully qualified social worker.
What have you enjoyed most about the course so far?
Firstly, meeting so many alike people has been a highlight for me. You will make friends for life, and it is so important to support one another through your university and placement experiences. You will never be without support, whether this is from your colleagues or members of staff from the social work department. Additionally, members of staff in the department have backgrounds and experiences in different fields of social work, which I have found extremely interesting and helpful throughout my studies.
In terms of the course content, there were specific modules that I really enjoyed and gelled with. In particular, the Law and Policy module in year 3 was insightful, and though it seemed daunting, I was constantly learning. I was able to combine my learning of policy and law to write a legal and policy analysis in response to a ‘real-world case’. This module content really confirmed my interests in the role of the Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) which I hope to focus my dissertation on.
Has anything surprised you?
One of the main surprises for me was the opportunity to work together with my course friends. Though I like to learn independently, I also really enjoy working with other people. Thus, working on group tasks and group presentations was enjoyable and beneficial to my learning. I approached university teaching with the daunting idea that everything is worked on independently and there is very little opportunity to work alongside your cohort. However, this was quickly proved wrong which was a nice surprise.
Has your understanding of social work changed since you started the course and if so, how?
Though I had a good understanding of the role of a social worker in some fields, I was still naïve to all the areas in which social workers could potentially work. My first placement really informed me about the role of a qualified social worker in the area of sight loss which is a role I was not aware social workers filled. Thus, my placement experience prompted me to research further and develop my understanding of the fields of social work.
Additionally, my understanding of multi-agency working, its importance and its implications has significantly increased. Multi-agency working is a bigger part of social work than I had imagined, therefore, university teaching on this has changed my understanding of how social workers provide their services.