Earlier in the week, I went out for lunch at the local cafe. I often go there for lunch – usually with colleagues but this time I was on my own. It’s a typical ‘greasy spoon’. It gives me a bit of space out the office and when not accompanied I’ll go on my own with a newspaper when I have the time for a ‘proper’ lunch break.
So it was I was sitting, leafing through my copy of ‘The Guardian’ and three women came and sat on the table next to me. This isn’t a particularly unusual occurrence. They were obviously students (because they were talking about exams and essays rather than their respective ages).
I wasn’t exactly listening in but it was hard not to hear the conversation due to my proximity rather than the level of conversation.
When they started talking about placements, my interest was marginally piqued and after a few more minutes of conversation, it became clear that they were social work students. Clear because.. um. . they said so (I am no great Sherlock).
I was quite surprised just because the location of the office and that particular cafe’ in a line of other similar ones is fairly random and not in the area of any of the universities. But of course, once it had been established that they were social work students, I was pretty much pretending to read my paper and listening quite intently because I found it fascinating.
They were worried about placements which were coming up. There was a brief discussion about favoured ‘pathway’ options and a discussion about how they all wanted ‘childrens’ services’ placements because it would make getting a job easier. They talked about the greater security of jobs in childrens’ services.
They were perfunctorily dismissive of adults services and working with adults. They seemed to almost resent the studying that they had to do in that area. I wonder how much of it is influenced by tutors at the university? It made me sad though.
I chuckled to myself as our borough takes students from their university so it is perfectly feasible that I could end up supervising one of them or a student from their course. In fact, as I left the cafe, I took a brief look in their direction to try and mentally register if any did come up to the office for a placement interview!
It brought back a lot of those anxieties to me. I think they must have just thought I was an odd ‘cafe character’ who glanced over to them from time to time. Every cafe seems to have a few of them.
As for me, it reminded me again how grounded in childrens’ services the social work agenda really is. I never worked generically. I’ve never worked in childrens’ services and didn’t do a placement in childrens’ services (my two placements were in adults services and mental health) when I was training. One of my social work colleagues is horrified by that and maintains that my university performed a massive disservice to me by not providing me with a placement in Childrens’ services – actually, there was such an over-subscription of people who actively wanted to work with children that they prioritised those placements to people who actively wanted them – I’m not sure the same would happen today. I know that doesn’t make me typical.
In a lot of ways, I wish there were more genericism and movement across the different ‘branches’ of social work – greater specialisation within the training programme and the post-qualification branches leads to the ‘generic qualification’ being less relevant and I don’t think it should be.
I realise I was lucky to have been able to move from adults services into mental health services. The only reason I was able to was because I’d had hefty experience working in older adults services so moving to a specialist older adults mental health team wasn’t seen as such a massive jump as I had experience of the client group. I doubt I would have got the job if I had applied for a job in one of the locality CMHTs. It’s not that common to move between ‘branches’. I hope that’s something the College or BASW or Unison or whatever the next incarnation of the GSCC will look it – although I doubt it – they have bigger problems to solve.
It doesn’t stop making me feel a little sad though for the current position and future of the profession.