When I finished my final placement, I remember being shocked by the long examples of learning needs in social work that I had. I thought I had done very well! However, upon closer inspection, I realised that this would help me greatly to be a better social worker. In this article, I share examples of learning needs in social work. Therefore, I hope this will help supervisors and students alike in knowing what to look out for. These learning needs are based on placements in the UK.
Example of learning need in teamwork
John has struggled at times to adapt to team working and a busy office environment. John would benefit from developing his ability to work as part of a team, recognising the roles and expertise of other professionals, rather than expecting or believing that he can ‘do it all’ or ‘know it all’ not only to demonstrate greater partnership working but also to support his own health and well-being (PCF 1; 8).
To recognise and understand how planning and preparation, rather than sidestepping these processes in order to approach an intervention with an ‘open mind’, can provide better outcomes for service users and better enable them to be involved in decisions about their support (PCF 2; 7).
John has had limited experience of safeguarding and would benefit from developing his skills in this area, particularly around appropriately using the authority of the social work role (PCF 7).
Example of learning need in reflection
While John is a natural reflector he would benefit from developing his skills of critical reflection to develop his practice in several areas:
- to ensure he identifies a range of sources of information to achieve holistic assessments and inform his subsequent decisions (PCF 6; 7);
- using ‘reflection on action’ to recognise not only his own response to interventions but also how his practice may impact on service users and carers, through asking questions such as: what worked, what didn’t work, why and what could I have done differently? (PCF 6)
- to critically analyse his use of social work theories and models, considering a broader range of theories in order to decide which method or approach is the most appropriate, and how he can effectively apply these to his practice (PCF 5; 7).
As you can see from the above, examples of learning needs include:
- critical reflection skills
- planning of interventions
Firstly, learning needs in the UK are assessed by looking at the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF). The PCF is the standard that all British social workers work towards to illustrate their capabilities in social work. The 9 domains are as follows, with examples of learning needs attached to them.
Values and ethics
Values and ethics cover the BASW’s commitment to values such as social justice and human rights. Thus, learning needs might include:
- Difficulty in navigating ethical dilemmas in social work
- Inability to balance personal and professional values in social work
Diversity and equality
Social work works with an incredible range of clients from different background. Knowing how to adopt an anti-discriminatory practice is important to ensure that clients who are unlike you do not feel left out or discriminated against.
- Difficulty in demonstrating anti-discriminatory practice to service users that may come from different backgrounds.
- Insensitivity to cultural differences
Rights, justice and economic wellbeing
Social work is concerned about social change for people who might be facing economic oppression, discrimination, and disadvantage. Thus, knowing the rights and fighting for the rights of service users is essential. Learning needs include:
- Poor advocacy for the rights of service users
- Inability to refer clients to agencies that can help.
- Poor knowledge of partner agencies and the help they can provide
As much as social work seems to be done through gut instinct, it is an evidence-based profession that requires clear academic foundations for excellence. Knowing the theories to inform one’s assessment and the appropriate interventions to use is vital to helping clients better.
Learning needs might include:
- Poor knowledge of theories to inform assessments
- Inability to connect theory to practice
Critical reflection and analysis
Social work harps a lot on being able to be reflexive, identifying how your own perspective might affect the way you help clients. Therefore, critical reflection is vital to prevent your own biases. Examples of learning needs include:
- Poor time spent reflecting on work with service users
- Inability to understand how personal perspectives might influence work with clients
- Poor understanding of personal perspectives and biases
Skills and interventions
I remember that I once made a service user cry because of how clumsy I had been with my intervention. Social work requires great skills to do well. Knowledge of those skills, and familiarity with using those skills well, is crucial to establish good outcomes in social work. Learning needs might include:
- Poor understanding of appropriate skills to use in different contexts
- Limited number of skills and interventions to deploy with different types of service users
Contexts and organizations
During my previous placement, I forgot that I was a representative of the local government. I ended up making statements that were not in line with the local government’s policy. This made me get into lots of trouble.
- Poor understanding of organisational policy and values
- Poor representation of the organisation’s image
Many social work students find it hard to show leadership in an organisation where they are expected to be learning, rather than leading. However, leadership can be expressed in many ways, such as taking the initiative to ask questions, present academic theories for application, or even to share thoughts during a meeting.
Learning needs include:
- Ability to display confidence in front of external agencies
- Presentation skills at multi-agency meetings
Looking professional, and being professional, is a key part of being a social worker. It’s not just about telling people that you are a social worker, but looking like a social worker. If you dress sloppily, how do you expect clients to take you seriously?
- Poor dressing
- Inappropriate clothes worn
Thus, I hope this list gives you a clearer idea of what examples of learning needs in social work look like. Lastly, remember, this will help you improve! So, don’t take it too defensively. Be open, and learn from them. They are a labour of love to help you grow.