An article in Community Care this week highlights the problem of the growth of the importance of academia in social work training and why the lowering of the age of qualification has its drawbacks. Social work students with ‘life experience’ found it easier to get alongside service users and empathise with their needs better than those who had gone straight from school to college and university.
Clare Evans’ article highlights that you just can’t teach values and experience in an academic environment, often leaving this to be learnt during practice placements. Practice placements have so much ground to cover in a relatively short space of time they are not the place to have a transformative experience in developing life experience and empathy.
There are undoubtedly some young students who, straight from school and university, have the gifts of compassion and empathy. But by making it possible to take this path, have we done any favours to the others who are having to take this steep learning curve on the job? Have we done any favours to the service users and the vulnerable who are the source of such learning?
It’s one of the tragedies of so many of the caring professions, and I’ve seen and experienced it in nursing as well as seeing it in social work, that the rise of the importance of academic achievement blocks so many of those with the genuine empathy and caring skills from taking the professional path.