My Placement journey has been one of many mixed emotions. I have found myself at times feeling very frustrated and despondent but on the upside I have been given opportunity to meet and learn from some very skilled and professional youth workers. My Placement began at my current workplace and I had completed 100 hours, but I was finding it hard to separate myself from my worker role to my student role also at times some minor conflict was present between my placement supervisor who was also my work peer when I was there on my normal employment days.
At first the dual roles worked fine but soon issues started to arise as I felt when I was in my student role and attending groups my supervisor would undermine me in front of service users who in some instances were my clients. By undertaking my placement in my place of employment often staff and management were confused about the different roles and the boundaries associated with each role. Although I was a student I was also a paid staff member and I often felt some staff expected me to show unreasonable flexibility in work/ student activities.
I don’t feel I achived any considerable learning from the 100 hours as it was assumed I already knew how things operated. I also admit as I already knew the requirements I just got on and did what needed to be done and forgot to stand back and observe the different family support workers practice methods. As I entered the placement with pre-conceived notions of “ I knew what was expected of me” I did not set any proper learning objectives or tasks, this compromised my learning greatly.
My Placement was terminated and I was back at the beginning of trying to find something new. As I am a single parent and financially could not afford to work less than three days I requested to undertake my placement on weekends. Eventually a placement was secured for me at Uniting Care within the residential out of home care division. The aim of the service is to provide accommodation for young people between the ages of 12 to 17. This accommodation can be either long term or emergency short term.
The young people who utilise the service are mostly children who have been removed from their homes because of child safety concerns, either as a result of serious parent-child conflict, or threat due to serious physical or behavioural health conditions which cannot be addressed within the family, these young people are all on child protection orders and have a Child Safety Officer who is responsible for the decisions regarding their care.
The service delivery methods within the houses include working with the young people in the placement and in some cases with their birth families. It includes assessing strengths and needs, developing case plans, implementing and monitoring case plan activities, and liaising with stakeholders such as Child Safety and schools. At first I was a little apprehensive about this placement as I had previously worked in residential care for eighteen months and upon leaving promised I would never return to this type of work.
When I was employed as a residential care worker in another organisation I felt over worker as sometimes I would be pressured to complete 50 hours shifts moving from house to house, as there was a intended sleep period between the hours of 10:00pm and 7:30am the management were not concerned by this. I would often grudgingly agree as I was afraid if I did not agree I would not be called for further shifts and I could not allow this to happen.
In the end I was assaulted by a young person and I contacted the Police whilst on shift and both I and the relief worker felt it was appropriate; however management did not agree with my decision and refused to support me. Eventually I could not cope anymore and ended up quitting feeling exhausted and burnt out. I went into this placement thinking it was going to be exactly the same service delivery but steeled myself with thinking it was not long term only 270 hours and I did have a place of employment I could return to.
However my first shift was at the emergency house went better than I had anticipated. I was pleasantly surprised at the differences between the organisations. Uniting Care operates on a two worker model and all the staff have formal qualifications relevant to the work they are undertaking. They are well trained and educated when incidents present they know how to professionally handle the situation. This is very different from my previous experience with residential care. I undertook my placement across three houses and the main office and attended student information session at the head office.
My role was to shadow shift the permanent youth worker and if needed offer assistance where needed. Other tasks I was required to completed included •Assisting to maintain high standard of cleanliness, tidiness, comfort, safety, homeliness •Creating a dinner routine with nutritious meals •Provide transportation •Assist with homework •Supporting young people to engage in suitable activities in the school holidays and after school •Assisting the Education Officer to support the young people to learn life skills in a planned and supported way •Maintain a safe environment As part of a team, identify areas where young people’s needs could be better met •Implement new filing system for all three houses •Develop holiday programs and education plans and assist in implementing these at the emergency house and evaluating if the programs were successful or not. During the beginning of my placement I was attending my paid employment on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and placement on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday 9am to 7pm. I continued these hours for three weeks but I soon found myself becoming very tired and run down.
I then applied part annual leave and part leave without pay and completed my placement on Monday- Friday which left my weekends free with my family. In regards to my placement experience I feel if I was not restricted by time restraints to return to work and if I didn’t have so many other commitment I may have enjoyed the experience more. I was at times frustrated and eager to just complete the placement as now with placement I had extra travel requirements and not a full income to fall back on and at the time had some very large unexpected bills arise and usually I would manage by trying to do overtime at work to earn extra money.
