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Podcast Season 2: Episode 9 – Professional learning through Life Story work

We meet newly qualified social workers, Phoebe and Iona, who are in their first year of work at Gateshead Council.

Phoebe and Iona have both taken part in Creative Life Story Work sessions as part of their ongoing learning, and in this episode they share how the child-led approach has influenced the way they work with children, young people and carers.


Please note that this transcript is auto-generated and therefore will contain some errors and natural pauses in conversation.

[00:00:00] DAWN: Welcome to the Creative Life Story Work podcast, where we explore how a creative approach to life story work can help children and young people who are in care make sense of their past and build a brighter future. A new model for life story work is being rolled out in the northeast of England, and this podcast shares the latest learning and investigates how it could help improve the lives of care experienced children and young people across the country.

[00:00:33] for listening. My name is Dawn Williams and I am an associate at Blue Cabin, one of the partners on this exciting work in the region. Today, we are exploring how the opportunity to be part of the Creative Life Story Work Delivery Team is supporting newly qualified social workers to gain new perspectives on their role.

[00:00:53] I’m absolutely delighted to welcome to our podcast studio, studio, two guests who are both newly qualified social workers for Gateshead Council and they’ve been part of our All About Me sessions. Phoebe and Iona, a very warm welcome to both of you. I always like to start off with a few, um, definitions and certainly, um, councils and have lots of acronyms that get used.

[00:01:24] So, um, Iona, I wondered if you could do a bit of jargon busting for us. Could you tell us a bit more about what a newly qualified social worker is? Like, what does it mean? What do you do?

[00:01:37] IONA: So, newly qualified social workers, so currently we’re doing our ASYE years. An ASYE is your assisted year in employment.

[00:01:46] Um, so what that means is when you finish your degree and you start your first year as a social worker, um, for the next kind of 12 months. You’re supported in that through extra supervision, you have to complete a portfolio and it just really means that you’re not given, you know, you’re not thrown into too many cases straight away and that it’s managed for you.

[00:02:08] Um, and it’s kind of an opportunity as well to engage in extra learning and things that you might not be able to do if you weren’t doing your ASYE, um, for example, doing the life story sessions. Phoebe, so

[00:02:21] DAWN: if I’m understanding this right, so, so to become a newly qualified social worker, you, you’ve already done a degree in social work, is that right?

[00:02:30] Is that a three or a four year course, is that right? Yeah,

[00:02:34] PHOEBE: yeah, I think a lot of people go for, um, like the three year undergraduate degree. Um, personally, I had a foundation year as well, so it took me four years. There’s different programs like Frontline and Think Ahead where. You can get, um, you can register with Social Work England once you’ve finished a master’s degree.

[00:02:53] Um, and I think there’s also apprenticeships as well that you can go down it. You do have to kind of qualify and be able to register with Social Work England, but there’s a, there’s a number of different routes you can take to get there.

[00:03:04] DAWN: Brilliant. I wasn’t aware that that’s how there was lots of different routes into being, um, a social worker.

[00:03:10] And, and then so you’ve, you applied for a job to be Gateshead. So are you part of, um, Is there a number of, of, of newly qualified social worker roles? Are you, do you come in as a cohort or is it just as and when they have places available for you to, for you to apply for? Is that how it works?

[00:03:29] PHOEBE: I think different local authorities do it differently.

[00:03:32] I know some you kind of go straight into a position in a team, um, in a gatehead they have. um, NASYE Academy.

[00:03:39] DAWN: So you’re in a group of, of a cohort of newly qualified social workers on their first year where you’re given extra time and space, well extra time, space, support for mentoring, buddying and extra learning opportunities.

[00:03:56] So I can see where an All About Me session would fit into that package of support that you are both being offered. Um, Phoebe, I wondered about, um, Can you remember, uh, when you first heard about an All About Me session? How were you, how were you asked to take part in it? What, what did you, what did you think, what did you think you were getting into when you said, Yeah, I’ll be part of this team?

