Fay is a social worker in a secure psychiatric hospital

Fay Smith - Social Work graduate

Fay is a ward social worker in a secure psychiatric hospital. She manages a caseload of 20 male patients, many of whom have mental health problems and offending histories. Fay graduated from the Social Work degree in 2015.

"I thoroughly enjoy my job. Although stressful at times, I like the fact that I have time to spend on a one-to-one basis with my patients, getting to know them and their families. This is something that, from my experience, can sometimes be lacking in community teams when social workers have extremely large caseloads spread out over a large geographical area. 

What's more, I enjoy working as both part of a team of social workers but also as part of a multi-disciplinary team on my ward. This has enabled me to gain insight into a variety of perspectives in terms of mental illness, which in turn has helped to develop my own practice. 

Why social work

Before doing the social work course, I worked for an independent fostering agency. I loved this job; working with people, both colleagues and service users/carers, to make a difference to children who deserved the love and support that they had perhaps lacked at the point of coming into care.  

Working for the agency gave me real insight into what the role of the social worker involved and after several years of feeling unsure of what I actually wanted to do in terms of a career – this seemed to tick lots of boxes. 

The social work course

As I was returning to education after a break of nearly 10 years, I was anxious as to how I would cope. Our lecturers made it quite clear from day one that they would not be spoon feeding us in terms of our study skills; however there was a lot of support available from the library staff in terms of resources, academic writing, structuring assignments etc.

There was also a lot of support online, which tended to be able to answer most questions I had. And although our lecturers didn’t hold our hands, they were happy to go through feedback for assignments with us on an individual basis and also briefed us on each assignment in terms of the learning outcomes they expected us to demonstrate. 

The academic content of the course was split fairly evenly throughout the three years between social law and policy, theory and reflective and evidence based practice. There was a mix of formal lectures, role-play exercises (including a court case whereby we had to present a care order application to a real legal member, which at the time felt horrific but on reflection was hugely beneficial), group work and external agency involvement. 

I enjoyed the evidence-based practice modules the most. These involved a lot of service user involvement from a variety of settings, including child protection, safeguarding adults and drug and alcohol agencies. These modules contextualised social work practice for me and encouraged me to think about my skills and how I needed to develop them further. 

The practice placements 

Years two and three were dominated by an 80-day and a 100-day practice learning opportunity (PLO). These were a chance to put what we had learnt into practice, whilst being supervised by both the university and the agencies in which we were placed by the Local Authorities. 

In year one I had a 20-day placement in a residential home for adults with learning disabilities. This was a good way for me to engage with service users from a different client group than I had previously worked with and gave me an insight into how they had experienced social work intervention from a service user perspective.  

My second year placement was 80 days with Monmouthshire children’s services, working with the children with disabilities team. I really enjoyed this placement, and although I already knew I wanted to work with adults in a mental health setting, this placement gave me a chance to immerse myself in a statutory setting and the pressures involved. This placement threw me in at the deep end - I held a small caseload of both child in need and child protection cases, providing me with opportunities to experience a range of interventions and decision-making forums. 

I would definitely advise people to step out of their comfort zones. I had a strong feeling that I wanted to work with adults however I am glad I gained experience in children’s services – I have found this extremely beneficial in terms of understanding some of the issues that adults with mental health problems can experience as a result of traumatic and/or chaotic childhoods. 

My final placement was in a forensic mental health setting. I spent 100 days working on a low secure ward of male patients, working as part of a multi-disciplinary team providing a social work perspective to each patient’s care and treatment plans. I absolutely loved this as it allowed me to undertake direct work with a variety of patients, with a variety of different diagnoses and associated issues. 

As well as the direct work, it also gave me a great deal of experience in report writing for decision making forums, including Mental Health Review Tribunals, which was daunting at first but soon became second nature. Following the placement, I was lucky enough to be offered a 12-month contract within the hospital as a newly qualified social worker and have been here ever since.

Social work is not for everyone, however for those who want to work with vulnerable people and help to make a difference in their lives it is a thoroughly rewarding job. I love the fact that every day is different; there are ups and downs but overall I feel I am making a difference, however small, which makes getting up on a rainy wet morning and saying goodbye to my daughter, easier to do."

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