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Covid-19: A social work apprentice's view


When social work degree apprenticeships were just a twinkle in the eye of someone with vision, there was talk of them being 'dumbed down' degrees. This blog, written by a first year social work apprentice, is a lovely example of the levels of knowledge, skills and behaviours that the apprentices (who are mature students) possess. It vividly portrays high levels of reflexivity and passion for practice. When Covid-19 changed the landscape of health and social care overnight, the apprentices continued working and studying.

My thanks to @SWA-Tdubz (Twitter identity) for writing so openly about her experiences. I hope this helps dispel some negative assumptions and perhaps touches a chord with other social workers and students:

"This year, 2020, three significant things have happened in my life.

1) Started on a Social Work Apprenticeship to start a new career.

2) a personal matter that threw me for six .

And 3), to top it off, the year threw in a global pandemic.

And this all happened by the end of March… It was time to strap myself in and get ready for a ride of a lifetime.

The 6th of January. Day one of three years as an Apprentice Social Worker. I was extremely apprehensive just like anyone on the first day of school and work. But it was exciting! There were a few familiar faces amongst the group, which was comforting, and I had to remember all my small talk skills to start making friends. It was so easy though as everyone was super friendly and knowledgeable. Our tutors were smiley, informative and ‘contained’ all the whirls of emotion we were feeling straight away. All was good and the trajectory I was seeing for my time as an apprentice was looking bright and shiny!

Then my world literally changed forever when a personal incident happened. Wow my resilience was tested! When Shakespeare talks about all the world being a stage and all its men and women merely players, I felt like I was the narrator, main character and ensemble all at once. Trying to keep focused on working in social work, studying social work and making sense of my new world, without breaking down in a mess and letting the floodgates of drama in. Time management and mental health was looking sketchy at this time, with behaviours appearing in random ways. Also, it was noticeable that major life events can never be prepared for no matter how much you read or how many documentaries you watch. When we’ve spoken about people being the experts in their own lives, wow, it is ridiculously true! Fortunately, I’d found a solid friend and had some solid support. It was manageable.

Lesson 1: In personal and professional roles, you’ll never control how people may react but there’s a strength in sharing and testing trust.

Let’s fast forward into the first days of lock down: Already being in a department that was trialling working from home, we all started making our home offices and getting plugged in. Where to put a desk in the home where the internet would stretch to? I think I’ve set a table up in every room in the house, and not ashamed to say, have had a lecture playing outside the bathroom door as loo breaks are unlimited when working from home! As enticing as unlimited loo breaks and fridge raids are, the reality is far more trying. There was no separation from work, study, life as it all takes place in the same room. Getting creative in how I could find this separation in lock down was essential.

Lesson 2: When we don’t feel comfortable, dig deep and reflect as to why this!

I learnt so much about my needs as a person. What things really rock my boat and what things make me float. This supports me knowing my triggers so that any decisions I’ll be making in the future, will have more chance of being unaffected by my baggage. (Lesson 2.1: Triggers will appear unannounced and with no mercy. Try to become aware when this happens. Take note. Reflect. Grow.)

Regarding learning from a more academic view, this has been a struggle. Patience with technology has been pushed to the limit and picking up the phone and asking peers what they know has been a gift. The apprentice cohort has sooo much knowledge from their past experiences which is an amazing resource to be utilised! Reading around the subjects on social media and watching documentaries, because there has been no access to the library for academic texts, has been so valuable. We’re training to be social workers with people, so these opportunities to read and hear the voices of people has been a welcomed part of my studying when physical books were not available.

Being thrown into a global pandemic, I initially felt was the spiteful cherry on top of the cake of despair for the year. But what it has really done is shift a lot of core values and ways of living. I have learnt so much about myself as a student, practitioner and individual.

Here’s a breakdown of advice to myself in Jan 2020, to give you an idea of what I mean:

  • Strength in vulnerability is a thing. Period.

  • Walking every day and taking an allocated slowed down break is great for mental and physical health. It can be an amazing for connection with someone else.

  • Get lost. Being a tourist in your own city is surprisingly fun and fulfilling.

  • I am a human, not a hermit crab- physically separating home/work/study is crucial for personal productivity and sanity.

  • Ask every question you can think of, it really isn’t silly

  • Ask for help when you need it. It isn’t silly and it is definitely not a sign of weakness. I’ll say this again for the people at the back: Ask for help when you need it. It isn’t silly and it is definitely not a sign of weakness!

  • Take annual leave when it gets too much – leave any feelings of guilt about letting others down, at the door - you’ll be able to better contribute when you’re fresh.

  • Sharing opinions is not always helpful. Genuine support and heartfelt empathy is.

  • Did I mention to ask for help when you need it?

For me, the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed a lot of growth in areas I egotistically, looking back, used to be arrogant about. I thought I was a thriving student, I could handle the reading and the referencing. Oh no, I couldn’t! I’ve learnt that I need to slow down and really take a step back.

Looking forward, compassion really is key. To everyone. We’re so good at supporting the families, adults and children we work with but we forget to look out for each other as colleagues. This pandemic has been the pinnacle of a tough time, (and I haven’t lost my employment, house, family members, friends). I’ve had it comparably easy during this pandemic. But, someone, somewhere, illustrated this perfectly: We are not in the same boat but we are in the same ocean. Reach out and help each other.

These three huge life events that happened to me this year, each one respectively needed a different kind of support but equal measures of compassion. But ultimately, even if people couldn’t understand me, when I was responded to with love and kindness, I did better. I need love and kindness so I can continue to function and be better in all aspects of my life.

We all do better when we pause, take a breath and think with our heads AND our hearts.

And that’s it.

United Kingdom

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