Learning to be an advocate? That’s a good thing says practice educator Helen Bonnick

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 Helen.

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Last Updated : 28 January 2014. Page Author: marijke.hirst.