Pandemic Placement: completing a social work placement during COVID

Working from home has become the new normal and while case numbers are finally going in the right direction in Victoria, many of us won’t be returning to the office any time soon. At the ACT Group, student social worker Liv Cuff has spent her entire placement working remotely! She shares a few key takeaways and reflections with us here.

COVID-19 has presented many challenges to us all – each of us, in our own way, has experienced a loss of connection, familiarity, routine and structure. Many of us are working from home for the first time and have had to quickly adjust to our home environment becoming our place of work or study. In the beginning, we might have quickly jumped to the benefits to this – Sleep ins! Working in our tracksuit pants (but ensuring our top half is “camera ready”)! Snacking whenever we like!

However, I’m sure we have also become aware of the challenges of working and studying from home, particularly those of us who work in trauma-related spaces.

Separating our “work life” from our “personal life” is an integral part of self-care. The buffers that we used pre-COVID – perhaps without even knowing – to separate our “work life” from our “personal life” have largely been taken away. For example, many of us commute to work. In the past, I would moan and groan about my commute: the tram is too crowded! I want to sleep for 30 more minutes! But now I find myself craving my “mundane” morning commute, as it helped me tap out of my home life, and into my workspace. 

Completing a social work placement remotely has been equal parts challenging and rewarding. Many of us become social workers or other allied health professionals because we are “people people”: we believe that forming relationships is key to enacting social change. However, COVID-19 has challenged our capacity to build relationships with people – be it with co-workers or clients.

Interacting with a screen all day, every day is depleting for those of us working in a person-centred industry. In a physical work environment, we have incidental interactions – at the photocopier, the water-cooler, or those wonderful “corridor conversations”. As students we learn by “osmosis”; we observe our colleagues and learn from the range of in-person interactions that naturally occur.

However, there are also rewards to be had from this new working environment: we realise how adaptable and committed we are. Despite the obstacles, we are committed to the pursuit of what led us to study social work in the first place.

Here are some of my key takeaways:

Be gentle with yourself and others

Rest when you need to. We can’t (and shouldn’t have to) perform at 100% all the time, particularly when we are living during a time that is characterised by uncertainty and sudden and unforeseen changes. We can place high expectations on ourselves to work faster and harder to meet our goals. Motivation helps us stay focussed but should not come at the expense of our wellbeing.

So, be gentle with yourself. Celebrate the small things with yourself and others and take big breaths in between.

Self-advocate

Many social workers are well versed on how to advocate for the needs of others; however, many of us feel far less comfortable advocating for our own. We often speak about being trauma-informed and strengths-based, yet rarely apply these concepts to ourselves. We expect ourselves to be SUPER students that can juggle working full-time for free, studying, and living our day-to-day lives.

Lean into your self-advocacy, and remember you deserve to be supported.

We are here to learn, and making mistakes is part of the process.

Engage in peer supervision!

Completing a social work placement from home has felt isolating at times. Forming a weekly peer-supervision session with another social work student has grounded me. Having a space to vent, reflect and recharge with my peer became my “buffer”: it reminded me that I am learning and growing as a practitioner, and therefore helped to separate my “work life” from my “personal life”.

Whether you are a student completing your placement remotely or a qualified practitioner working from home, our wellbeing has been tested. However, for me personally, it has also strengthened my resolve. It has shown me that there a myriad of ways to approach social problems, form connections with my clients and co-workers, and adapt to new (and challenging!) situations. These learnings will stick with me throughout my career.

Liv Cuff

Social Worker – Student