Also I had been advised that my workplace had needed to give two of my days to another worker as they were not managing with the case loads. I think this influenced my experienced as I was more intent on completing what was required and returning to work as soon as possible. However as majority of the young people are engaged with education or employment during the day, I worked mostly with the office day staff who taught me how to archive files so they could be stored legally. I also attended appointments with medical professionals such as doctors, ounsellors and allied health. On one occasion I arrived and was informed I would be required to accompany the day worker to a meeting with the principal of the Murri School. A young person in our care had recently commenced at the school and as a condition of his enrolment he was to repeat year 8 despite being 15 years of age. When we attended the first day there had been a clerical mistake and he has been placed in year 10. The young person had attended for 5 weeks in the year 10 grade before it was noticed.
In this time he had established friendships and settled in. The school was now adamant to remove him from year 10 and place him in the original year 8 class due to his low academic results. I was not made fully aware of the full details until a few days later, and went to the meeting knowing only they wanted to change his grade and remove him from his friends. I felt this was unjust and very unfair. I quickly researched the long term negative impacts of children repeating grades and learned there were no benefits of making the young person repeat.
Upon arrival I was adamant I would do my upmost best to keep this young person with his friends. I walked into the meeting and after hearing the schools perspective, I listed all the negative impacts socially, emotionally and the possibility of the young person losing all interest in attending school. I offered suggestions in which both the young person and staff at the house to do in order to help the young person reach the necessary academic levels.
In the end I had persuaded the school to allow him to stay in his current grade. At the time I felt I had advocate for the client but upon reflection. I was able to see it was a combination of negotiation and advocating. In this situation and also when engaging with the young people I feel I was also able to draw upon “the use of self”. I believe the greatest skill/ attribute is my personality I have a friendly relaxed personality with a sense of humour which allows people to quickly become at ease with me.
This allows me to quickly build relationships and rapport in a relaxed manner which puts the client at ease. As I grew up in a lower socioeconomic background and have faced many obstacles in my own life before I was in a position where I was able to attend university, I feel I am able to draw upon feelings and situations which I have experienced , this enables me to develop empathy and understanding for clients and the situations they find themselves in.
I consider myself to be a genuine and transparent and I will reflect my “real self” at all times. “Although fundamental to social work practice, the social worker’s theoretical orientation and mastery of skills appear to have the least impact on client satisfaction when compared to the social worker’s authenticity and how they use personality traits as a therapeutic tool (Edwards & Bess, 1998; Baldwin, 2000). During this placement I was able to begin to understand how theories actually work in practice.
Finally now I could begin to see the importance of human service values and how these values inform my thinking and practice. From my prior experiences with working in residential care, I already had some understanding and knowledge of some theories which are commonly used in residential care, and was able to reflect how I had previously applied these in practice. Two theories which have largely influenced my practice before entering and whist undergoing placement were trauma theory and attachment theory.
As many children in care have experienced some form of trauma and /or disrupted attachment relationship, I feel these two theories provide a very useful framework for understanding behaviours and outcomes in children who have experienced neglect, violence and abuse. By applying Trauma theory in my practice I have been able to develop an understanding of the effects traumatic experiences can have on a young person’s psychological wellbeing. Cairns, 2002) suggests that when humans are exposed to highly stressful and frightening circumstances that overwhelm their ability to cope, certain neurobiological adaptations can take place which compromise normal social, emotional and cognitive functioning. At times during my placement I often found it difficult to understand and comprehend reasoning for some behaviour which was displayed by the young people. But upon critically reflecting and referring back to the theory I was able to begin to understand that in most case an undesirable behaviour is usually a method for an alternative motive they are seeking.
Attachment Theory theorizes that human beings are born with a biological drive to seek proximity to protective adults (Schofield & Beek, 2006). This does not need to be the biological parent of the child but can extend to any primary caregivers that offer the child protection and nurturance. A strong and healthy attachment is the foundation for a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physiological development. Often the young people in care have not developed this secure attachment and as a result this has had impact to their emotional, cognitive-behaviour and social evelopment. However as my placement progressed I was able to observe some of the young people had formed relationships with the workers especially the house coordinators and attachments were forming. I think this a result of the consistency within the houses and to the fact most of the staff were permanent and had been employed for lengthy periods. This has led me to believe that despite facing abuse and neglect, if the needs are met, children develop and a sense of satisfaction and trust can be achieved from a worker the young people are able to develop a sense of attachment.
One aspect I did find particularly interesting was in most cases the young people had the strongest relationships with the house coordinators. They are responsible for buying the food, advocating for the young people, the youth workers are answerable to them regarding their practice (so are perceived as protectors) and the first person they contact when they need assistance. I believe these attachments are the strongest as the young people as they are able to meet the most of their needs.
Whilst observing many other youth workers, I noticed strengths perspective is most commonly drawn upon and frequently used amongst the staff when engaging with the young people. It allows the opportunity for the young person’s strengths, resources, capacities, and abilities to learn and grow to be recognised. By adapting a strength perspective young people can be viewed as taking an active part in advocating their own rights rather than be seen as incomplete adults whose rights can be ignored.
