Recently, there has been a lot of positive work done in the community as the country is forced to adjust to a new way of living. One Sunderland student has put aside personal difficulty to help young people in the region, thanks to the continued support of her university and a local charity.
Many students have faced a difficult period as some businesses and charities have been unable to continue with essential placements, but for Michelle Dias the support of Barnardo’s Newcastle Young People’s Support Team has meant she has taken one step closer to her dream of becoming a social worker.
Michelle, 38, originally from South Shields is in the second year of her Social Work degree at the University of Sunderland. When the lockdown came into force, Michelle was fortunate that Barnardo’s were able to continue with her placement remotely, but working remotely and learning new skills was far from easy.
“Personally and professionally it has been both a challenging and a positive experience.” Say Michelle. “Working remotely can be isolating, and I am very thankful to my placement team for their daily contact, and allowing me the opportunity to try new ways of keeping in touch with the young people on my caseload.”
Fiona Ellaway, Children’s Services Manager from the Newcastle Young People’s Support Team in Cowgate Community Family Centre, says: “We are happy that Michelle was able to continue her placement with us, and she was able to finish it. We treated and supported Michelle as another member of staff or service volunteer. We have also been asked by the university to see if any of their students who couldn’t finish can do their end of placement with us, which we are exploring.”
Dealing with the pressures of finding a new way of working during her placement was challenging enough, but Michelle had the added pressure of family illness.
“Two weeks into my placement my Nanna, who is like a mother to me, had a bad fall and was admitted to hospital,” says Michelle. “She was temporarily moved into a care home for convalescence and due to the lockdown restrictions I was suddenly unable to visit my Nanna.
“It was a stressful and worrying time for me, and I really appreciated the support provided by my placement and my university tutor. I was privileged to be able to continue my placement despite the change from working in a busy office to becoming full-time home based.
“I feel that I rose to the challenge. I worked closely with the team and took the lead with some of the work with young people, bringing fresh perspectives and insight into the work, especially in some of the more complex cases.”
Stephen Mordue, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Sunderland, and Michelle’s personal tutor, says: “We have worked in partnership with Barnardo’s to provide student social work placements for many years. This year, for obvious reasons, has been challenging in terms of social work student placements across the region with many placement having to be ‘paused’. Despite this the student we had placed with Barnardo’s has had an excellent learning experience.
“Even though there was a need to move to homeworking because of COVID19 situation Michelle remained supported very effectively by Carol Preston, in her role as on-site supervisor, and the broader team.
“The opportunities provided to Michelle were of a high standard in challenging circumstances and have allowed her to finish placement on time. This is in no small part due to the organisation having a strong commitment to our students and their learning. We are extremely grateful for this and look forward to further placements in the coming years.”
Michelle added: “Having the opportunity to practice essential communication skills with visiting service-users has been great for my personal development. The lecturers are all qualified social workers, bringing their real-life experiences into the teaching, and they are approachable, passionate and knowledgeable. I have certainly learned more about technology and video conferences than I was expecting!”
Though her Nanna is still in a care home Michelle has been writing to her throughout the lockdown. “I managed to see her on her birthday after over three months of no visits. Unfortunately, my Nanna is hard of hearing, so she struggled to hear us during the visit due to the social distancing, which also means we have been unable to speak to Nanna on the phone during the lockdown.
“Nanna has Alzheimer’s disease, which is progressing, and I was worried she would no longer recognise us, but I’m so happy to say that she did. Her face lit up when we arrived in the care home’s garden.”