News + Views

Life as a social work student experiencing placement during COVID-19

In light of the COVID-19 restrictions, the six social work students at the Mental Health Legal Centre, Law and Advocacy Centre for Women and YouthLaw have since experienced the most unconventional placement within community legal centres to date.

Since transitioning to working from home arrangements, the placement activities for all of us have changed in some way, although the extent to which it has, has varied individually. Students on their second field placement, who predominantly work on research projects along with some limited client interaction, have found the former amplified whilst the latter has fallen away. Alternately, students on their first placement have found that their initial direct practice has become largely incompatible with physical distancing, RMIT policy and other COVID-19 regulations. Therefore, research tasks have taken centre stage as part of their role on placement, with the continuation of some secondary client work.

We have all felt the challenges of transitioning to an isolated work situation, where we are not in the physical presence of our colleagues, both for the social outlet and collaborative problem-solving. Whilst our respective cats and dogs make excellent company, they certainly lack the critical social work skills that we rely on in the execution of our work. Nevertheless, with a bit of wind in our sails we have persevered and become self-motivated – a skill many social work students would hope to gain in their placement.

There are some strategies we have found useful to minimise the difficulties associated with working from home. Creating a designated office space, in addition to ‘leaving’ on time each day, affords us the ability to set workplace boundaries, therefore creating a scheduled time for productivity. On top of that, having a daily ritual to signify the end of a placement workday, such as going for a walk as soon as close of business hits, helps to create a distinction between ‘placement’ and ‘home’. As social workers, the work can be a little heavy at times so this distinction helps us switch off at the end of the day. Thankfully, when we do feel like we need an outlet, our coworkers and social work peers can be easily reached via phone, or our fortnightly group supervision sessions.

Group supervision for the social work students was already occurring fortnightly before we moved to working from home and it has become all the more valuable since our placement setting has changed. In this time of so much uncertainty, group supervision has helped to anchor us, keep our spirits high and has allowed us to continue to develop professionally. Supervision has proven to be vital to our well-being as emerging social workers, and it has allowed us to engage in reflective discussion about our practice, a component that is so critical to the field of social work.

Along with supervision, we have all been incorporating regular self-care strategies into our days. Of course, we all have different interests, so there’s a broad range of activities that we have each been doing, ranging from bike riding or yoga, drawing, gardening, reading and cooking. Remembering to check in with friends and family, even when we can’t see them face-to-face has also been fundamental, as has limiting time on social media, while the stream of news is so overpowering – it’s important to have a break from it!

While the work from home arrangements came as unexpected and disruptive to our placements and have certainly limited some of the scope of our roles on placement, it has come with its own learning opportunities. These learnings include adaptability as workers and understanding and responding to crisis, which are key social work skills that we have acquired along the way. Ultimately we are grateful to be supported and guided by our organisations and respective supervisors to continue our learning experiences and are glad that we have each other to lean on while we complete our placements from home.

Amelia Schiavello – Law & Advocacy Centre for Women Field Education 1 student

Taryn Garbellini – Law & Advocacy Centre for Women Field Education 1 student

Catherine Finch – Mental Health Legal Centre Field Education 2 student

John Ludlow – Mental Health Legal Centre Field Education 1 student

Shraeya Edison – Youthlaw Field Education 2 student