Why I love spending time with social work students

The final word in our #SussexWSWD14 blog series comes from Danielle Kerris. Danielle is an Associate Tutor and member of the Service Users and Carers Network at Sussex. Below Danielle tell us why she enjoys contributing to social work education. 

I love spending time with social work students. They are so engaged and supportive and empathetic. I did a law degree and didn’t like it at all, the atmosphere was much more cut throat.

I occasionally do presentations at Sussex, talking about my experiences of abuse. I used to worry about what exactly the students would take from these sessions but now I don’t. I realise that each individual will take away something different. There is so much silence and shame around sexual abuse. I see my role as not to be silent, not to be ashamed, or to feel ashamed and speak up anyway.

For myself, taking part in these sessions has been good for me in a number of ways. It has helped with my confidence. It has become part of the way I process and integrate my abuse experiences. And perhaps most importantly, there is something very heartening about being in a room with 25 social workers all straining to understand, asking me questions about what might have helped, what might have made a difference.

There is something healing about being surrounded by smart, motivated people all wishing to change things for me, even if they are 25 years too late.


March 20, 2014. World Social Work Day. Leave a comment.

At the sharp end

Penultimate post from our World Social Work Day blog series comes from Gillian Maher. Gillian is a member of our Service Users and Carers Network here at Sussex. Below she explains how her experiences contribute to social work education at Sussex.

I believe that service users and carers have a very important contribution to make, in relating academic rigour to the personal qualities which a good social worker must demonstrate.

Very often, the difference between good and poor practice is quite subtle. Perhaps the old adage, “It is not what you do, but the way that you do it” sums it up most simply; but of course it is not that simple.

Social Workers have to develop forensic skills in gathering, assessing and disseminating important information. They need to combine this with intuition, sensitivity, creativity and empathy, if they are to work effectively with their “client” group.

I hope that by sharing my experiences of life at “the sharp end” of the social spectrum, both as a carer and social activist, I can help to empower students to engage positively with the very difficult issues they will face in their professional lives.

March 20, 2014. World Social Work Day. Leave a comment.

New Poverty in the Era of Globalization: The Case of Taiwan

Good morning! In the final few posts in our series of celebrating World Social Work Day 2014, we hear from Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work at Soochow University in Taiwan, Dr Shu-jung Li, who writes about recent research charting the new poverty landscapes of ‘old’ and ‘new’ poor in Taiwan in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Over the past decade, Taiwan has witnessed a rapid increase in its population of newly-impoverished individuals. Driving this increase is globalization, and in particular, the shift of Taiwan’s traditional production centers overseas, especially to mainland China.

I was contracted by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to conduct a research to explore this new phenomenon.

The study held twelve focus groups around the country with 109 participants and in-depth interviews with 8 individuals. The interviewees drew from five major groups of Taiwan’s poor, namely unemployed middle-aged workers, single mothers, unemployed indigenous people, foreign-born spouses, and people who cannot afford the National Medical Insurance premium.

The research finds that a major impetus for the worsening financial plight of those who recently descended into poverty is the economic restructuring accompanying globalization. Moreover, the characteristics of the new poor are quite different from those of the “old poor.”

The new poor are mainly middle-aged, high school educated, and the primary bread-winners in their families with dependants at home. Most are able and hope to work, but suffer from job instability and/or the ability to find any re-employment. The majority of the new poor are not adequately helped by Taiwan’s current social welfare programs.

If the government does not intervene timely to create a stronger safety-net for the new poor, their families may very well become caught in a long–term poverty trap.

March 20, 2014. World Social Work Day. Leave a comment.

A day in the life of a social work entrepreneur in… England

We’re still celebrating World Social Work Day here at Sussex. Take an afternoon break, grab a cuppa and biscuit, and read about Kate Griffiths Zhang, a social worker with international experience who has started a social enterprise encouraging the use of outdoor spaces in schools. Below Kate reflects on what it might mean to combine her diverse cultural and professional experiences for a more entrepreneurial social work practice.

