There is so much more to children’s social work than I thought
Published Wed 22nd Feb, 2023

Kate is a second-year student at the University of York doing an MA in Social Work and is currently on her second placement, which is with the Children in Permanent Placements Team in City of York Council.

Kate has come into children’s social work with a great deal of experience around children and young people.  She is a mum with five children and taking her first three children to Sure Start children’s centres led to an opportunity. She took on a role as a community worker at one of the centres, progressing to centre manager, and through this she had contact with social workers in a professional capacity:

“I had previously worked in Sure Start Children's Centres doing lots of things that are very similar to social work in the area of prevention and early intervention”

Ten years ago, Kate adopted two children, and came into contact with social workers on a personal level during the adoption process.  These children had extensive additional needs, so she took a break from any idea of work.  When the pandemic took hold, she began to change her mind:

“When lockdown hit, everything stopped for everybody but, because I wasn't working, everything literally stopped apart from just keeping five children sane through home schooling.  This is when I started thinking, ‘Actually, this is an opportunity to do something.’”

Kate thought about her route back into work.  With family commitments always coming first, there were still several options that could allow Kate a route into social work practice. In the end, she felt that the University of York social work course provided the best balance for Kate and her family with flexible study arrangements and short-term, full-time placements.

Because Kate had not studied for a while and is older than most students, she was concerned how she would take to going back into learning, but thanks to her previous experience, she found she needn’t have worried:

 “I was very concerned about getting back into study and the academic side of things, it being so long since I'd studied, and because my degree is in music I had never written the sort of essay that I expected they would want. Yes, it is academic with lots of reading but it all felt quite familiar, having worked in children's centres.”

Through the university’s skill days, Kate has heard from a wide variety of social workers about their work – including what it’s like to be part of the drug and alcohol service, the travellers service, or mental health social work teams. These have shown her that there is so much more to children’s social work than she expected from her own experience:

“The biggest surprise was just the breadth of possibilities for social work - the breadth of topics that were shared - because my realm of knowledge is very much around children's and families, which is quite a specific area, and I felt I knew what social workers did!”

To explore a range of topics and broaden her experience, Kate deliberately asked for placements in areas that she didn’t know much about. Her first placement was in a women’s refuge where she worked for the outreach team and supported women either in person or over the phone.  The team was very busy and, because they didn’t have a social worker, she had no idea what her role might look like:

“The team were incredibly welcoming and helpful. I was case holding by the end of my first week and while it felt quite challenging, it actually forced me to just get on with it and ask questions and very quickly learn what to do.  So that was quite scary but actually was probably the best thing for me to just have to get on with it.”

Kate has found her second placement with the Council very different from that at the refuge because of all the systems the Council has in place. While she very much values experiencing these systems first-hand, she is also pleased that she has been able to ask questions and have discussions about them with her manager and the rest of social work team:

“There's been some interesting discussions about what responsibilities there are and what's the difference between asylum-seeking children and any other looked after child and support that they might need with having no English for example.  Then, working with different local authorities where the schools are different to the ones you are used to working with.  That’s had its own challenges they've been really interesting so another really fast learning curve”

Flexibility from the course is key for Kate’s home life but she found that she had fewer contact hours than she expected and can also do self-directed study in the evenings:

“The flexibility of the qualification is enormous. The timetable felt very manageable… I was very pleasantly surprised at the level and amount of support given.  They have made it very clear that I could have been even more flexible, but it was personal choice just to get it done.”

While Kate expected to have to take out a student loan to get her MA, she was surprised to find that she qualified for a bursary from the NHS.  Eligibility for the bursary was established at the interview stage.  As well as course fees, this has covered a laptop, a bike and all travel expenses:

“If you are a UK resident and live in England you are eligible for the travel grant of around £800 which everyone gets, and then you can also apply for childcare support if you need that and get awarded the bursary. So my means tested bursary covered the full fees and then probably about £3000 on top of that."

Kate settled in York after moving there for her first degree because there is a lot going on in the area and housing is very affordable just outside the city:

“It's a really lively city with loads of independent shops, bars and restaurants within easy reach.  And there's always somewhere to go that's within half an hour drive. It's absolutely beautiful! We're not that far from the coast either." 

She likes working for City of York Council too:

York is a brilliant local authority to work for because it's comparatively small so you get to know most of the people quite quickly which builds up that professional relationship, so you know the best person to ask that question of”

Having originally thought she would like to work directly with children, Kate was surprised to find that she enjoys working with the foster carers that support them.  Her strategy of trying placements in areas that she didn’t know much about has introduced her to different possibilities and helped her think again, especially bearing in mind her life with her own family:

“The part that I've enjoyed the most is working with the adults who are caring for the children - chatting through different strategies that they can use to support the children and themselves. I found some of the direct work with children challenging, where they had very similar needs to my own adopted children.”


Children’s Social Work Matters to Kate because she wants to support disadvantaged children to reach their full potential:

“It's being part of the journey for a child to support them to reach their full potential and to have aspirations that they can reach and to help to move barriers that are in the way for that.”

“Very much just putting the child first and being part of supporting their voice, their wishes and feelings, to be the loudest amongst all the distractions going on with the adults around them.”


For more information about the campaign, children’s social work and the opportunities to get into a career in Yorkshire & Humber go to: