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Sunday, 08 February 2015

Engage: Learning in social work

Written by Alaine Shaw

Alaine Shaw is Team Manager for Children and Families Workforce Development at Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council.

Here, Alaine writes about the importance of learning and development, the role of a Link Officer and what inspired her to first become a social worker.

I have a passion for working with individuals from diverse backgrounds. I grew up knowing that people have different lives, issues and experiences, some are less fortunate than others, and everyone deserves support.

My parents were role models for me. Both of them had jobs which involved enabling others, and this heavily influenced my own choices in life. When it came to what I wanted to do, I was drawn to social work because I wanted to support and help people.

Social work is amazing. It’s such a versatile profession. It can take you all over the world and you’re linked to a global community of other practitioners. You can work with any age, gender and race, on a whole range of issues and in different organisations. There are so many different avenues to explore and specialise in. My journey has taken me from being a frontline practitioner, working in mental health teams, to supporting the learning and development of other social workers. The opportunities are endless.

As the Team Manager for Children and Families Workforce Development, part of my role involves coordinating student placements, as well as our programme to support newly qualified social workers in their first year of practice. This is geared towards making sure they have the best possible experience of social work, and can build their skills and knowledge by giving them access to the right learning opportunities.

Investing time to develop newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) is crucial. They need support in the early stages to properly equip them for a long-lasting career in social work. This means they will be able to deliver their work effectively to give the best support to children, young people and families.

It’s wonderful being able to help people develop in their own practice. I enjoy supporting my colleagues, creating a rich learning environment and giving them opportunities to grow. It’s deeply rewarding.

I’m proud of developing our programme to support newly qualified social workers. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support and expertise of internal and external colleagues and peers and it feels good to have been instrumental in bringing everyone together to engage and deliver it.

Tailored learning is important because everyone is different. I try to understand different learning styles and then develop relevant content and training methods to support continuous professional development.

That’s why Research in Practice is a great resource. Continuous professional development is most effectively supported through a blended approach of learning opportunities. Research in Practice uses a range of methods to deliver and share information, including printed publications and toolkits, events, online workshops, presentations and discussions, so there’s really something for everyone. The evidence and guidance that they provide gives people knowledge and confidence to know that what they are doing is right and in line with best practice.

Research in Practice understands how social workers work! They always mirror the current issues relating to social work, their resources are always relevant to what we’re doing and work to support practice in reality. The publications contain the latest available evidence and are really accessible, particularly the resources for frontline workers who are pushed for time and need short and sharp information that they can easily digest and put into practice. These are backed up by more in-depth pieces that give the full picture.

It was great to be named as Research in Practice’s Link Officer of the year. We really do invest in our staff and their development, and it’s fantastic to have our efforts recognised by a leading authority on best practice in social work.

As the Link Officer here, I’m responsible for making sure that colleagues get the most out of the learning resources and training provided by Research in Practice. I make sure that the right information gets to the right people and that it’s used properly. There’s a lot of information, best practice, guidance and learning out there, but we have to make time to access it and then use it. That’s where I come in. I run regular events for colleagues to learn as a group, organise speakers, arrange access to online learning, sign people up for monthly updates and circulate information on the latest resources and workshops.

Research in Practice is part of our induction process. It’s mandatory for new starters to have an introduction to Research in Practice so they know about the materials and learning opportunities that are available. They’re also expected to set up a RiP account online and sign up for the monthly ebulletin and Research and Policy Updates.

Research and evidence is embedded in our ASYE (Assessed and Supported Year in Employment) programme. When I carry out learning agreement reviews with newly qualified social workers, we always look at how Research in Practice resources, events or training can support the NQSWs learning objectives. There is an expectation that students on placement engage with Research in Practice too.

Learning works both ways. Here at Sandwell, we’re not only making sure that newly qualified social workers are set up for a great future in social work, we want them to bring their own unique skills and experience to us as well.

Being connected gives us more opportunities to learn. I appreciate being able to contact peers and colleagues across the Research in Practice network. It means we can share ideas, best practice and learn from each other, so that together we can improve the future of social work.

Ultimately, it’s all about research into action. Like the name says, the research and evidence is only any good if it’s put into practice. It’s my job to make sure that happens.


About the Author

Alaine Shaw is Team Manager for Children and Families Workforce Development at Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. As the designated Link Officer for Research in Practice, she makes sure that their staff can get the most out of RiP learning resources and services. Alaine was named Link Officer of the year at the RiP annual conference for Link Officers in 2014.

Research in Practice was established in 1996 by the Dartington Hall Trust, a charity with a long heritage of supporting innovation and learning in social justice.

They have been a champion of evidence-informed practice in children’s services aiming to bridge the gaps between research, practice and service users’ lived experiences to improve practice and ultimately outcomes for children and families.

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