As I approach my 50th birthday, I don’t want to fight it anymore, instead I accept I am a Social Worker to the core. Social Workers are my tribe.

The last decade has seen me live and work between China and England. I have a China born partner, a dual heritage daughter and a huge Chinese family. We are settled back in England for now, so my current quest is to design a working life that makes a difference for English children and their families. The solution (if there is one) has to blend:

  • What I have learnt from my Chinese life (the benefits of being less direct – the strength of families in the face of oppression and opportunity – the limits of verbal problem solving).
  • My love for the outdoors, and my instinct, and now training (as a Forest School Leader) that reconnecting with nature, and with each other could have huge benefits for some of our most vulnerable children and parents.
  • My talents and experience – 6 years a senior manager in a local authority, I returned to Social Work practice 7 years ago because I wanted to make a direct difference to children. As a Social Worker for children on Child Protection Plans I began to experiment with different forms of “monitoring visit” and witnessed significant changes in engagement and openness form parents and children when I worked somatically with them in local parks and animal places (the RSPCA shelter!). One mother had resisted SW assessment for several years, court action was imminent, but after a month with this approach she slowly started to work with me. Change happened. K was safer.

So here I am with a portfolio of roles – social entrepreneur, Practice Educator, Forest School Leader, and FAST (Families and Schools Together) Team member.

I am designing and delivering a “Wild Family” Learning Programme with a consortium of local schools and partners for the summer onwards. My big goal is to blend Forest School and Social Work in a service for children subject to Child Protection Plans. A service that I hope will help reconnect children and parents to themselves, and each other. To improve family relationships. To improve relationships between parents and key professionals.

I am seeking local partners now, and have two university academics on board. It is slow, exciting, frustrating work – and for now pays very little. Maybe I will return to Social Work practice part-time to pay the bills, and to build my idea from the inside out…?

Your ideas and support are welcome. Anyone else working in this way?

You can get in touch with Kate at projectgrow [at] yahoo.co.uk

March 19, 2014. World Social Work Day. Leave a comment.

Dr Michelle Lefevre, Head of Department at Social Work @ Sussex speaks to the Guardian newspaper

In today’s edition of the Guardian, our Head of Department Dr Michelle Lefevre, talks about the need for high quality social work placements in social work education, and good support in practice once qualified. The article also features one of our graduates (MASW Class of 2013), Lucy Wilkinson, talking about her experience of social work education at Sussex and those first steps into the world of child protection.

You can read the full piece here.

March 19, 2014. Social work education, Social work practice, World Social Work Day. Leave a comment.

A Day in the Life of a Social Worker in… Taoyuan, Taiwan

We continue our series in celebration of World Social Work Day by returning to Taiwan this morning. Chia-Chien Yu is a social worker at Taoyuan CCF (Taiwan Fund for Children and Families) in the Taoyuan area of north western Taiwan and a social work student at Soochow University. Here Chia-Chien reflects on the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on the families she serves.

Cold wind and light, drizzling rain are two major enemies of social workers in Taiwan, most of whom use a motorcycle as their means of transportation to visit their clients in the winter. I work for Taoyuan CCF (Taiwan Fund for Children and Families). Unlike Taipei, which is in a basin surrounded by mountains that keep it warm; Taoyuan, at a higher elevation, is always colder and wetter, especially when one leaves the city.

Oh! I have to mention it; the clients that I serve are mainly single- parent families and grandparents-only-families. These families were originally self-sufficient, but after the 2008 financial crisis, they faced unpaid leaves and layoffs, and a lot of them could no longer make ends meet. Furthermore, many of them did not qualify as low-income households and could not be assisted by the governmental system and its resources. As a result, the caseloads of my agency, a non-profit organization, have significantly increased. Such a “growth of customers” would be great if in the business world.