[00:04:24] PHOEBE: Well, it was quite new, so I’d literally only been in the role a couple of weeks. Um, I think maybe even a week, I don’t think. Oh, wow. I don’t know, I don’t think you’d started yet. And there was an email going around, yeah, for like, um, additional learning opportunities and they were just saying they think it would be a good fit for newly qualified social workers to have kind of an overview of some of the additional support, um, and life story work that we can offer children who are in our care.

[00:04:54] And it just seemed like a really lovely opportunity. It wasn’t something that I was particularly familiar with. So they just kind of emailed around and asked if anybody was interested in, in supporting it and having that extra experience and insight.

[00:05:06] DAWN: And Ayanna, was that the

[00:05:07] IONA: same for you? An email arrives.

[00:05:09] Um, mine was a little bit different because I did my placement at Gateshead Council. So when I was on placement here last year, um, before I started my ASYE, um, I actually. Sat right near Susie who does the kind of therapeutic life story work here at Gateshead Um, and I wanted, I’d asked her whilst I was on placement if there was an opportunity for me to do it So when I started my ASYA, I wasn’t able to do the first kind of cohort of it Um, which Phoebe did.

[00:05:40] So for the next one, I’d actually emailed Susie and said oh Can I, can I take part in it? Cause it was something I was really interested in. That’s great.

[00:05:48] DAWN: That’s, I’m always fascinated to know how, uh, different authorities, um, are, uh, offering these opportunities out. So two different ways in, in for you as well.

[00:05:59] So email and then the personal touch through a colleague at Gateshead as well. And, um, a question to both of you really. So, You will have heard from an email, Phoebe, about, you know, do you want to come and be part of the All About Me team? Um, uh, what was it when you actually got in to be one of the sessions?

[00:06:20] Was it, what was that like? Was it how you expected? Was it very different? Were you just think, were you, were you on the edge of your comfort zone thinking, what have I let myself in for here? What do you remember? What happened in those very first sessions that you were doing?

[00:06:34] PHOEBE: I was really looking forward to doing them.

[00:06:36] Um, I did my placement in adoption. Um, and really, really love the concept of life story work and the different kind of ways that you can go about it, depending on the ages of different children and what experiences they’ve had. So I was really interested in doing it, um, and then found out it was going to be virtual.

[00:06:56] And I think I was just a little bit apprehensive as to kind of what, what that was going to look like, um, and how I was going to be able to kind of understand what some of these children’s experiences are and. and what they’re going to get out of the sessions from behind a screen. Um, I think the children that I did mine with were, were younger as well, because I think there’s two different age groups, isn’t there, and mine were younger.

[00:07:21] That’s right, yeah. Yeah, and I wondered whether being behind a screen was going to be a barrier for them. So I think going into the first session, I didn’t really know what to expect.

[00:07:31] DAWN: And Iona, how about you? Were you working face to face or were you working online as well?

[00:07:36] IONA: Yeah, so my sessions were face to face.

[00:07:39] So they were slightly, so my experience is probably slightly different to what Phoebe’s was. Um, I think before I went, I, the same, I felt a little bit kind of nervous, didn’t know what to expect, um, but it was, you know, really nice through those first sessions getting to know the young people and getting to know their carers as well and like building, building then kind of relationships with them in a different type of role to what we’re used to, I guess.

[00:08:05] Um, but yeah, no, I really, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed them, I really enjoyed them straight away, but I was a little bit kind of like, what should I be doing? Um, like, should I be joining in a little bit more? Should I be like, Trying to be a bit more supportive, but it kind of is just once you get into them You just see what happens next and you just take it as it comes.

[00:08:25] I think

[00:08:26] DAWN: yeah

[00:08:27] IONA: I

[00:08:27] PHOEBE: think being behind the screen as well because the children had their carers with them It was a really lovely opportunity to see the relationships that they had with the carers because obviously the artist and myself weren’t physically there to support them with what they were doing with the arts and the crafts.

