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Maintaining peer learning as a locum social worker

By Gemma Raw

It can be liberating working as a locum social worker. You have much more flexibility over the type of work you do and where you work. But how do you maintain peer learning when you are effectively self-employed? Peer based learning is a crucial element in social work professional development. What’s more, there’s every indication the new regulatory body, Social Work England, will place significant value on it. Our social work consultants remain close to the candidates they place. Our social work community will often tell us how they are using peer learning to reinforce best practice. Plus, interviewers will sometimes ask you about your approach to peer learning. So, here’s a few tips:

1. Ask your supervisor 

Most local authority employers will promote peer learning within a supervision context. 

This can take either an informal or formal approach. Something we are seeing more of from employers is the integration of informal supervision. This is where teams of social workers are encouraged to share ideas and concerns about practice. Often this will include the entire team; locum social workers as well as permanent team members. 

Peer supervision can also be a formal process where social workers meet to discuss specific cases. Here, advice and decisions are documented. 

2. Mentorship

There are benefits to both professionals with mentorship. For you, it will give you the opportunity to discuss any challenges you are experiencing with someone who has plenty of relevant social work experience. For the mentor, it’s a great way to be reflective and pass on best practice. It has tremendous CPD value too. 

3. Use technology

Sometimes it isn’t possible to find the time to physically meet. This is where technology is particularly useful. Google Hangout, for example, is a great way to connect and have a conversation with one (or more) of your peers. You could of course, share your thoughts by email, but it’s never quite the same as talking to someone face-to-face. 

4. Use social media

Social media gives social workers a digital space where they can discuss matters, although you do need to take extra care with regards to confidentiality. There are, however, several care forums now where social workers can share their frustrations and, most importantly, solutions.

5. Nationwide professional resources

BASW includes a peer-based Social Work in Action supplement in each issue of its magazine. Sanctuary Social Work News also interviews social workers working in specific areas to offer practitioners new insights. We have even introduced a section within the magazine, Social Work Circle. Here, social workers are invited to discuss familiar challenges and share their methods for resolving them. 

6. Use professional networks

You do have to be a member, but BASW has several local branches and networks. It also has specialists peer based groups focusing on alcohol and drugs, family Group Conference work, Immigration, Asylum and trafficking. 

Likewise, and although not a professional body, Sanctuary Social Care, runs events on specific subject areas. Check out our events page for more information. 

7. Become a practice teacher

Depending on how much time you have and what stage you are at in your career, you might consider becoming a practice teacher. Students are at a very different stage in their career and usually belong to a wider peer network and are keen to explore new models and research ideas. This will give you access to a wider community of peers.