SWAP – A Student Social Worker’s Perspective 

Michelle studies Social Work at university, she is coming to the end of her 70-day placement here, so we asked her about her time at SWAP.


Before Michelle first arrived at SWAP she had no experience with refugees or asylum seekers, before university she had experience in childcare and retail. She researched the basic reasons people attain a refugee or asylum seeker status to get some context for her role at SWAP and what the nature of the charity would be.

Michelle spent two weeks shadowing Shelagh who she describes as the ‘oracle’ of all information, asylum and refugee based. After a few weeks she was assigned her own cases. Her first case concerned a single lady with a child who she supported during her move from asylum accommodation to council accommodation after getting her leave to remain. From then Michelle was gradually assigned more complex cases, but she says this is an example of where social workers can begin to discover their limitations in a placement, for example when clients have more complex needs or the case deals with immigration-specific documents.


“Never take anything at face value: Be a detective”


“There’s a good, welcoming team” Michelle described. The team at SWAP supported her to settle into the placement. She discovered essential facts and figures from Mick, the boss and information on how volunteers worked from Emma, the Development Worker.


Now, clients are happy to see her because she has established good relationships with them. She outlined that it is particularly interesting dealing with clients who may not have had social workers in their countries of origin and showing the support she can provide to ensure clients make decisions for themselves, she has learned how to do this from her university studies.


Michelle outlined that as a social work student, reflection is essential. This is partly in order to improve emotional resilience. This means that if a social worker is affected emotionally by a case then during reflection they reflect on the theory and build up emotional resilience so next time they aren’t as emotionally affected. Michelle logs her reflection for each day and this log is produced weekly to her supervising tutor. She outlined the importance of applying theories, and said that in SWAP two fundamental theories can be applied to almost every client. The first is Maslow’s hierarchy of need. This says that without basic needs being met, people cannot meet their full potential as individuals, in this theory basic needs include warmth, security, a home and food.


The next was the grief and loss theory which is not necessarily the traditional view of grief and loss but here it is grief over the loss of a client’s origin country and the life they had there. We asked how you might help with such significant loss. Michelle replied that it is just being there. Supporting clients and understanding their situation. This is also helped by; maintaining continuity with clients, ensuring you see a case through, keeping records and staying with a client throughout their journey. In Michelle’s opinion, the most challenging issue are scenarios where you have exhausted every avenue, like their rights and entitlement to support.


We asked what Michelle wishes to do after university she said a job. She is unsure where because of the broad reach of social work. It used to be the case that social work students picked their preferred pathway in their third year. This meant deciding between children and adults and Michelle used to want to go into fostering and adoption services but in her placement, she has discovered a wider selection of roles, even between different councils. Certain councils assign social workers a ‘patch’, which is an area in the council’s vicinity, where social workers do all kinds of social work. Whereas other councils employ specialist social workers for each separate job.


We asked Michelle for her highlight from her time at SWAP she said:

“Anything, even small, like somebody getting their house keys… or somebody who has lived in the UK for a couple of years and finally gets the decisions that they can stay”


We will miss Michelle a lot at SWAP. She has become part pf the team and is a huge asset for the staff, but particularly for the clients. Now she has left, we wish her the best of luck in the rest of her studies and in her future career. Fingers crossed she pops in to visit us from time to time!