Increasingly social work students are being asked to act as
advocates. And according to Helen Bonnick, this is a good thing.
'Students who learn how to enable service users to make their
voices heard at core group meetings will make better social
workers', she says.
This is in light of student social workers being asked, more and
more, to be an advocate for service users at core group meetings.
There is a growing expectation among schools, prisons, refugee
centres, substance use agencies, children's centres etc., that
student social workers will stand beside service users in
challenging decisions taken within the statutory sectors.
Helen says this is a very important learning opportunity for
student social workers, 'Enabling a service user to make their
voice or opinion heard at a core group meeting brings its own
challenges and learning for students. My role as an off-site
practice educator is to assist them in considering not just their
own role as a member of the agency, but also as a student social
worker. Fighting the cause of the underdog can seem a very noble
pursuit, but the service user's right to be heard is only one
consideration among many.'
And among these many considerations is learning how to maintain
professional ethics while helping service users to bring their
challenges and balancing the needs of different parties as well as
understanding their role as an advocate.
Questions such as whose needs are paramount and how their voices
can be heard?
Helen suggests that this could become a prime piece of work for
critical reflection in a student's portfolio bringing together law,
theory and ethics all together 'in a beautiful jigsaw as the
student reflects on what they know, what they don't know, and what
they need to know'.
Much like the learning outcomes for family, friends and carers
from In Control's All Together Better part of Partners in
Policymaking - where the emphasis is on learning how to voice
concerns and be an active participant in the care of family members
or service users - Helen stresses it is not about learning to 'take
sides' but to understand the context of interventions, work
pressures or additional information which might be part of a
complex 'matrix' of needs and support them to think about what
could be done differently.
'My hope is that having made such a journey from the service
user's point of view now, their future practice as a qualified
social worker will be improved. Challenges from service users may
be met not with fear and anxiety, but with a confidence built on
sensitivity, respect and a strong sense of justice,' concludes
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