[00:08:42] So you were watching them be supported by their carers and have those conversations and that was really

[00:08:48] DAWN: lovely. I’m glad you’ve started, started talking about that building of relate, building of relationships. Um, in the, in the roles that you’re doing, we, we always have, um, an, an artist and we always have the roles that you were adopting.

[00:09:04] We call them pastoral support workers. And that role is. often stepped into by, uh, social workers or family workers, in this instance, newly qualified social workers. Um, online we have a producer as well who’s doing tech support, but I wondered if you wanted to say something about what that role of pastor or support worker is that you’re actually doing in those sessions?

[00:09:28] Because it’s quite clearly defined in terms of the artist, Does leads the activity, pastoral support worker is there in another role. What, what, what have you, what do you remember about that role? What did you learn from being in that role?

[00:09:43] IONA: So for me, I think it was, you know, the main kind of expectations that come with that.

[00:09:49] Things that you’re told before. So, you know, keeping records of how the sessions have been. Anything that you might have picked up on, you know, anything that’s been raised within them. I think one of the more important bit is that in general, it’s just a group of. You know, young people and carers, they’re getting to know you and getting to know kind of what their routines are and what you’re asking about.

[00:10:09] So I know that they’d come in at the end of the week and I had like one little boy that always used to get a Starbucks coffee with his mum. Obviously he didn’t get a coffee, he got a hot chocolate. Um, But they used to come along and like he’d always show it off to me and it was like you just knew that that was what they were going to be doing and you knew what to ask them about.

[00:10:26] So I think it’s not only just the kind of expectations around the role because it’s important, the note taking and making sure that they’re doing alright, but it’s also that side of it where you’re getting to know them a little bit better and When you get to know them a little bit better, you know, what to talk to them about in that session.

[00:10:41] Because I think it’s also a little bit of a space for the, you know, for the carers too, to check in, like, see how theirs week, how has their week been as well, type of thing.

[00:10:52] PHOEBE: Yeah, it’s quite a safe space. I mean, mine kind of happened, um, I supported over the Christmas period and there was a bout of illness that I think all, all of the carers had, like intermittently.

[00:11:06] So. I was also kind of keeping in touch with the carers, um, and communicating and checking in, asking if they were okay, if they needed any support, whether they felt they were up to, you know, doing the sessions, rearranging them, that kind of thing. Um, and I think because it was virtual, maybe the room for, for just a casual check in or small talk or that natural kind of approach isn’t always as easily there.

[00:11:34] So the artist was quite conscious of, you know, making a point at the start of all the sessions that if afterwards anything came up they could contact me and in the sessions maybe put in each child in like a breakout room with me for a couple of minutes with their carer, just to have the opportunity to say how did your day go, how’s your week been, and then if they wanted to share anything else they could.

[00:11:54] DAWN: I think as we’ve done the sessions, um, because we’re about to start into block nine now, so we’re getting a lot of experiences and it’s become, um, Uh, more and more apparent how crucial the role of, well, it was always crucial, but how that the link between, um, between the sessions and also the link between child and care of the absolute key role that you’re playing there, as well as everything else you’re expected to do, take notes and upload them onto the files and any safeguarding and holding the information about the children who are coming in.

[00:12:27] But I think, um, your point, Iona, about. What’s a check in what’s happened in that week. It’s really vital at the beginning. If you know that something, you know, the child’s been in detention or whatever’s happened and what that’s what’s being brought into the room, you know, at the beginning. And, and that’s absolutely your key role, isn’t it?

[00:12:45] Because that’s your expertise that you’re bringing into the room for those sessions. Um, I wondered, I’m just still interested in, so you are you with your professional. Um, pastoral support worker role, you’re being asked to work alongside an artist who has a different role and in the case of online, a producer as well.

[00:13:09] And you’ve got the children and the carers in there. I wonder, um, what it is that, uh, were there any surprises in the sessions that you had because you’re there joining in with the activities as well. Any surprises that you had or think what are the things that you remember from the sessions that you were involved in.

