Education news

Praise for `hero' young social workers as they join fight against Covid-19

108 students from Ulster University completed their degrees early to support the most vulnerable in society

MORE than 200 social work students have followed medics in qualifying early to join the frontline fight against coronavirus. Here, they share their thoughts on the massive task ahead as they prepare to support the most vulnerable in society.

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BECOMING a qualified social worker can be daunting at the best of times.

Those new into the profession may feel apprehensive and fearful about starting their first job, but this will be amplified now.

The students in the class of 2020 at the north's two higher education institutions have all opted to complete their degrees earlier than planned.

They are entering the workforce when their skills and commitment to helping others is needed most.

The newly qualified social workers will be entering posts in the community, hospital, residential, and day care settings working with adults and children who are facing significant challenges in their lives, which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

They will soon be working with a range of service users including families and children, older people, and those with disabilities.

It was not compulsory for any of the students to qualify early.

However, 103 in their final year at the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen's opted to fast-track their studies to support service delivery, and health and social care services more widely during the crisis.

They have been joined by 108 students from Ulster University who also completed their degrees early to support the most vulnerable, many who have suffered dreadfully as a result of coronavirus.

University staff worked hard over the past few weeks to prepare their students for an early entry into the workforce. Students were given extra tutorial support via a variety of online platforms and existing virtual learning environments. Staff and students alike were creative and responsive to the wider social need for social workers in the community at this time of crisis.

They will all now play a vital role alongside their colleagues in medicine, nursing and health supporting, caring for and protecting those in need.

Many already have experience of working or volunteering in frontline services, either in the Health and Social Care Trusts or the voluntary and community sector.

They have had to balance completing their studies with work responsibilities, and the impact of the current crisis on themselves and their families.

Katie Ní Chléire is a final year social work student at Queen's who is working in a children's residential home.

"Working in health and social care can be difficult at the best of times, but during a global pandemic it's got added challenges. We're doing our best to create a sense of normality for the young people, despite the global situation. Although my job can be stressful, I am so grateful that I get to work with incredible young people, and work within an amazing, strong team, who I can turn to for support. We're getting through this together," she said.

"You don't go into social work expecting praise or recognition - you go into social work to make a real difference to people's lives. I am so proud of all my friends and my classmates for qualifying early, and working hard to keep people safe during this crisis. I think my classmates and colleagues are all heroes."

Niamh Cusack is also a final year student at Queen's who is working with the Southern Health and Social Care Trust.

"Being a key worker during this pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring. Witnessing first-hand the hard work that goes on within our Health and Social Care teams has been a very humbling experience," she said.

"A lot of work has gone into adapting our social work practice to meet the demands of service users who are self-isolating, shielding or unwell during this pandemic. In the Community Learning Disability team that I work for, we have been working hard to ensure all of our service users and families are safe and supported. This includes daily phone calls to service users who may be at risk of mental health deterioration; intense therapeutic intervention has been extremely challenging to do over the phone, but our service users are deeply grateful, and this gives me a sense of pride and purpose.

"I am excited to start practising as a social worker and to help and support as many people as I can."

Carolyn Ewart, Director of the British Association of Social Workers Northern Ireland, thanked the students.

"Now, more than ever, newly qualified social workers will face testing scenarios. However, I want to reassure all new social workers that by relying on the skills and knowledge developed during your training and through keeping a clear focus on the values and ethics central to our profession, you will be able to handle the challenges you encounter," she said.

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