The Degree in Social Work was established in Northern Ireland in 2004. It is a three year academic qualification (Undergraduate Route – UGR) with a further assessed year in employment. There is also a fast track two year (Relevant Graduate Route – RGR) taught degree also with an additional assessed year in employment for people who already hold a relevant degree. Whatever route is taken, students are required to undergo two substantial periods of supervised practice learning (85 and 100 days respectively). The importance of this is emphasised within the specification for the Degree in Social Work. In both of these practice learning periods students are required to show how they have taken their teaching from their course and have been able to develop practice within their learning setting which is founded on strong values, is carried out in a skilled manner and is informed by knowledge, critical analysis and reflection. A distinction is made between what is expected of a student on their first period of practice learning (85 days) and the second period (100 days) which takes place later in their training (the differences in these two levels are outlined in the Regional PLO Handbook Part 2 which can be accessed from www.nidswp.net).
Throughout the first placement a beginning ability to apply knowledge, skills and values will be required. Bryson recognises that some students coming on their first practice learning period may, due to their age or limited previous experience, be coming to the area of work referred to above for the first time in their lives. Every effort will be made to support students and plan how best to meet this challenge, particularly in the early stages of the practice learning period. Students undertaking their final practice learning period are expected to develop a more integrated, confident and competent application of knowledge, skills and values relevant to the work setting.
Bryson Practice Learning Requirements
The Degree in Social Work stipulates that supervised and assessed practice learning should offer a range of experiences to students and these are known as the Practice Learning Requirements. There are nine mandatory assessed practice leaning requirements which students are required to cover these over the course of both their practice learning periods. These include:
Our placements provide students with an opportunity to complete supervised and assessed placements which offer a range of experiences to help understand, acquire and demonstrate transferability of knowledge, skills and values in practice. The requirements are fully outlined and detailed in the Regional PLO Handbook Part 1 & 2, and some of them are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Degree in Social Work Partnership, for example, in ensuring that students work in at least 2 different settings and that they provide services to at least two user groups. We seek to be creative and flexible in helping students meet the remaining relevant practice learning requirements that are stipulated by the Social Work Degree and these are outlined below:
Carrying out Statutory Tasks
Although, operating from within the voluntary sector, Bryson will offer opportunities for students to practice in ways that relate to statutory mandates. All students will be working with situations involving children and there will be issues and concerns as to their welfare. This will range across a wide continuum, from situations where practical and emotional support is required to those where a child may have experienced or witnessed extreme family violence. All students will need to be aware of the statutory basis underpinning their work, that is the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 and be able to relate their interventions to this. Some students may be operating de facto for Health and Social Care Trusts or other statutory bodies and, again, very much within the context of the above Order.
In situations of domestic violence, then student interventions will also need to be made with an understanding of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence (NI) Order 1998.
There is also further legislation relevant to both these settings that students should be mindful of and this includes:
This will not be automatically available to students placed with Bryson, although learning opportunities may arise for students to facilitate and work with some groups within the communities that they are based. If appropriate, and in line with the detailed guidance within the Regional Handbook and the needs of service users, accessing opportunities for group care experiences with partner agencies will also be considered.
The contested nature, scope and purpose of social work in a contested society
Working with families experiencing difficulties some of whom have been traumatised and possibly broken up as a result of violence, will present significant value challenges to students. Contentious issues will be likely to arise. What makes a family in the modern world given that many adults and children, either from choice or circumstance, live in arrangements far removed from the traditional nuclear family? How much autonomy should families be allowed to develop their own values and practices and how much of this should be open to society and systems of child protection? How does one promote the best interests of families? How does one balance a child’s right to family life and deal with the risks that go with it?
Similarly the tensions inherent in rights versus risk issues for other vulnerable people within society may arise for students engaged within the Multi-Cultural Resource Centre service. When issues of religion, ethnicity and culture are added to the mix, the challenges to work positively across different situations will grow.
Many complex issues arise within mental health work, not least to subject of medication and should individuals be forced to take their medication. Another complexity within this work is the public perception of people with a mental health problem as there is still a lot of prejudice around and students in this setting will have an opportunity to work with many of these contentious issues. Supervision will seek to provide a supportive space to help students to develop their practice in these contested areas.
Participating in formal decision making forums
Within the Family Support setting students will be offered the opportunity to participate in decision making referral meetings and reviews involving the families they are working with and the referring social workers, and also case reviews, also core group meetings and multi-agency meetings. Students in our partner agencies will also attend formal decision making forums such as Child Protection Case Conferences, Looked After Child Reviews (LAC), Care planning meetings, MARAC meetings, Hostel Panel meetings and Prison Video link interviews.
Participation and presentation to courts, tribunals or other formal hearings
In some situations it may be possible for students to attend case conferences and possibly the Family Court, and, depending on the needs of the service users, such opportunities will be actively sought. Following the guidance in the Regional Handbook, there will also be the opportunity for students to engage in Action Learning Work to forward their understanding of the legal process and its impact on the families, women and children they are working with. (Refer to exercise 8).
Bryson’s ethos is centred on engaging and capacity building within disadvantaged communities. Students will be given the opportunity to profile the areas where service users live and think about the relevance of creating, supporting and sustaining links to possible resources within the community. (Detailed guidance is provided in the Regional PLO Handbook Part 2).There is specific guidance for this also available on the Northern Ireland Degree in Social Work Partnership website.