“I was pleased to be able to use my learning, and the opportunities the Social Work Masters gave me, to influence future social work practice in my own career and beyond.”

In this blog, we catch up with Flora Miles, a Bristol graduate and newly qualifed Social Worker. She was recently invited to present her dissertation at an event organised by the University of Bath to mark World Social Work Day 2022, celebrating recent developments in practice, activism and research.

Here she talks about the findings of her research along with her experiences of the masters programme:

Flora Miles

After completing my undergraduate degree in Social Anthropology, I wanted to further focus my skills and knowledge towards helping people live fulfilled and empowered lives. I was inspired by social workers who I had encountered through my voluntary experience with charities. The Masters in Social Work at the University of Bristol offered me a great opportunity, building on my previous studies and some experience which I had gained through volunteering. The course was highly rated and I was excited at the opportunity to study in Bristol, which is a city I did not know well before the course and have now become very fond of!

I found the programme varied and engaging. Teaching on a range of topics by faculty members was supplemented by interesting guest lectures. My learning was supported by the knowledgeable and generous members of the service user and carer forum who, through appearances at lectures and in small group workshops, helped us keep service users and carers at the centre of our learning. One of my favourite things about the course was my fellow social work students, who were interesting and friendly people with a breadth of experiences from which I learned a lot and gained treasured friendships.

“Work placements…expect the unexpected and respond with creativity!”

I undertook my first practice placement with Exeter Homelessness Partnership at CoLab in Exeter, where I live. I loved this experience in the voluntary sector, during which I met some brilliant people and learned so much about creativity and resilience. Unfortunately, the covid pandemic began during the early stages of this placement, leading to a change of plans in which my placement was suspended. Luckily, I gained employment as a project worker with CoLab’s Resilient Women project and as a mental health support worker with Rethink Mental Illness. The university supported me to take learning and reflection opportunities from this employment, which allowed me to progress to the second year of the Masters. This was a very challenging time requiring much flexibility and adaptation from myself and the university, but I am proud to say that we got through it and that I gained valuable experiences. A key takeaway for me was to expect the unexpected and respond with creativity!

My second placement was with Devon County Council, in an adult safeguarding team and a community health and social care team. I was pleased to have this experience in a statutory setting, following my experience in the voluntary sector in first year. This placement was invaluable for my learning regarding the principles and processes at the heart of social work in a local authority, where many social workers are employed. I was helped by committed and supportive social workers as my practice educator and supervisor, who were role models to me. This placement was very useful, especially as I have gone on to work for Devon County Council and therefore continue to directly apply context-specific learning gained while on placement.

“My dissertation has stuck with me powerfully, and opened up opportunities…”

One of my favourite parts of the Social Work Masters was writing a dissertation. It was a real challenge but I grew and learned a lot through it. My dissertation was entitled  Mental Capacity in cases of Self-Neglect: A Thematic Analysis of Safeguarding Adults Reviews in England. I became fascinated by topics of mental capacity in adults throughout my studies at Bristol. With the help of my supervisor, I identified that looking at mental capacity in cases of self-neglect would be especially interesting. Having read some Safeguarding Adults Reviews throughout my studies, I wanted to become more familiar with these documents and see what they could teach us.

Three key findings emerged from my dissertation:

  1. People at risk of self-neglect were let down when professionals failed to assess mental capacity
  2. Safeguarding processes failed to protect people who were found to have capacity to make self-care decisions
  3. Assessments needed more nuance and scope to account for the complexity of mental capacity

These findings enabled me to make recommendations for social care practitioners, team managers, policy makers, those involved in the commissioning and creation of Safeguarding Adults Reviews, and researchers.

My learning from researching for and writing my dissertation has stuck with my powerfully, and opened up opportunities. One such opportunity was being invited to speak on my findings at an event to celebrate World Social Work Day 2022 organised by the University of Bath. It was a pleasure to speak alongside other practitioners, researchers, and educators. I am proud of the presentation I gave, having received positive feedback including social work educators asking to share my findings with their students and practitioners telling me that they would use the findings to inform future work with people at risk of self-neglect. I was very pleased to be able to use my learning, and all the opportunities the Social Work Masters gave me, to influence future social work practice in my own career and beyond.

