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Diary of a social work academic: Wednesday

I’ve been working at home today because I had a placement visit which was closer to my home than the university.

Cutting out the commute gives me an extra two hours for work and family. Although I often help out with the school run, it gives me the opportunity to get my head down and make an early start at the computer.

Some people can only concentrate first thing in the morning, whilst others find their best time is late at night. I have found that I don’t tend to have a better time of day for working. For me it’s much more about focusing on the task in hand and the time of day fortunately doesn’t seem to affect me. Deadlines are important, though. Either self or externally imposed, they help to get the job done.

I’m very fortunate to have a quiet space at home to work in. Our home has a spare room – which I rather grandly call my study – where I can lock myself away and concentrate. Prior to moving last year I worked at home in a garden shed. Well, it was a converted summer house but the huge variations in temperature (freezing in the winter snow and boiling in the summer sun), and the various spiders and slugs which found their way in, made it feel close to nature. On a cold and wet day like today I’m pleased to be working indoors!

The focus of my work today was finishing the draft of the paper I’ve been working on for the past few days. Its focus on the potential disconnect between the academy in which social work is researched, theorised and taught, and the agency in which social work is practiced, is timely. The Frontline proposals to fast-track bright graduates into social work via a summer school and work placements, have largely bypassed social work academics. The government-backed plans have been based on a similar scheme for teachers but have been developed with no reference to the current extensive reforms of social work education. We argue in our paper that practice-based research provides an opportunity to integrate the academy and the agency to meet the needs of both.

En route to the placement review I caught Andy McNichol, a Community Care journalist, being interviewed on Radio 4’s All in the Mind. Andy was talking about psychiatric bed pressures which are meaning that people detained under the Mental Health Act are increasingly being placed out of their local area. The lack of available beds is a significant stressor for Approved Mental Health Professionals and contributes to the high levels of stress and burnout we have found. People with mental health problems continue to be treated as second class citizens, far from the ‘parity of esteem’ which government ministers wish to see in the treatment of mental and physical health problems in the NHS.

The placement review itself went really well. The student is engaging with the learning opportunities available on the placement and there are clear signs of progress since it started. Although it is down to the support and supervision provided on the placement, it is great to see a student thriving in a practice setting and making sense of the university learning in this context.

We had an interesting discussion about the issues facing people in rural North Yorkshire, perceived to be a prosperous area of the country. You don’t need to scratch far beneath the surface to find the social problems here which social workers across the country are very familiar with – poverty, mental distress, poor housing and debt, to name but a few – and the stigma attached to them.

This evening I have been working on an unplanned piece of writing, but a tight deadline piqued my interest. I was contacted yesterday by a journalist asking me to write for a new website called The Conversation. I checked out the Australian version and found that it published academic analysis and insight into contemporary issues. Its aim is to utilise expert knowledge to understand issues and problems facing the world today. The UK version of the site launches tomorrow.

My scepticism was allayed by a piece on The Media Show on Radio 4 (sorry, I don’t have many diverse cultural influences do I?) on my way home from the placement visit. The launch of The Conversation UK website tomorrow was talked up as a way for academics and researchers to share their research with a mass audience (the Australian site has over 840,000 visitors each month). As I think it’s absolutely crucial for us to communicate our findings more widely, I got tapping on the keyboard.

The piece I was asked to write has gone online as I have been writing this post and will feature on the site when it is launched tomorrow. It explores some of the news items I referred to in yesterday’s post and somehow I have managed to connect together the child exploitation case in Oxford with moves toward greater integration in health and social care. I have peppered it with links to research and various sources of data to support some my cogitations. I’m not sure it works, but the editor seemed happy enough. I’m sure I will get feedback about it one way or another, though.

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