In the middle of adversity lies opportunity, is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist. In light of the recent and current world wide pandemic it can be so easy to get lost in the fog and not see the potential of developing partnerships and new endeavours. Which for those of us involved in ensuring we enhance our student learning experiences is not an option.
Prior to 2020, social work practice learning opportunities had been on the national agenda for most organisations involved in Social Work education across Scotland, due to both the availability and quality of placements. The pandemic has amplified the challenges of finding suitable, high quality and relevant placements for students preparing to enter professional practice.
The role of a social worker (student or qualified social worker) is diverse and wide. However the central parts focus on the use of skills, informed by theory/knowledge and underpinned by sounds values. There are a number of organisations and placement agencies who offer our students great opportunities to develop in these areas either with children or with adults, and there are a few that will develop that generic approach of both working alongside adults and children.
In September 2021, I approached the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in Scotland about the possibility of students undertaking placements with them, as I was aware that as well as having established processes for progressing the prosecution of individuals, they provided a Victim Information Advice (VIA) service to victims/survivors of crime. This service offers help to child and and victims of crime in cases of domestic abuse, hate crime, sexual crime or where it is likely that a trial will involve a jury. The main purpose of my contact with them was to explore a mutually beneficial project of VIA hosting social work student placements as part of our BSc Hons and Master of social work programmes.
Our students have a great deal to offer the recipients of the VIA service, as well as enhancing the service provided by existing staff members, given students up to date knowledge and understanding of trauma informed practice. Students bring with them the opportunity to transfer their teaching within the University of Edinburgh in a number of ways:
- knowledge and understanding of the impact of trauma
- the ability to engage with a range of people, some of who will be in a crisis
- an understanding of the value of providing people with individual support, advice and guidance especially a part of a larger organisation and a society which at times can marginalise them.
- And so much more………..
Our students will gain some invaluable knowledge in relation to criminal justice process processes, including:
- Developing a working knowledge about the criminal justice systems in Scotland
- Assessing where a victim appears to be vulnerable for any reason
- Intervening, where the prosecutor believes the victim will benefit from VIA involvement
- Providing those who access the service with up-to-date information on key developments in the case that affects them – such as, dates of hearings, decisions about bail, verdicts and sentences – or why no proceedings are being taken
- Supporting and signposting those who access VIA to get in touch with organisations that can offer practical and emotional support
- Negotiating and accessing any additional supports for a victim of crime for example, if they have to give evidence in court.
- Supporting the organisation of a visit to court so that victims of crimes know what to expect if the case goes to trial and they are to give evidence
- Maintain contact with the victims and witnesses to ensure they remain engaged in the prosecution and feel supported
“This is an excellent opportunity for COPFS and the University of Edinburgh to work together to provide a service offered to victims and witnesses as well as contributing to the development of our future social workers. Further, it will provide COPFS with valuable insight into the most up to date research into trauma informed practice and domestic abuse and demonstrate partnership approach which will inform the practice of all those involved both now and in the future” Deputy Crown Agent Operational Support (COPFS).
This pilot project will run from Feb 2022 and will operate from both Glasgow and Edinburgh courts, with an evaluation taking place in June. Initially ten students will be offered this opportunity with a planned increase across other geographical areas across the Scottish courts system in November 2022 and beyond.
The benefits to COPFS and to our social work students are mutual and aimed at reflecting “Social work as a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge’s, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing”(International Federation of Social, International Association of Schools of Social, & International Council on Social, 2012). In summary I believe this is a win win for both the Crown Office and for social work as a profession.
Therefore in a situation which of course is difficult and further heightened with a pandemic, this pilot provides an opportunity which will lead to a great deal of learning and development for all those involved.
Director of Practice Learning
Lecturer in Social Work
School of Social & Political Science
McIvor, A. 2022. Social Work: A profession that chose me. In Cree V (Ed) Becoming a Social Worker a Social Worker London: Routledge. Chapter 2.
Photos taken by Avril McIvor
International Federation of Social, W., International Association of Schools of Social, W., & International Council on Social, W. (2012). The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development: Commitment to Action. Journal of social work education, 48(4), 837-843.