August 15

Social work student placement breakdown

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What happens when your social work student placement is on the verge of breakdown?

Even though I was averaging a first for my social work essays, I underwent 2 concerns process over the course of 2 months during my last placement. This is evidence that academic excellence is no proof of placement excellence. Even though I eventually passed, I do not want to let those lessons go to waste.

The concerns process can be extremely scary. It’s almost as if you’re constantly under the microscope, unable to put a foot wrong for fear of failing.

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Through this article, I hope to share some lessons I learnt from the concerns process and help you to navigate yours.

1. Reframe.


Firstly, it’s vital to start looking at the concerns process as a stumbling process to make you fail, but a supportive process to help you pass. During my first concerns process, I kept asking myself, why me? How could I go from being nominated from being the student social worker of the year to the concerns process?

Asking ‘why me’ is not going to help you to navigate the concerns process successfully. Instead, reframing it will help you to see it as a helpful process that’s designed to make you a better social worker. Look at it this way. The amount of paperwork generated by the concerns process, is not something to be taken lightly. In a time when your practice educator is probably overwhelmed by work, undertaking the concerns process for you is evidence that he/she wants to help.

Next time you are tempted to be frustrated, tell yourself gently, ‘This will make me better.’

Remember, you will get stronger through this process. Resilience is a key quality of great social workers.

2. Ask.


The concerns process is commonly initiated by the practice educator when they have concerns about your practice that might lead you to fail eventually. Therefore, during the concerns procedure, it is vital for you to ask the practice educator, ‘What is it you are concerned about?’

More importantly, ask, ‘How can I help you to be sure?’ At the end of the day, both the placement and the university want to ensure that they are adding capable social workers into the field.

It is our responsibility as students to help them be sure.

3. Self-care.


The negative tape of being ‘not good enough’ or ‘not _______ enough’ will inevitably run through your head during times when your practice is called into question. During such times, it is vital that you remind yourself of the qualities you have.

During the time when I was going through the concerns procedure, I found it helpful to write these ‘letters of love’ to myself. First recommended by my therapist, and later backed by evidence from Guy Winch’s book “Emotional First Aid”, these letters can do wonders for your self-esteem.

You can ask yourself this list of 5 self-care questions to see if you are really taking good care of yourself! Remember, no one else is responsible for your own self-care but you.

Start simply by writing a list of 5 qualities you are most proud of and then adding the examples when you demonstrated those qualities.
Then, write a letter to yourself by saying:

Dear John, I love you because you are so good at persevering. Despite being put through the concerns process, you have never refused to give up and have continued to serve your service users in the best way possible…

In a social work student placement breakdown, self-care is vital.

4. Get help from your personal tutor.


My tutor was a great bastion of hope during my placement. Despite being far away from the placement, he always told me that I could call him whenever I was unsure about anything. I also appreciated how I could always be honest with him. Whether it was simply about the placement being plain lousy, or the practice educator having crazy expectations of me, he sat there and listened.

In times like this, it’s essential that you enlist the help of your personal tutor. Be honest with him/her about what you are facing. Listen to what he/she says. Don’t keep it bottled within you.

Social work student placement breakdown

5. Share with your friends.


When you are split up into your different placement locations, it’s easy to think that you are alone. Maybe you think no one cares about you. But that’s not true. You still have other course mates that are going through the exact same thing as you.


You don’t have to struggle alone. Pick up the phone to a friend that you are close to from university and share your struggles on placement.

6. Don’t take it personally.


These concerns are not about you. These concerns are about your practice. It’s not that you are a concern. It’s that some aspect of your practice is a reason for concern. Don’t conflate you and your practice. In other words, don’t mistake the concerns process as something that pronounces you as ‘bad’.

It’s easy to make that mistake, especially when we are new to the profession. We tend to tie our self-worth to the results we get on the profession. That’s why if we do badly on placement, we think that we are the ones who are bad.

To dissociate your self-worth from what you do on placement, write that letter of love. More importantly, it’s important to stay present with yourself. I found mindfulness mediation through Headspace a great way to stay mindful of my present, rather than being pulled into the past (what had I done wrongly to deserve the concerns process?!) or the future (what if I failed my placement?).

Going through the concerns process is never easy. But when I came out on the other side, I appreciated the lessons it taught me. Rather than thinking about how you failed, think about the lessons you will learn. None of us are perfect. These concerns are not about you. They are about your practice.

A social work student placement breakdown is not the end. Remember, you will be a better social worker at the end of this.

Useful resources

Centre for Social Work Practice: Early placement breakdown in
social work practice placements


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