After the morning administrative meeting, I looked at my calendar and started to plan the day’s visit schedule. The dark cloud indicated the possibility of rain for which I needed to prepare. I also started to prepare the rice, oil and other material goods that I planned to give to the disadvantaged families. At this time of year I try to prepare more goods for them, as the Lunar New Year was approaching, so they wouldn’t need to worry about any shortage of food. As most of the visiting sites were in the suburbs, after riding my motorcycle and leaving the city, I saw mostly farmlands, ponds, pools and large tea plantations along the way. Being able to view this beautiful countryside scenery is, in my eyes, one of the fringe benefits of being a social worker. I could enjoy beautiful views in the midst of my tight and busy work schedule.

The time was almost up. I checked the visit list, the maps, and the supplies. All was ready. I needed to get on my way, and I hoped today’s visits would be carried out smoothly!

(Translated by Prof. Shu-jung Li, Department of Social Work, Soochow University, Taipei, Taiwan)

March 19, 2014. World Social Work Day. Leave a comment.

A day in the life of a social worker in… France

Our last post for today is from Christine Bon, a social worker in France, who reflects on what the key social issues for social work in France. We’ll be back tomorrow with more social work tales from the field.

At the moment the main issue for social work in France is to challenge the risk and to balance the dilemma between social accompaniment towards housing (scarce) and child protection.

With the terrible lack of social housing projects in the main cities in France, and of available places in emergency shelters, and regarding the growing extension ­ both in amount and in intensity of poverty, more and more families with young children are lead to sleep in the streets.

So a day in the life of a social worker in France can be filled up by the few hours to try to find ‘a place to sleep’ – i.e. an accommodation for the coming night, in the cheap hotels of the suburbs, hoping that the family can reach it by its own means and to negotiate with the colleagues from the child protection services in order to prevent the placement of the children of these families who just can’t afford the cost of renting on the private market.

Another challenge for social workers in France nowadays is preventing impoverishment by teaching users how to reduce their bills for energy, the costs of which have risen by 30% in the last five years. We do this by organising information sessions for social work groups, social workshops and negotiation with landlords.

Intergenerational projects are also organised all over France, even in the rural areas, in order to prevent the ‘solitude’ of the elderly by social workers who unfortunately also face the absence of caring for carers programmes.

Prospect are not very brilliant nowadays, given that the economic crisis is really impressive in France, but hope comes from the alliance of social workers and civil society.

March 18, 2014. World Social Work Day. Leave a comment.

Our social worker secured our future happiness…

Contributing to our celebration of World Social Work Day this year is MP Alan Johnson who sent in this reflection about the ways in which his and his sister’s social worker ensured they were able to stay together as a family.

Our social worker secured our future happiness. I don’t think that’s an exaggerated description of the way my sister and Linda and I feel about Mr Pepper. As my childhood memoir ‘This Boy’ describes our father had left us when I was 8 years old never to return. Our mother Lily had a serious heart complaint which killed her five years later. We were told that I would go into foster care whilst Linda, who was training to be a nursery nurse, would go to Barnado’s in Barking  to complete her training as a resident. Linda was hearing none of this – she was determined that we’d stay together. Eventually our social worker, Mr Pepper managed to secure a council flat in Battersea despite the fact that we were well under age. He took a huge risk and has been our hero ever since.

If you would like to tell us about how a social worker made a difference to your life we would be happy to receive your comment below. All comments are moderated. 

March 18, 2014. World Social Work Day. Leave a comment.

Bringing colour to social work education

At Sussex we have a long tradition of involving service users and carers in our teaching and research. Below Jill Scholl who currently coordinates the Service User and Carer Network at Sussex tell us why she feels the network is important to social work education, and the difference it makes to the making of future social workers.

Service users and carers bring “colour” to the teaching and learning of social work students.  When we sit on panels to assess a student’s suitability to come to the University we look for the skills and attributes that are important to us. We listen carefully to their presentations to look for the humanity that is so important for a social work student. We read their portfolios to see how they record their work with service users and carers as this tells us more about the student’s ability to reflect and learn.

