Liz Freeman, Practice Educator, Hull City Council
As a Practice Educator with Hull City Council, Liz plays a key role in supporting social workers and helping them to develop their skillsets. Her responsibilities mostly focus on newly qualified or student social workers, helping them to navigate the challenges of their placements or ASYE requirements. Although it’s different to working in frontline practice, problem solving and cultivating positive relationships remain crucial skills across the entire social work profession, and practice education is no different.
“Regardless of the role you’re in within social work, every role is about supporting someone, whether it’s in a frontline capacity or my role supporting people in a professional capacity. I’m here firstly to make sure they have a good quality experience and enjoy being with us, but also to make sure that their time with us is really enriched and embedded with the principles of good practice.”
In a typical day, Liz can find herself supporting students and ASYEs with queries, offering one to one support for practice development, or delivering training sessions. Much of her recent work has been linked to Hull’s new Social Work Academy, which is all about introducing innovative learning opportunities for the entire workforce.
“It’s really exciting! When it first came about it sounded a bit like Hogwarts, we just kept hearing about this secret academy. What we know now is, we want to have a real strong area of the council which focuses on enriched learning, from when you come in as a student on placement right up to leadership level.”
For the colleagues Liz supports who are taking their first steps into social work practice, there can be a few surprises. One difficult skill which less experienced practitioners often need some help with is striking a balance between showing empathy with a family’s situation and maintaining a level of authority. While practice educators like Liz can offer support, advice and guidance, many of the skills needed to be a frontline social worker can only be learned through practice and reflection.
“The other day we were talking about having ‘courageous conversations’ – I think that’s a really good description of a respectful use of our authority. Having a discussion about the thresholds with the family and explaining things can really help. If you get that skillset right, you’ll be able to make a family feel incredibly supported through one of the most difficult spells in their lives, know that you’ve got a good outcome for that child and that you’ve maintained the respect of that parent. It’s such a massive achievement and it requires a high level of skill.”
Before taking on the Practice Educator role, Liz spent time working on both safeguarding and fostering teams. Her route into the social work profession came via the Step Up to Social Work programme which provided a way to qualify through a funded postgraduate course. Working as an administrative assistant with a safeguarding team provided vital frontline experience, making Liz a stronger candidate. Between her experiences of the Step Up programme and her current role supporting people in the early stages of their social work career, Liz is well placed to offer advice to anyone considering applying to the fast-track course. She highlighted the importance of self-directed learning alongside relevant experience, to make sure candidates can show understanding of how frontline practice really works.
“I stumbled across Step Up to Social Work at first. The first time I applied was to Merseyside, as my parents live around Cheshire. I didn’t get on, but I hadn’t been working with a safeguarding team the way I did for the second time. That was what got me onto the course. I really invested in having a good understanding of what a frontline social worker did. I think the bar is set quite high now for the assessment process. Work on the frontline is so complex now – you need to prepare yourself and have an understanding about what working together to safeguard children means”
Once qualified, Liz loved the challenges and rewards of frontline social work, particularly the complexity of direct work and relationship building with families in crisis. While fostering felt like an interesting area of practice, Liz found herself drawn back to safeguarding work and the unique insight into people’s lives and relationships that it offers.
“There’s something about it – it’s such a complex way of solving problems, there’s a reason some people are drawn to doing it. I love being challenged and love learning about people’s lives. We’re so honoured in this profession to be able to go into people’s private lives in a way that you just can’t do in any other capacity.”
One of the major benefits of Liz’s current role is that the work/life balance is more manageable for parents of younger children compared to frontline practice. While working as a Practice Educator and helping each new cohort of social workers to grow and develop has its own rewards, Liz plans to return to frontline practice once her two-year-old daughter is a little older.
“I felt like I needed the balance – I fully respect anyone who can do that, but for me I needed to be there for my own child. When she’s a bit bigger I’ll definitely go back to frontline social work in some capacity. I love it, even the hard stuff. I like being challenged and this pushes me out of my comfort zone in a way nothing else ever has. I want to be one of those people who can sit in a job and do the same thing every day, but I can’t – that’s why I love social work, every day is always different.”
For more information about the campaign, children’s social work and the opportunities to get into a career in Yorkshire & Humber go to: https://www.childrenssocialworkmatters.org