[00:13:26] PHOEBE: I don’t think I was surprised as such, but I was, um, absolutely blown away by the artist and how she was able to engage with the children through the screen, um, and physically get them up and moving and, and completing the tasks and yeah, I mean, we, we’ve all kind of sat in virtual meetings and it’s not always.

[00:13:50] It’s quite hard sometimes to kind of focus in them and, and to engage you well in them and I did wonder how that was going to go, but I was totally blown away with how she was able to do that. Yeah,

[00:13:59] IONA: and how about in your face to face, Iona? Like Phoebe said, not necessarily because mine wasn’t through a screen, mine was in person, but again, the artist that I was working with, her ability to engage with the children and get them, get them into it and get the carers into it as well.

[00:14:14] There was always just an aspect of fun to it, even though as well, so much. preparation and so much planning goes into kind of each session. Um, and you know, the way that everyone was just having fun, but also managed to keep it so focused on what we were going to be doing. And I think it was nice that at some points it felt very, you know, you know, very child led.

[00:14:38] It was like, well, what type of days are they having today? Like what, what activity should we maybe do first? Kind of humming and harring between if it was going to be this activity or that activity and what flowed best with that group. Um, I think with my artist as well, it was really interesting that through our conversations, maybe after I’d said to her the way that I’d interpreted something, It was different to the way that she maybe thought that would be interpreted, but then it was really, it was because with the last group she had, that worked really well.

[00:15:09] But maybe with the new group that we had, it was different because they have different experiences. Um, but yeah, no, it was just, it was just kind of the way that people engaged with it. And also the fact that it was fun

[00:15:22] DAWN: as well. You started touching on it there, um, And for Phoebe as well, I wondered, I’d really like to dig into, um, because this was offered to you as an additional learning opportunity.

[00:15:37] I’m interested in digging into a bit about how being part of that All About Me delivery team, because you are a team going in there delivering it, um, and working alongside an artist. How would you reflect on how that has supported your professional learning as newly qualified social workers? What would you, what would you point to as, um, new insights maybe that you’ve gained from being part of this six or seven week process?

[00:16:09] IONA: I think like with that, I think it’s, you know, within our roles as newly qualified social workers, going into a role as a pastoral support is different to what we do in our kind of everyday jobs. Not different in the sense that we still do that kind of one to one work and we still, you know, building relationships is really important.

[00:16:29] It’s just that that was a role where we weren’t, you know, we weren’t a social worker to these young people. We were just there to be. a support for them or to just be like a face in the room with them while they were doing the activities or like with Phoebe like doing it on the screen, do you know what I mean?

[00:16:45] Like it was just somebody to be there and doing the activities alongside them rather than being their social worker that was coming to visit them to talk to them and I think maybe for some of the young people and maybe the carers as well that’s you know takes that, Pressure off it a little bit because it’s a different professional role.

[00:17:03] Um, yeah, I agree.

[00:17:05] PHOEBE: And I, that, that particular role is not, you know, day to day, we’re very process led, um, in, in a lot of what we do. So when we’re kind of going about our daily tasks and stuff, you don’t always have the safe and flexible space to let, to let children, like, come, come to you with, with what their thoughts are or, Oh, I don’t really know how to word it, but I think having that space where the only focus on what the child’s views were and what they were experiencing and what they wanted to share about themselves, like it was just, it was really nice to, to have that opportunity to be in a space where that was the only focus, the only aim, there was no other kind of back thought of it.

[00:17:48] Um, and to let them share at their pace what it was that they wanted to share.

[00:17:54] IONA: Yeah, and I think with, like, I agree with you there Phoebe, kind of in the sense that when we have things that we maybe need to explore or we need to talk about, that is what we maybe go into situations with young people and carers to talk about.

