Written by Ali Gardner, Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU)

ali-gardnerIt is always interesting to see the change in students over the three years that they are with us. Some students come to University ready to ‘change the world’ others are less focussed in their goal but all have a motivation to be there and we only select those that we believe can demonstrate this at interview. Key to our approach is our long history of working alongside social work students to promote their understanding of enabling individuals to have choice and control in their own lives. Making sure students come to the profession committed to these principles with both their heads and their hearts is central to the training.

As a lecturer, it is my firm belief, that in the first year of their studies we have to work intensively with students to test their values, motivation and commitment to the job and the road ahead.  Students need to know that social work is not the type of job where the social work hat can be put on at 9am and left on the coat stand in the hall when they return home at 5pm.  In a time of cuts, shrinking resources and growing demand it has never been more important to train social workers to be driven by values and supporting them to identify and work towards delivering best practice. One of the most powerful ways this can be achieved is to ensure personal engagement is at the forefront of their minds every day of every week of their training. There is a real danger that this can get lost for students juggling study, high tuition fees, work and caring responsibilities whilst fitting in 170 days of placement in organisations that are struggling to meet the needs of people even with the most complex levels of need.

This year we are working closely with Helen Sanderson Associates and the Community Circles group. Students will have the opportunity to learn first-hand about person-centred thinking tools so that they can experience the personal and professional benefits of these practices within social work. All first year social work students will create a one-page profile by the end of this year and will start to think about what it means to share information with individuals that they work with and why it is important.  There will be an opportunity for a handful of students to develop their knowledge and skills further and work alongside families as part of a Circle of Support.

Supporting students to develop one-page profiles which they are encouraged to share with their peers, tutors and with the individuals who they work with on placement provides a good basis to remain focussed on people rather than problems and to experience how it feels to share personal information with people they may not know or trust.  Allowing students to share a little of who they are can go a long way in facilitating a good rapport with individuals. It helps reduce the power in-balance between those in receipt of services and those responsible for assessing need or providing the service or resources

From the group of 65 students approximately 6 students will be selected to develop their skills further and work alongside families. In partnership with Helen Sanderson Associates, the MMU students will engage in training and peer support , which will be personalised to their needs to enable them to develop the ability to work effectively with families as part of a Circle of Support.  Social Work students will train alongside other individuals from Business, Health, Education and Faith organisations in developing their skills to work effectively in Circles of Support. This interdisciplinary training will be invaluable for the students in preparing for social work practice which operates within a multi-disciplinary context brining with it opportunities as well as challenges in working together to achieve best outcomes for the individuals they support.

The social work students involved in the project will share their learning with the wider student group through presentations ensuring that examples of good practice are shared as widely as possible. For those of our students who have come to us wanting to change the world, the opportunity to be part of a Circle of Support could achieve just that. This will be life changing for the person at the centre of the Circle and career shaping for the students facilitating; exciting times.