Recently we asked a number of practicing Social Workers, “What tips would you give to any new student social workers?” Here’s what they had to say…

“Learn the the importance of building relationships …. with colleagues, other agencies and most importantly the children and families you come into contact with. It will make every aspect of work that bit easier.”

“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and learn the importance of prioritising your workload so you have a better work life balance.”

“Utilise the support within the team.”

“Cultivate a sense of humour. Be real with families at the first point of contact.”

“Ask them (SUs) what they want, rather than telling them what ‘You are going to do’. Ask how they are feeling and not tell them how you feel!”

“Self-care is extremely important. Practice it often.”

“Don’t ever promise and not follow through. If you say you will be in touch, be in touch even if you have to say you have no update – don’t leave people hanging!”

“Be honest with the people you work with and colleagues. Say what you can and cannot do. Voice your concerns and don’t beat yourself up. Remember, you can’t do everything or make everything ok.”

“Read your employers policies regarding their duty of care to employees, use your supervision effectively and make sure your supervision notes reflect what you have discussed. Don’t sign supervision notes until you have checked them, be aware of the recommended case load weighting for newly qualified workers by your governing body. Read the case load weighting policy to ensure you are aware of your case load weighting, never agree to take on more work when you don’t have the time, never be scared to raise concern regarding your workload, remember you are contracted to 37hrs a week and you will not be paid over time. If colleagues work over and above their contracted hours do not feel obliged to do the same, strike when your union strikes, do not be afraid to challenge your superiors when it comes to safeguarding concerns v’s budget cuts, remember you are accountable for everything you do and so everything you do must be recorded and remember that you can’t look after others unless you are well in yourself.”

“Don’t get bogged down by process. Remember the processes are not the social work – they are simply the bumps and hoops along the way. Don’t forget to keep your toe in study. Keep your heart open to the people you are working with – it’s all too easy to start to see the people as parts of the ‘processes’ and forget that they, the human beings, are your raison d’etre. Move round service user groups to broaden your knowledge and skills.”

“Take your lunch break, don’t work late and switch off when you leave the office, leave work at the office door.”

“Never ever take work home, if it is not done commence following work day. Best advice, service users are at the centre of what we do. Use the Act and law to challenge and fight for social justice.”

“Do your best. Never ‘promise’ anything you can’t deliver. Actually listen to the person you’re assessing and remember that there is always something we can learn. Work with congruence & integrity…then you’ll be brilliant.”

“Listen to the person. Appreciate their circumstances wider than the narrow focus of your assessment task. Get a real sense of who they are to be able to empathise and understand them, for the most appropriate response.”

“Never be afraid to ask questions, never promise anything to anyone, start and finish on time, take a lunch break. Remember, you will never ever complete a to do list. Be kind to admin staff!! Stock up on alcohol and remember to be kind to yourself.”

“Learn how to bake cakes!! Your team will love you, admin will help you with everything and nothing makes you feel better on a bad day than a mug of tea and a homemade cake!”

“Don’t have your values & principles sucked out of you by systems.”

“Be nice to everyone you meet, spend an extra line on an email to wish people a good weekend or good luck when needed – you never know when you’ll need something rushed through or agreed before the paper works quite in place – it’s a bureaucratic business and knowing who to speak to or having a bit of good will can ease that process no end. It hopefully also makes everyone’s day a bit brighter.”

“Get your head around capacity, how to assess it, the legislation and what it means in practice.”

“Remember why you trained in the first place and also the privilege it is to be invited into people’s lives. Trust that most times, if you listen with all your senses and spend a little time most people know what it would take to make their lives better our role as social workers is to support them find a way to make that happen – it’s not always about resources it’s also about connections. Hold your values dear and don’t lose them despite the system we have to survive in.”

“Don’t feel that you have to offer a solution there and then…. it’s ok to go away, have a think, discuss with others, research etc. before developing the care plan.”

I hope this offers you a useful guide as to what to look out for, how to practice and support development. Remember, no one is an expert in everything. However, peer support and reflective discussions can help with your development.