[00:18:07] Like, we know we’re going to have to go and speak to them today, so we plan a piece of work to understand that better. obviously for some people it might not be something they want to speak about right then and there and you know even though we need to understand that maybe you know we need to understand it as soon as possible because it’s something that’s you know important to understand their safety and things i think it’s from that sense allowing someone to pick and choose when they have that space to come to you um and i think as well it was interesting with the carers because a couple of the carers that i spoke with they had other young people that Lived within their homes and that they said to me actually they think that would be a really brilliant thing for them to do because it’s What happens outside of the sessions that’s really important like the questions asked around it and that kind of actually Maybe he would enjoy doing that and like being able to relate to it So I think that side of things as well is quite good to you know reflect on

[00:19:07] Will: Did you know that this show is available to listen to on Apple podcasts Google podcasts Spotify?

[00:19:13] I audible and many other platforms. Search creative life story work wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:19:23] DAWN: Phoebe, you’d already started thinking, but I’m wondering about, you might not be able to answer this yet, but I’m wondering about, um, How you might take. Oh, no, actually, I’m going to ask you this first. Um, I’m interested in finding out about your experiences of working alongside an artist and how that has supported your professional thinking as well.

[00:19:50] So somebody coming from a completely uh, different, well, no, that’s not fair. Some social workers are artists, but maybe somebody coming from a different viewpoint, um, but doing, working with the same young people that you’re working from. Any reflections on what that’s meant for you as newly qualified social workers?

[00:20:08] being given the opportunity to work alongside an artist?

[00:20:12] PHOEBE: Yeah, um, I think, you know, coming out of university and being quite new to social work practice, um, and just developing your practice, there’s, you do try and stay child led, and it is something that’s really important, um, but seeing the artists do what they do.

[00:20:30] It’s, you know, everything is child led and the way they are so like fluid and flexible and how they work with the children and just, they just kind of let the children come to them with, with how they want to respond to things, what they want to do, um, and shape what they’re doing around that and what they think is going to get the best interaction.

[00:20:51] Yeah. And the, the relation, I think the fun and the silliness and, but it’s obviously it’s not silly. There’s so much more to it, but the lightheartedness of it.

[00:21:01] DAWN: It’s really lovely. I think there was permission to be silly often in all of the planning that the artists do. You have got, and to the carers, but also you’re being silly with the children as well.

[00:21:13] And I just think that’s, that’s the invitation that you have, isn’t it? Iona, did you want to, um, add anything different to um, your experiences of working alongside an artist?

[00:21:26] IONA: Yeah and I think it’s, I think it is quite similar really to what Phoebe said, it’s that different kind of tools and different ways of approaching work with children and everything that we do try and do tries to be child led but it can’t always be that way but it’s that, you know, when it can be taking those little bits of Work or ideas that we’ve kind of gained through supporting in those roles and applying that within our own practice, you know Bring in trying to bring a little bit of fun to that direct work rather than maybe it all just being so You know focused and task focused and it just being a little bit more like light hearted I think that yesterday with with my team we were talking about kind of Going back to asking basic questions, you know just Fun conversations, like what’s your favorite thing?

[00:22:17] Like, what’s your favorite music? What’s your favorite color? Like, that type of stuff and bringing things back to not always having to be so serious and just letting it Be for the child and letting them speak about what maybe they want to speak about. So I think it was definitely A good learning experience from seeing the way that another professional works with children, wanting the same things to help them to understand their experiences and for us to understand their experiences, but doing it, you know, in a fun way that’s not, you know, not so serious all the time.

[00:22:49] Phoebe, Ione

[00:22:50] DAWN: has already started talking about, um, how you might apply this in your, in your work as a social worker. Is that the same for you? Do you have any other examples or thoughts about how you might try out some things that you’ve tested in an All About Me session?

[00:23:06] PHOEBE: Yeah, I think what I took away from, from the All About Me sessions was how Um, how children can interpret their own experiences, like how they understand who they are, um, and you can do a lot of reading, a lot of writing about a child’s experiences, but actually not asking them, you know, the tasks that you’re doing, the arts you’re doing, you’re not asking them any questions, you’re just allowing them to process whatever they’re processing and say it out loud and.