It is important to be aware that the young people need to be actively involved in negotiating their own futures, lives and outcomes but whilst remaining in the context of specific social, political and economic circumstances and processes A strengths perspective takes into consideration the involvement of young people in decisions affecting their lives and in challenging social structure and practices that impact negatively on their lives.
When I queried the senior youth workers on which theoretical perspectives inform their practice and influence them the most the consensus was Individualistic, liberalist and developmental perspectives as these tend to focus on the individual and their immediate social context or environment (e. g. family, carers, and programs they were engaged in). I also draw upon these perspectives as well as structuralist perspectives as it responds to issues that address broader social and structural issues like race, gender and sexuality.
On the whole the youth workers tended to work from a holistic approach. This is approach has many positive benefits as it addresses the many and varied complex influences within the lives of the young people in care, it also enables the youth workers to recognise ways in which the young people can be active participants within their own lives and participate in decisions regarding their outcomes and futures This placement overall was a wonderful experience for me both personally and professionally.
I feel as though I have learnt so much and have begun to grow into the human service worker that I know I want to eventually be and with the experience I have recently gained I feel this will be in the near future . Working with the young people has been very enjoyable. I have enjoyed meeting them and learning each of their stories and journeys and identifying with them their strength’s and resources they used to get them through the difficult situations they may have experienced. I have developed a level of acceptance and ability to be non-judgemental.
I have also gained a more in-depth leaning and gained a further understanding of resilience. All the young people I had engaged with have faced some form of adversity, hardship or misfortune It amazed me how these young people have been able to not only survive some of the most horrific situations but have effectively learnt to cope and deal with life’s challenges and still be able to set themselves goals and work to achieve these by being committed to education, employment and eventually transition to independent living.
I come to appreciate that resilience is not only about surviving difficult times, but is about being able to thrive despite adversity. “Resilience is not only about overcoming the odds, but being able to not only cope but recover” (Rutter, 1999). Throughout my placement I worked with many different youth workers across the three houses. As I was in a student capacity I was able to stand back and observe each worker’s direct practice and different approach to the way they interact with the young people and each have a different method of dealing with crisis.
By observing these interactions this has offered valuable opportunity for critical reflection, as each young person I interacted with, youth worker, team leader or manager I observed, and crisis or incident I witnessed, these all presented new ways of thinking and learning. This in turn gave me opportunity to develop professionally and further learn about working from the human service values system. I believe the skills and knowledge I have gained will be incredibly useful and I will be able to transfers these across many fields in which I may work in.
One of the main challenges I faced whist on placement was dealing with the amount of legal constraints and bureaucratic requirements. I decided to study Human Services as I enjoy helping people and assisting them to deal with difficult situations, but I often feel I spend more time filling in forms or I am so constrained by risk management I am unable to assist in way which I think would be most beneficial. A example of this was during a shift, a young person began to escalate very quickly.
This young person had a habit of becoming worked up very quickly then begin degrading themselves which would end in them self-harming in front of staff or absconding. As this young person began to get agitated I quickly tried to divert their attention in attempts to calm them down by engaging them in conversation . I soon began telling them about a forest near where I live that has a massive waterfall, rope swing, crystal clear running water and boulders which you can climb to jump into the water from. The young person became calm and very interested to see the forest and creek.
I agreed to take them with another youth worker and as I have taken my own children there regularly and it is visited my many locals, I did not think there would be so many formalities involved. After we had finally finished ringing around coordinators, managers and tracking down CSO’s, conducting risk assessments and completing paperwork, hours had passed and as the next shift was due there was no time left to take the young person. The young person who had been looking so forward to going to the creek was now feeling disappointed and let down. Shortly after they absconded, went to the local shops, stole some glue and a kitchen knife.
They used the glue to sniff to get high and dull the pain while they slashed their wrists. A local lady who had been walking her dog saw the young person and contacted the police and ambulance. The young person ended up hospitised for 16 days as a result of their self-inflicted injuries. I agree I also need to accept responsibility for what happened as both I and the other worker agreed to take the young person on the trip, but I feel if there had not been so much red tape and the young person was able to have experiences as any other child of their age without so many constraints the whole situation may have been avoided.
Although we are regularly made aware that the field of human services is emotionally challenging, it is not something you can fully grasp or begin to understand until you experience it for yourself. The disillusionment, frustration and dissatisfaction I experienced on placement is also experienced in my paid employment. However despite the discontent, I still truly believe social work/human services makes unmeasurable positive differences in the lives of people. I think the key learning for me is to not stop fighting for social justice and equality for all.