It was student social worker Laura Dale’s own experiences with social workers as a child that inspired her to go into the profession.
Now in her second year at Northumbria University, Laura is coming to the end of a four-month placement with the children and young people’s services at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW).
Having been in care herself as a child, Laura feels she is able to relate to the young people she works with. “I had a positive experience with the local authorities but understand that not everyone does,” she explained. “I wanted to work in something that has been a big part of my life and to be able to give something back to others in similar situations.”
Laura bases a lot of her work on the social workers that stood out to her during her childhood. The things that she found made a good social worker were someone who is approachable, supportive and who always follows through with what they say.
She said: “For me, the social workers that stand out are the ones that didn’t promise things that weren’t going to happen.”
“They made me feel like I had security. I didn’t have parents so I knew I could turn to them for help and support.”
While Laura acknowledges that the same thing doesn’t work for everyone, she thinks that knowing what worked well for her can help inform how to support others.
Laura’s placement with CNTW has involved attending meetings on behalf of the service, doing assessments and school observations, interviewing teachers and looking at children’s developmental history.
She says the best part of the job is helping someone to start making changes that will meet their needs.
Of course with such a demanding job there are things that Laura finds difficult. “I think it’s hard to remain resilient,” she said.
“Seeing someone else’s pain and not always being able to find a solution straight away can be frustrating and upsetting.”
Throughout her course Laura has done placements in a number of settings including in a primary school, a dementia day centre and emergency social care.
A time that stands out to Laura on placement is when she worked with a child who wasn’t attending school.
She explained: “The child hadn’t done a full week at school but after working with them and their parents we got the child to do a full five weeks.”
“A lot of social work is about problem solving; for this family we were looking at the barriers to understand why the child was not attending school, and what we could do about these. I felt proud and felt as though I’d really been able to make a difference.”
Forming relationships with service users is the backbone of social work. Laura describes how the more you get to know service users the more they will open up.
For her, the three things that make a good relationship are trust, respect and a non-judgemental approach.
She said: “I think it’s important to put yourself in other people’s shoes. You might not have had the same experience but you need to have an understanding of how different things can affect people.”
“I also think it’s important to have consistency. I found when I was younger there was a high turnover of social workers and having to explain your story over and over can be damaging.”
Laura understands that not everyone has the positive experiences that she did and can understand where negative perceptions of social workers can come from. “I try not to think about those perceptions and focus on doing my job the best I can”, she said.