“It’s not just a university course, it becomes part of your life.”
Working with some of the most vulnerable groups of people in society requires a unique set of skills.
Julia Armstrong, who works as a social worker in the Drug and Alcohol Statutory Team for Bournemouth Borough Council, is exposed to situations on a daily basis that many of us would find difficult to say the least. Her BA (Hons) in Social Work and the placements she went on while studying at BU have served her in good stead for the role.
“I did a degree in social work and I graduated in 2011. I was old - 26, and I think on the social care course they wanted people with more experience than UCAS points at the time. I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Julia lived and worked in the Bournemouth area as a pub manager and was aware of the reputation of the university when she decided on a career re-think and applied for the course.
“I heard that it was a good university - I only ever heard good things and that there was a really good social work department. I know of other people who have been to other south coast universities but Bournemouth always seemed to have a really good reputation.”
“I started in 2013. In-between university I worked at BCHA (Bournemouth Churches Housing Association) and that’s when I realised that I wanted to go into social work. I was 26 when I started the degree thinking I was one of the oldest, but it turned out that I was the youngest on the course. For me it’s about giving people a voice and helping people through things to empower them. In-between the summers I got a job with drug and alcohol support. Every day is so different and you never really know what is going to happen.”
The placements offered as part of the degree course were an eye-opening experience and gave Julia the challenge that she was looking for.
“I did two placements. In year two I went to Dorset County Council, older people social services, which was completely out of my comfort zone but it was a real challenge. That’s what I wanted from university - to be pushed. I wanted to have an experience that I wouldn’t get otherwise. You’re there as a student not as a member of staff.
"In year three I went to Forest Bus, which is a gypsy traveller community outreach play bus, which again was completely out of my comfort zone. I’m not used to being around children and I didn’t want to go into children’s services. It was an incredible experience and one that I’m very privileged to have had because we were driving into the sites and getting to speak to them and hearing about their lives - it was an incredible experience. I definitely embraced the placements.”
The real challenge in a job like social work is often not the vulnerable people who are directly involved with the problem, but coordinating the agencies who are supposed to help.
“It’s hard as agencies don’t want to work with them. How can you provide for someone who is homeless? There’s all these dilemmas, and there’s literally people dying as they are drinking themselves to death. It’s about learning the law and learning the policy to then give me the discipline. I love looking at the law side of things and what people are entitled to and helping them access that. This gives me the ability to fight for the users. The course prepared me really well.
“I am very passionate about working with this kind of group, they are so discriminated against and I feel they are the most hurt and abused and have experienced the most trauma in society. Working with addicts is the easy bit; they’re human beings that you have to be honest with.
“Our role in which we have to be really bounded about, is if there has been a specific incident, or they need packaging care, we are just involved in that specific incident. Or we would have to signpost other agencies to help with the incident. A lot of the time you go above and beyond what you should be doing, because they’re human and they’re asking for help.”
For Julia, a combination of factors made studying for her Social Work degree at BU an experience that was both memorable and ultimately extremely useful in establishing herself in her future role with DAST.
“The placement opportunities were amazing and also, because the lectures have been social workers, you’re getting honest and relevant experience. So not only are you getting your placement but you’re getting the experience about what you’re going to do. Freshers' was awesome from a non-academic point of view…”