Volunteers' Week - A Student View
“When I joined the organisation, to be honest I had no idea what mental capacity work was all about and the extraordinary benefits that come with it.
As the weeks progress I have learned what a vital service advocacy is.
On both a personal and professional level, this placement has significantly impacted my view of the world and the people who reside within it.”
Each year, a number of students join The Advocacy People for professional placements, either as a requirement of their degree course, in order to gain practical experience of casework – or simply to enhance and further their own skills and knowledge.
For both the student and for ourselves as an organisation, the placements bring enormous benefits.
We spoke to volunteer coordinator Sallie Allison and to social work student Nic Hill, who’s currently on placement from the University of Plymouth Social Work programme.
For Social Work students, a placement is a qualifying requirement of their professional programme. But we also have enquiries from people doing law courses, and post-16 college students who are looking to do some volunteering for experience prior to doing a foundation course. Locally we’ve also received enquiries from students doing psychology and disability study courses.
The length of the placement depends on the course the individual is undertaking. For Social Work, Stage 2 is 70 days and Stage 3 is 100.
If the placement is part of a professional programme then the duration and the kinds of experience gained, for example of working under the Care Act or the Mental Capacity Act, will be a course requirement.
If the placement is of a college work experience type, then it’s usually counted in hours.
A Social Work student would be expected to do the work of an advocate - with the support and oversight of a qualified advocate.
For example, my student is undertaking Independent Care Act Advocacy and shadowing me at the hospital. Here he is able to see the range of work we become involved in, including the role of the Independent Mental Capacity Advocate.
He will also work on Independent Health Complaints cases, and will shadow the Independent Mental Health Advocates on the team when they visit people who are under a Section.
The students do get a very rounded experience. The real benefit of this placement for students is that they learn about the law and the legal frameworks, and then can see the law in practice and how it works.
They also get to experience multi-disciplinary working: my student is working alongside me at the hospital and observing how the advocates work together with service users, social workers, the DTA (Discharge to Assess) and Health teams.
There are many positives in providing placement opportunities for us as an organisation.
We benefit from supporting learners, which helps us to keep current, as students come with a wide range of existing knowledge and skills.
In addition, when they qualify, they remember their placements and tend to remember advocacy and why it is required. They are also good at disseminating information back to their cohorts and sharing the knowledge they have learned about advocacy.
The students ask lots of questions of us, and that helps us to think about why we do the things we do. My current and previous student have both talked really positively about their experiences and how it has supported their learning.
Nic Hill, 29, is studying for a BA in Social Work at Plymouth University.
"Usually I specialise in complex mental health, however whilst studying for my degree in Social Work I have found my passion leaning further towards Children’s Protection Services.
I began my placement at the start of February and have been attending every week since. My placement will run until the end of July."
Nic describes how, prior to embarking on his placement, he had little idea of the ways in which advocacy supports some of the most vulnerable people in the health and care system.
When I first joined The Advocacy People, to be honest, I had no idea what Mental Capacity work involved and the extraordinary benefits that come with it. I feel now that I may even have been slightly arrogant about my overall knowledge on the sector.
As the weeks progress, I have learned what a vital service advocacy is, and how important it is to always keep advocacy in mind.
As a student advocate, I am working to represent what is in another person’s mind. By this I mean we give people the confidence and the voice to stand up for what they need in their lives, to empower people to strive for the best outcomes, and to ensure the enhancement of wellbeing for our clients."
On both a personal and professional level, this placement has significantly impacted my view of the world and the people who reside within it. It has challenged me to consider my own values and release bias when considering other people’s circumstances.
If you're interested in finding out about volunteering or student placement opportunities with The Advocacy People, we'd love to hear from you: find out more on our Get Involved page.
Or, get in touch with us at email@example.com