Social Work Practice Learning Opportunities

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A valued member of one of our partner agencies explains the placement requirements and the type of placements available for students on the Social Work degree.

Why do we have practice learning opportunities on the Social Work degree?
At the beginning of the course each student will be allocated a host local authority for the duration of their course. The Social Work degree requires students to graduate with both theoretical knowledge and practical experience gained on the programme. Social Care Wales requires all students to complete 200 days practice. The 200 days are allocated as – Year One (20 days); Year Two (80 days) and Year Three (100 days).

How can practice learning opportunities prepare students for a career in social work?
Practice learning opportunities provide students with the opportunity to work with service users. You learn how to build professional relationships.

Where are the practice learning opportunities?
These can be in a statutory, voluntary or independent sector agency. Some examples are local authority Social Work teams, private nursing or residential homes, agencies such as Age Cymru, palliative care services, agencies working with domestic abuse or substance abusers.

Do social work students get to choose?
The first practice learning opportunity is usually arranged by the host authority, based on information provided by the student. As far as possible the practice learning opportunity will be in a setting where the student has not had previous experience. The second and third practice learning opportunity will be arranged following a discussion with the student looking at choice, learning needs and future career aspirations. It may not always be possible to meet every request for a specific practice learning opportunity. The third practice learning opportunity will be offered, if possible, in a team where the student hopes to find employment when they graduate.

What support do you offer social work students on practice learning opportunities?
We meet students prior to them starting their practice learning opportunity. On the first day of their practice learning opportunity we arrange an induction session with them, too. This allows the student to tell us about their previous experience, identify their strengths and consider their career after graduation. The induction session will enable the student to look at the facilities we have to offer, and consider our resources such as the library. For first year students we offer group supervision sessions during the practice learning opportunity plus a meeting to evaluate the practice learning opportunity. All students are made aware of a named member of the team who will be the initial point of contact should they have any issues during the time they are hosted by us.

How are students assessed?
Students will be provided with a Practice Assessor for each practice learning opportunity. This may be a qualified Practice Assessor based in the team or an external Practice Assessor commissioned by the Workforce Development Team. Students have to complete a portfolio of evidence for each practice learning opportunity. During the second and third practice learning opportunity they will be observed by their Practice Assessor or another member of the team. Students have to meet specific National Occupational Standards and adhere to the Codes of Professional Practice (CoPP) for each practice learning opportunity. The first practice learning opportunity is called Fitness to Proceed. Successful completion will enable the student to progress to the next year of the programme . All practice learning opportunities must be successfully completed.

How can students prepare for their social work practice learning opportunity?
Once students have been notified of their practice learning opportunity agency they should find out about the service, and policies/procedures they have to adhere to. Students are responsible for arranging a pre-practice learning opportunities visit to the agency at least one month before the start of the practice learning opportunities. They should prepare for this meeting by identifying any questions they need answered.

Any tips on how to get the most out of a social work practice learning opportunity?

  • Do not be afraid to get involved – agencies do not want to ‘carry’ students
  • Be prepared to ask questions
  • Be prepared to challenge others practice, if necessary. However, this needs to be done in a constructive manner
  • Be prepared for feedback
  • Remember that in the first placement you are a student, not an extra member of staff
  • Try to link theories learned in University to your practice
  • If you don’t understand anything – ask

Read about Sam's experiences on social work placement here.