Case Study – Social Work and Speech Difficulties

Source: Sapey, B. et al. (2004). “Access to Practice: Overcoming the Barriers to Practice Learning for Disabled Social Work Students.” SWAP LTSN.

J failed her placement in a voluntary organisation. Her duties involved giving advice to people about safe sexual practices and pre-termination counselling. Her practice teacher perceived her as a child due to her impairment (head injuries) and the way she had learnt to present herself to others. The practice teacher was unable to accept that others would take her seriously, but did not engage with her to help her learn to present herself differently. The practice teacher therefore transferred her own prejudices about disabled people to J’s clients and wrote an unfavourable report of her ability to practise social work with a strong focus on her immature communication skills.

J was given additional support in the HEI including some sessions with a disabled counsellor aimed at developing her communication skills. She then repeated this first placement in another agency and with another practice teacher. She passed this and her final placement in a demanding mental health team. On all three occasions her tutor had been very active in briefing the placements and practice teachers, and in the last two placements J found herself with supportive colleagues.

In this case the first practice teacher saw the student as child-like and this was entirely a reaction to her impairment and the way she had learnt to present herself. She simply saw the student as incapable rather than in need of learning and worked only to assess her as failing rather than to help her pass. It is essential that practice assessors have undertaken disability equality training and are aware of the way in which their own prejudices could affect the judgements they might make about disabled students.

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