THE JOURNEY OF SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN UNISA AS AN ODL INSTITUTION

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CHAPTER 4 RESEARCH FINDINGS ON THE ATTRIBUTES OF A GOOD SOCIAL WORKER AND A LIFE COACHING PROGRAMME FOR SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN AN ODL CONTEXT

INTRODUCTION

Chapter 3 highlighted the findings on the motivations of why students study social work and why they study through UNISA; the academic, professional and personal needs of these social work students (Theme 1 and 2) as well as satisfiers or sources of support identified and suggested by the participants (Theme 3).
Chapter 4 captures the participants’ perceptions of the attributes of a good social worker and suggestions on how these attributes could be developed in social work students. Suggestions on the core elements of a life coaching programme for social work students within an ODL context, possible methods of delivery as well as the manner of presentation of this support programme (Theme 4 and 5) are included in this chapter.

FINDINGS ON THE ATTRIBUTES OF A GOOD SOCIAL WORKER AND A LIFE COACHING PROGRAMME FOR SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN AN ODL CONTEXT

In the rest of this chapter the related themes, sub-themes, categories and sub-categories are summarised in a table, storylines are presented and compared with literature.

Discussion of themes

Two themes will be discussed, namely (a) participants’ perspectives on the attributes of a good social worker and their suggestions as to how these can be developed in social work students as well as (b) participants’ suggestions on a life coaching programme for social work students within an ODL context.

THEME 4: SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS’ PERSPECTIVES ON THE ATTRIBUTES OF A GOOD SOCIAL WORKER AND SUGGESTIONS AS TO HOW THESE CAN BE DEVELOPED IN STUDENTS