[00:23:34] I found it really interesting, and it’s something I’ll put in my practice, that how important it is to understand a child’s own view of their experiences, rather than just, this has happened, but what do they think, or how has it impacted them, what does it look like for them?

[00:23:49] DAWN: Iona, have you got any, any other thoughts about how you might apply that in your Practice as a, well, as a social worker moving forwards.

[00:23:58] IONA: And again, I think it’s quite similar to what Phoebe’s just said. It’s that children are kind of experts in their own experiences. And a lot of children that you work with, they’re the ones that have lived within these situations and they have more understanding of what’s happened to them than we ever will.

[00:24:16] And I think it’s being mindful of that when, you know, completing life story work with them. And I think that completing life story work is a part of. People’s roles, maybe not in the sense of it being, you know, the therapeutic life story work or within these sessions, but completing life story work to give children an understanding of what’s happened.

[00:24:35] And I think being mindful of that, that, you know, they know what’s happened and helping them to understand it, but listening to what they’ve got to say about it too. Not just, like Phoebe said, reading it on a piece of paper and then telling them, telling them about it when, you know, they probably already know, they’ve probably got an understanding of that themselves.

[00:24:55] DAWN: And so my final question to both of you is, um, for the next cohort of newly qualified social workers coming into Gateshead Council, um, what would you say to them when they, received that email about being a pastoral support worker in an All About Me session, what would you say to them, uh, to encourage them to take up that opportunity?

[00:25:21] PHOEBE: I think as you, the way that it works in Gateshead is you’ll come into an academy and then you’ll kind of split off into your own Um, and develop your practice from there. And I think being able to do something like an All About Me session is an incredible learning opportunity to think about how differently you can work with children, how you can encourage them to understand their own experiences, how you can learn from them, um, and how you can learn from the artists.

[00:25:49] I think it’s something that when you’re in your first year and you’re developing your practice and who you are as a social worker, I think it’s something that really, really helps with that. It’s really beneficial.

[00:25:59] DAWN: Iona, what would you say to the next cohort of newly qualified social workers?

[00:26:04] IONA: I think that whilst you’ve got the time and that supported space to further your learning and you know, gain as many skills as you can around Your practice and around your work, then you should definitely do it.

[00:26:16] I think it’s not just doing it either, just for the learning. It’s just a really lovely thing to be a part of. And, you know, you get to do your own little pieces and it gets you thinking about your own experiences as well whilst you’re doing it. And I think that it’s just a really good opportunity for that reflection and.

[00:26:34] being able to have a better understanding of the children and the carers that you you might be working with. Um, so yeah, I think for any kind of newly qualified social worker, I would recommend doing it. Like, definitely.

[00:26:48] DAWN: Thank you. Iona and Phoebe, thank you so much for our conversation. this afternoon. Um, maybe I’ll come back in a couple of years time when you’re fully fledged social workers and we’ll have another catch up and let’s see if you’re still applying.

[00:27:03] Some of you are all about me learning to your practice. That’d be really lovely to do. Thank you for your time this afternoon and good luck as you step into the world of being properly qualified social workers. Whether you’re a foster carer, Someone who has experience of the care system, or you work with children and young people.

[00:27:25] We hope this episode has given you an insight into how we could make Life Story work better for young people. You can find out more about our show at wearebluecabin. com forward slash podcast, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. You can record and send a direct question or message to the show via the website, or you can tweet us at wearebluecabin.

[00:27:49] If you’d like to listen to future episodes, remember to subscribe wherever it is you usually get your podcasts. And if you’re using Apple podcasts, please do leave us a review as it really helps others to find our show. Bye for now.

[00:28:08] Will: The theme music on this show is by Madofan, sourced from Pixabay and used under license. You’ve been listening to an Anya Media production for Blue Cabin. Find out more at anyamedia. net forward slash podcasts.

Produced and mixed by Will Sadler of Anya Media. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts by clicking one of the following links:

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