Why did you decide to study social work?

I was going to be a nurse, and so I did an HND in health and social care, but decided while there that I preferred social work. The nature of it just appealed to me more. Halfway through my HND, on my first placement, I was working in a mental health team alongside nurses and social workers. Working with people in their homes and seeing the change you can make to their lives is great.

The social worker I worked with was great, just seeing him doing his job was the reason I changed my mind and decided that it was going to be social work for me. So, I applied for the social work degree at Queen’s University Belfast, and am at the start of second year now, on my first placement.

What did you know about Extern before your placement?

Extern came in a lot to my workplace because of homeless awareness panels, which were run by my HND coordinator. I knew Extern only as a homeless charity, so when they said my placement was with them I thought that’s what I would be dealing with. I had no idea they had all these other programmes.

What appealed to you about the organisation?

Just how big they were, and how much support there was. For example, the team I’m on placement with here in IHSS go in with families to stop children being taken out of the family home and into care. I thought it was great that there is such a service to do that, because the perception is that social services often go in and take kids out of their homes. But Extern work with the families, and provide parenting skills to help the kids manage their emotions. It just blew my mind.

What are the typical duties you’ve been doing in your placement?

We work with families who are not coping well with parenting, helping them with practical things. So, we will help with taking the kids to school, supporting them with their daily routine and ensuring they are staying within education.
We’re also there to provide support and parenting skills for parents.

A lot of parents we work with might have issues like problem drug or alcohol use, so we get them involved with organisations that can help. It’s about putting in support and linking in with other organisations to make sure we’re getting them to a better place.

Describe a typical day?

It can be very varied. I’ll maybe have to pick a child up from school and go through our Outcomes Star assessment with them, which we do every three to four months. Afterwards we’ll get some food and unwind because it can be challenging for them to do the assessment.
Then I’ll take them home and talk to them about what’s planned for our next session. Other times, I’ll meet another support worker and we’ll cook a family dinner, and make sure the kids get showered and washed. Or we’ll take them to meet with a new youth group, to help with developing social skills.

What do you feel you have learned?

How important a supportive team is. If you’re having a challenging time, being able to come back and talk to people about that and share ideas is great. The placement wouldn’t be as effective if the team wasn’t as supportive as they are.
Teamwork is very important. Everybody helps everybody, they know each other’s cases and are willing to help out.

What would you say to anyone thinking about working with Extern?

Just to go for it. My placement has been unbelievable. This team has been so great and Extern is a great organisation.
They have helped me decide where I want to go and who I want to work with.

Now I know I can do the job too, which is something I was nervous about. As a student social worker with Extern I have had to take on my own cases. I really have had to do the role, and it could have gone very differently if I didn’t have the support of the team here.

For details on Extern’s Practice Development Unit, visit www.extern.org, or tel: +44 (0)28 9084 0555.