One of the questions in the interview guide was: “Describe the personal and professional attributes of a good social worker.” As part of the probing, participants also came up with ideas on how these attributes could be developed in social work students.
Therefore, this theme consists of two sub-themes, namely social work students’ perspectives on the attributes of a good social worker as well as social work students’ suggestions as to how these attributes can be developed in students.
Sub-theme 4.1 Social work students’ perspectives on the attributes of a good social worker
This sub-theme is divided into the following categories:
A good social worker has a sound knowledge base.
A good social worker has a variety of appropriate skills.
A good social worker has an attitude of service.
A good social worker has a clear set of values that result in appropriate ethical conduct.
Category 4.1.1 A good social worker has a sound knowledge base
Four sub-categories were identified as part of the first sub-theme. A good social worker should:
Have a sound theoretical knowledge base of social work
Have a practical knowledge base
Have a thorough self-knowledge
Undergo continuing professional development.
Sub-category 4.1.1.1 A good social worker has a sound theoretical knowledge base of social work
The theoretical knowledge base in social work consists of theories illuminating the understanding of people, the role of the social worker and practice approaches (Trevithick, 2008:7).
Students voiced their opinion in this regard as follows:
“Because of the experience and the environment they will be exposed to, they will be able to make theory part of their lives. I will have theory as my bullet proof [armour].”
“I will think of somebody having a lot of knowledge. Especially in specific areas. The knowledge part is very important.”
“Even other approaches. You go out into the world, you are trained PCA and other people are trained differently. You need to know which theory you work with and why. You also need to know the other theories in order to be able to incorporate that which fit yourself.”
Participants highlighted the importance of knowledge of different areas or fields and a variety of theoretical approaches, as is indicated by the storylines above.
The Global Standards for the Education and Training of the Social Work Profession (International Federation of Social Workers [IFSW], 2013) states that social work students should, at the end of their first social work professional qualification, have been exposed to four conceptual components which includes the domain of the social work profession, the domain of the social work professional, methods of social work practice as well as the paradigm of the social work profession.
The Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) registered at the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA Registered Qualification ID 23994 Bachelor of Social Work. n.d.) sets 27 outcomes to be achieved by students before registration. The required knowledge is specified in the associated assessment criteria (criteria used to assess whether the outcomes have been reached) of the various outcomes; e.g., knowledge of the nature of client systems and their dynamics, appropriate theoretical frameworks, knowledge of research, understanding of key elements, functions and principles of social welfare and social work.
Sub-category 4.1.1.2 A good social worker has a practical knowledge base
Practical knowledge refers to the use of known knowledge and the way new knowledge is created (Trevithick, 2008:15).
The participants also indicated that it is necessary for a good social worker to be able to put the theory he/she has studied into practice:
“(You are a good social worker) . . . when you can relate the practice to the theory you have.”
“To have a holistic picture of the situation, of the person, facilitates participation, being very practical . . . (A good social worker is) someone who can incorporate these things.”
“I think if you want to achieve something you must learn very hard and be able to put theory in practice.”
Social work standards and outcomes confirm these convictions. In the Global Standards for the Education and Training of the Social Work Profession (IFSW, 2013) the section covering methods of social work practice specifies the importance of sufficient practice
skills in assessment, relationship building and the helping process to achieve the goals of the programme for intervention, use of research skills as well as the application of social work values, principles, knowledge and skills to promote care, respect and responsibility amongst members of a society.
The 27 outcomes of the BSW registered at the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA Registered Qualification ID 23994 Bachelor of Social Work. n.d.) are written in the form of outcomes to stress the importance of practicing knowledge; e.g., “develop and maintain professional social work relationships with system” and “assess client systems’ social functioning”.
Sub-category 4.1.1.3 A good social worker has a thorough self-knowledge
Self-knowledge or self-awareness is the ability to observe oneself objectively and extend beyond a skill to include personal beliefs, feelings, experiences and behaviours (Kumar, 2007:77-78).
“The understanding of yourself on a professional side and a personal side, if you understand yourself on a professional side, you get to respect your ethics.”
“For me understanding my values. Who am I, where am I coming from? I am a wife, I am a mother. I need to come here and do what I am supposed to do.”
As part of self-knowledge it is important for social workers to know their professional and personal values, as explained through the utterances above.
“The ability and desire to grow on the part of the social worker and to self-reflect. If you want to grow and to develop, then you have to self-reflect. To be able to really self-reflect and change.”
“To evaluate myself as a counsellor as how I was interacting with the child. It helps me that on each day I learn a lot because when I [introspect] (reflect on) myself by evaluating myself, I end up realising that, in that part as a counsellor maybe I made a mistake.”
According to the participants, a good social worker reflects on him- or herself and his/her own interaction.
“Knowing what you want to do with your life, some people choose social work to find this is not their interest. Knowing yourself, knowing what you want to do.”
“Like me as a human being, finding out who I am and what I am like.”
A good social worker knows his/her interest/passion. One of the participants voiced the importance of a good social worker as knowing his/her goals:
“If you understand that life is changing. The experiences you had today, are not going to determine who you are in the future. Irrespective of whatever challenges you have faced. Even your background, if [I] (you) come from a poor family, [I] (you) can still become a professional somebody as long as you know who you are. Understanding yourself. Knowing your goals. . .”
The participants were of the opinion that a good social worker should know or be aware of his/her values, patterns of interaction with others, interests and goals. Dettlaff, Moore and Dietz (2006:3) refer to literature confirming that social workers who are self-aware, who have the ability to know personal attitudes, values, strengths and limits, can be more successful practitioners. They also identify social workers’ ability to perceive how others respond to them as a crucial component of self-awareness or self-knowledge.
Personality type is described as one of the factors known to have a significant impact on relationships with others. In his guide, Successful Social Work Education, Barsky (2006:15) underlines the importance of social work students knowing why they have selected social work as a profession and continuously assess themselves against the outcomes of their training course. Good social workers have a passion for the profession and set the requirements of the profession as goals guiding their learning and practice.
Sub-category 4.1.1.4 A good social worker has to undergo continuing professional development (CPD)
In South Africa, CPD refers to “a statutorily determined process that requires persons registered with the South African Council for Social Service Professions (SACSSP) to obtain a specified number of points annually in order to maintain ethical and high-quality service by attending or participating in activities of a professional nature in order to remain registered with the SACSSP” (Lombard, Pruis, Grobbelaar & Mhlanga, 2010:107).
One of the focus groups saw social workers keeping up to date with new information as essential:
“Updating yourself with current information. Things keep on changing. Be open for [new] ideas.”
“Also when you are out there, already a social worker. That is a lifelong learning. . .”
A newly employed social worker shared her experience of coming into practice and continuing the learning process:
“. . .When you start out [as] a social worker you know that little bit and then you get to know and you work with a supervisor and the learning process never ends, it is like a continual learning process and you must be open to it.”
Literature confirms the role of lifelong learning in social work. “Social work education does not end when you complete your degree. Social work education is a life sentence, as social workers who do not continue to learn are destined to lose their competence as a practitioner. Without learning, knowledge becomes outdated, skills slip, self-awareness blurs, and critical thinking stagnates” (Barsky, 2006:287).
With a more positive perspective, Higham (2006:177) recognises the importance of continuing development so that newly qualified social workers can move from “competence” to “expertise”. She also recognises the difficulty busy social workers, who are immersed in practice, experience to find ways to continue their own development.
Category 4.1.2 A good social worker has a variety of appropriate skills
Two sub-categories can be distinguished, namely (a) that a good social worker has effective intervention skills and (b) that a good social worker has effective administrative skills.
Sub-category 4.1.2.1 A good social worker has effective intervention skills
“Social work intervention is a strategy by social workers to offer intervention to individuals, families and groups which enables them to meet their needs and issues” (Ask, n.d.).
Although not much was said about the various skills, participants referred to a variety of necessary skills, as was demonstrated by the different storylines below:
“I realise as a social worker you need to be an attentive listener. If you are an attentive listener, you will be able to hear what the client is saying. You will be able to remember what the client told you, you will be able to respond back your understanding from the client’s frame of reference.”
“You have to be a good listener. You have to attend to the person. If you fail to do that you will not be able to be a good helper.”
“Listening and patience. They go together.”
Most participants have agreed that a good social worker listens well.
“Creating a safe space.”
A good social worker can create a safe space.
“You have to add empathy to the perfect social worker.”
A good social worker can use empathy well.
“Understanding your skills, like understanding immediacy. When you get to a point where you are challenged, knowing how to put those skills into practice.”
A good social worker uses immediacy.
“In one of my reports my supervisor said, ‘F, you focus too much on the negative, where are the positives?’ and that was a lesson.”
A good social worker can recognise the clients’ strengths and potential.
“Being creative. Sometimes to get through to the client if there is a block you need to do weird things and you have [got] to think out of the box, so being creative is important.”
A good social worker is creative.
Skills needed to practice social work are specified in the exit level outcomes of the BSW. One of the 27 exit level outcomes of the BSW registered at the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA Registered Qualification ID 23994 Bachelor of Social Work. n.d.) is to “develop and maintain professional social work relationships with client systems”. Two of the associated assessment criteria are implementation of social work principles at the individual, family, community and organisational level as well as the creation of enabling environments for clients to develop their full capacity. The participants were referring to their prescribed book on the person-centred facilitation: process, theory and practice (Grobler & Schenck, 2009), focusing on creating a safe space for clients through unconditional positive regard, using basic skills of listening, empathy and attending as well as the advanced skills of immediacy, advanced empathy and identifying discrepancies.
The second exit level outcome of the BSW (SAQA Registered Qualification ID 23994 Bachelor of Social Work. n.d.) reads: “. . .assess the client system’s social functioning”, while one of the associated assessment criteria refers to the analyses of needs and strengths of client systems from the perspective of an appropriate theoretical framework.
One of the critical cross-field outcomes (outcomes applicable in various fields) of the qualification is to collect, analyse, organise and critically evaluate information. This implies the ability to be creative and “think outside the box” (Johnston, 2009:646).
Sub-category 4.1.2.2 A good social worker has effective administrative skills
