How I changed my life - and career - with a social work degree
Health & Social Care Jai Fuller wanted to make a difference to children's lives and shake up his own - so he began a social work BA (Hons) degree at the University of Kent.
Beatrice and Fritzie also study Social Work at the University of Kent
Why were you interested in a social care career?
"I'm 48 now. For over 25 years I'd been doing a job in the private sector that paid the bills and kept a roof over my family's head, but every day I would go home feeling unfulfilled. I'd wait at the school gates for my children, and saw others who weren't as lucky or as loved as mine. I realised then that what I really wanted to do was either teaching or social work — but thought I'd missed the boat. As my children got older, I knew it was time for me to do something for myself. With the support of my family and friends I began to investigate a career in social work, I like what I saw so started to research social work courses."
How did you find a degree course as a mature student?
"I contacted the University of Kent who told me I'd need to do an Access course because of my age and lack of A-Levels; but if I completed one, they would be happy to have me. So that's what I did: a year's full-time Access course in Level 3 biology, sociology and psychology. Then I applied to the university and was accepted on a three-year BA (Hons) degree course in social work. Most of the students were in the mid-twenties to mid-thirties age range, with a few of us in our forties and some school-leavers. So being a mature student shouldn't put anyone off because life experience is a great commodity for a social worker. My only advice would be to thoroughly research the courses offered by universities, and find out where they sit in the social work league tables. I just finished my last year and start a job in September with Kent County Council dealing with children in care, which I'm really looking forward to."
What was the make-up of the course?
"It was practical as well as theoretical which was very important to me. For the first year I was put on a two-day shadowing placement with a statutory Kent County Council foster assessment team, which gave me incredible insight into that particular area of social work. In my second year I went on a 70-day placement organised by the university with a non-statutory children and families agency, and actually got involved in cases. I saw children who were particularly troubled, for instance; and I worked on domestic violence cases and substance misuse cases alongside statutory social workers. That was fascinating because it got me used to writing up reports, keeping up-to-date case notes and identifying the needs of families and making recommendations for them. In my third year I was put on a 100-day statutory placement with Kent County Council's children and families team, dealing with child protection issues."
Was there anything you found challenging?
"The academia, because I'd been away from it for so long. I was used to reading novels, not textbooks! And, at the beginning, I found it hard to understand how the theory of social work could be put into practice... until I did my placements, that is, and could see it happening in front of me. The placements can be daunting. But you aren't thrown into the deep end, and the shadowing experience you get in your first year really comes into play; plus you get great support from supervisors, professors, lecturers and support staff who all want you to succeed. In the end, the placements were the parts I enjoyed the most."
Was there anything surprising about the course?
"The diverse array of students; how we all developed in three years; and the wonderful camaraderie between us all."
It's been reported that 900 care workers quit their jobs every day. Does that put you off?
"No. I started this because I want to help children and, unfortunately, it's a job that will always be needed. I've seen the difference it can make to people's lives. It can be intense, so you have to set boundaries. One of the things I learnt from my previous life in the private sector is that there is only so much you can do."
Do people understand how diverse social work can be?
"I don't think so. Social workers can work in adult care, which includes dealing with the elderly in their own or residential homes; or mental health patients within hospitals or the community; or people with learning disabilities. Then there's work with youth offenders, children in care, fostering, adoption services... it's such a diverse field. The course gave me an idea of all of the different areas in a general way at first, and then in a more targeted way as I progressed."
What qualities do you need to be a successful social worker?
"To be able to build a rapport with people and have strong communication skills. You have to know the law, have good intervention skills, be flexible to a degree and be able to deal with diversity. You also have to want to do it because it is challenging. The course has been an absolutely fantastic, life-changing experience for me — and the rewards have been incredible."
- Social Work at Kent develops the skills and experience you need to become a competent practising social worker.
- Social Work at Kent was ranked 4th overall in The Times Good University Guide 2017.
- In the National Student Survey 2016, 90% of social work students at Kent were satisfied with the overall quality of their course.
- Social Work students who graduated from Kent in 2015 were the most successful in the UK at finding professional jobs (DLHE).
Find out more at one of our Open Days www.kent.ac.uk/openday or contact us to discuss your career in social work.
Realise your potential at Kent.