Service users and carers do not see themselves as victims, and we bring our perspectives of our lived experiences, good and not so good, into the classroom, to share appropriately and constructively with the students. These sessions are much valued by the students as they bring an opportunity to talk to service users and carers in the comparative safety of the classroom. What we have valued in working with a social worker, and why.

As students’ progress through the courses and begin their placements we have the opportunity to assess their progress alongside the academic and the practitioner. The student is developing their personal role at the same time as their professional role. This is a time when basics need to be re-visited, and the service user and carer can bring this to the assessment. The ability to work with people living in complex situations requires humanity, empathy, knowledge and confidence. We would be asking ourselves would we want this student to be our social worker.

March 18, 2014. World Social Work Day. Leave a comment.

A Day in the Life of a Social Worker in… Taipei, Taiwan

As part of our online celebration of World Social Work Day we have a series of three posts contributed from colleagues at Soochow University in Taipei, Taiwan. We start with Frank Su’s piece. Frank Su is a social worker at the Neihu Social Welfare Centre in Taipei, Taiwan and postgraduate student at Soochow; he shares with us what a typical working day looks like for him.

Like usual, at 7:00am in the morning, putting on my jeans, T-shirt and casual jacket, I deftly mounted my motorcycle and headed for Neihu.

Yes, I am a male social worker working at Neihu Social Welfare Center, one of the 13 Governmental Social Welfare Centers that serves disadvantaged families in Taipei City.

At approximately 8:10am, I arrived at the Center, opened the door, and as usual, was the first one to arrive. This was to be the most relaxing day of the week. At around 9:00am, after all my colleagues had arrived, we started our weekly meeting during which the supervisor assigned new cases to each worker, and we discussed the progress of the cases at hand.

The meeting went on for one and a half hours. I looked at my four newly assigned cases, and could not help but smile, for this was the lowest caseload I have for months. I was overjoyed. But after further thought, I realized that this was in accordance with implicit fairness principles. My cases were fewer compared to my colleagues, but the cases assigned to me were more complicated. One special case had attracted the attention of the city counselor, and the other case of a poor family was very complex in nature. Alas, my supervisor really thought highly of me!

After having a delightful lunch, at 13:00, I and a social work assistant carried several bags of rice to take to clients. The assistant carried six bags of rice, while I carried only three. I did not mean to bully him, but since I was charged with the heavy responsibility of casework it was only fair that I carried a little less. After all, I could not ask him to do the challenging casework, right?

Once we entered the client’s house and after greeting each other, I could sense the client’s defensiveness even though I had already notified him by telephone that morning. After my careful explanation, the client was finally willing to tell me about his difficulties. He cooperated with me on my investigation of his low-income eligibility. It went smoothly. Before I left, I had an intervention plan in mind. I left the rice with the client, and headed toward another agency.

Working at the Social Welfare Center, we must always maintain friendly relations with workers of other agencies. After all, in serving our clients, we are not working alone. We need to collaborate with workers from other agencies. It is the alliance of the front line workers of this sort that accomplishes a lot. After exchanging information with our partners, I looked at the time. It was getting late; I had to get back to the Center.

At 17:00, it is the time for most office workers to go home. However,

I left my office and continued my home visits at night. Because most children go to school during the day time, we social workers, can only visit them at night. Sometimes I get very tired. But that night, when I saw the smile on the kid’s face, it brightened my whole day, and it made me feel it was worth all the effort.

After the visit, dragging my heavy legs, I went back home. I looked forward to lying down on my warm bed. Finally, I prayed there would be no midnight emergency phone calls from the office.

(Translated by Prof. Shu-jung Li, Department of Social Work, Soochow University, Taipei, Taiwan)

March 18, 2014. World Social Work Day. Leave a comment.

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