The masters in Social Work at the University of Bristol was challenging, however I am grateful to be the social worker I am today because of it. I would recommend the course to anybody looking to learn a lot, meet passionate people, and take steps into a social work career.

Find out more about our MSc Social Work programme and what makes our joint professional and academic practice award unique.

 

Marvin Rees: Leading a city in turbulent times

Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, was recently invited to speak to our current MSc Public Policy students on the theme of ‘Leading a City in Turbulent Times’. In this blog, student Isabella Bennett summarises the key points from the lecture.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to tear through the globe, the mainstream media focuses on what international leaders are doing. It is very rare that city governance level is analysed in response to various crises thrown up. From this backdrop, Rees suggests that leading a city in turbulent times is just as important as centralised governance.

Turbulence

Rees highlighted that when we define turbulence, it is when it affects wealthy people. Certainly, issues that throw lives into turmoil are continuing to be swept under the rug, until the white, straight, middle-to-higher class man is impacted. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic heavily impacted trade and finance; thus, the news cycle was dominated with stories about the turmoil caused by COVID-19 on trade. In comparison, long term themes of racism, homelessness and domestic violence (key issues spanning generations) are not considered as key points of turbulence until direct attention is paid to them. However, the effects of these issues are felt across large sways of the public.

It is from this that city governance can aid individuals in overcoming turbulence in their lives. Centralised government is increasingly not equipped to deal with these challenges, as the policy cycle is constantly moving. Rees also draws on how an institution can look strong, and resistant to tension, but will crumble when turbulence is introduced. This was the case in the 2008 financial crash, as the previously strong financial market crumbled. Certainly, disinvestment in a service increases its fragility. Indeed, we all have seen that COVID has led to instability in the NHS, as we continue to stay home; and this is felt no stronger than at the local level.

Leadership

It is from these points of turbulence, that we look at city-level leadership. Leadership, Rees commented, takes two forms: short term — responding to immediate crisis, and long-term — building a city that is resilient to future shocks. Certainly, we have seen that the world has become increasingly globalised. Goods, services, ideas and workforces are able to move across the globe at a greater speed than ever before. It is because of this that city leadership is important both nationally, but also internationally. Too often, cities are discussed, but not given an equal footing in policy discussions, yet the policy impacts how the city functions and the lived experiences of its citizens. This was certainly the case during the pandemic, as sovereignty was seated in Westminster to make decisions on lockdown restrictions and tiers.  Rees states that leadership needs to go beyond boundaries as the nature of policymaking changes.

Future planning

In times of turbulence, it is understandable that trust is diminished. Thus, Rees made a point that being clear on values brings trust, and this trust becomes an important commodity when making plans. Certainly, a loss of trust comes from politics impacting how the people respond to systems. Rees directly mentions the impact the media has on this trust, as many people’s interaction with politics is through journalistic interpretation. Thus, a key aspect of planning comes from restoring trust from the public, through the media. Future plans, when leading a city do not have to be concrete, but it is important to be adaptable to changing contexts and respond to how this may change ideas for the future. Rees draws on the One City Plan for 2050, and how this has been changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the stalls on industry due to lockdowns.

What can be taken from this?

From Rees’ points above, we can see that city leadership takes a back seat in the discussions on key points of turbulence in our lives. This is despite the citizens living in the city, and their lives being thrown into difficulty. As a result, city leadership must focus on supplying a clear message for the citizens, to instil trust for the future. Moreover, Rees calls for city leadership to play an increased role on the international stage, citing the examples of New York’s mental health policy and Helsinki’s functional city policy on how we can learn from city governance to deal with the long-term issues facing citizens. This is coupled with a lack of trust in centralised government over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Find out more about MSc Public Policy and BSc International Social and Public Policy at the University of Bristol.