As far as administrative skills are concerned, participants referred mainly to time management skills. The following statements attest to this opinion:
“Waiting for reports and requesting reports and a month down the line [we] (you) still don’t have it and then you have [got] to phone again [and that kind of thing], especially from social workers in other provinces.”
“You either don’t get feedback or you have to wait six to eight months for a screening report. If you cannot do it in time just let them know and say that you cannot do it, can you make another date for it.”
“And how to manage their time is important, like having due dates for reports. If he or she (works at an) [has] organization we are giving you a week time frame to write your report, [make] (write) that report. So that in the world of work it is going to be easy for that student and she will be knowing that there is a due date for everything.”
Newly employed social workers felt strongly that social workers in practice lacked time management skills and that it was essential to develop this skill in social work students.
Outcome 22 of the BSW (SAQA Registered Qualification ID 23994 Bachelor of Social Work. n.d.) reads: “. . .demonstrate understanding of roles, functions, principles and characteristics of management and administration within social service delivery”. The associated assessment criteria require knowledge of management roles, skills and procedures.
In an article on the transition from student to employee within the context of a statutory social work organisation, the importance of new employees meeting deadlines is emphasised. A suggestion is also made that more time should be spent to teach social work students time management skills (Hay, Franklin & Hardyment, 2012:7-8).
Category 4.1.3 A good social worker has an attitude of service
The participants identified six characteristics of a good social worker. These features can also be seen as descriptions of an attitude of service, referring to the social worker’s willingness to put the needs of the client first.
Sub-category 4.1.3.1 A good social worker has the desire to help people
The following storylines picture social workers as having a passion to help people:
“I think the desire to help people, that is very important, without the desire to help you will just be doing the same thing all over again, just routine, waking up, going to work.”
“Another thing social work students must do, is to love this field or job of social work, [than] (not) to love [of] the benefits of the work, but to love the whole of this work of social work.”
“Passion for your job, a passion for helping people [‘helping’ in inverted commas] but empowering people if you want to use that term rather.”
These characteristics are confirmed by literature consulted. On the web-sites of some South African universities, a person who will be suitable to study Social Work is depicted as somebody who has a genuine interest in all people, irrespective of race, gender, beliefs and values. This student is concerned about people’s problems and needs (UNISA, 2012e; University of Venda, 2010:6). In a study done in the United Kingdom (UK), service users were asked about their expectations of social workers working in the field of palliative care. They valued social workers who were responsive to their needs, but also those of their families or the group of people linked to them (Beresford, Croft & Adshead, 2008:1399).
Sub-category 4.1.3.2 A good social worker is patient, friendly and kind
According to Blennberger (2011:11), examples of ethical qualities in social work include a basic attitude of respect, friendliness and equality. The following excerpts describe a good social worker’s attitude towards his or her clients:
“The patience to help people.”
“People must feel free, being amongst you. They must not feel that you are a scary person. You must be approachable.”
“So just do your work and do it well and be friendly to the clients.”
A good social worker is kind and approachable towards clients.
Service users highlighted the importance of a social worker being kind, warm, compassionate, caring, sensitive, thoughtful and showing empathy. They stressed the importance of the relationship with the social worker, while some described the social worker as their friend (Beresford et al., 2008:1393-1395).
Sub-category 4.1.3.3 A good social worker is able to set boundaries
Participants were of the opinion that boundaries are important when working with people:
“You know there are always limitations, (a) boundar(y)[ies] that you don’t have to cross. This is my role as social worker. . .”
“Always to be able to have boundaries, to recognise the personal power of the social worker, to be assertive to say this is my boundaries. Otherwise you are going to lose it. If you are there for everyone and everything. At the same time to be open.”
“Be flexible in your boundaries.”
These boundaries have to be flexible to accommodate clients.
The importance of setting boundaries is confirmed in the literature. Service users appreciated social workers being flexible in setting their boundaries (Beresford et al., 2008:1395). They valued it that social workers sometimes went beyond what was expected of them, by, for example, visiting a family who has lost a member on the night of the loss.
Codes of ethics also assist social workers to know where to set boundaries in their relationships with clients, colleagues, employers and the community (SACSSP, 2012).

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION AND GENERAL ORIENTATION TO THE STUDY
1.1 INTRODUCTION
1.2 PROBLEM STATEMENT AND RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY
1.3 RESEARCH QUESTION
1.4 GOALS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE RESEARCH
1.5 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
1.6 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
1.7 CLARIFICATION OF KEY CONCEPTS
1.8 FORMAT OF THE STUDY
1.9 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 2: APPLICATION OF THE RESEARCH METHODOLOGY IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF A LIFE COACHING PROGRAMME AS SUPPORT FOR SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN AN ODL CONTEXT
2.1 INTRODUCTION
2.2 THE QUALITATIVE APPROACH
2.3 RESEARCH DESIGN
2.4 RESEARCH ETHICS IN THIS STUDY
2.5 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
2.6 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH FINDINGS ON THE JOURNEY OF SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN UNISA AS AN ODL INSTITUTION
3.1 INTRODUCTION
3.2 BIOGRAPHICAL DATA OF SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS AND SOCIAL WORKERS WHO PARTICIPATED IN THIS STUDY
3.3 FINDINGS ON THE JOURNEY OF SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN UNISA AS AN ODL INSTITUTION
3.4 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 4: RESEARCH FINDINGS ON THE ATTRIBUTES OF A GOOD SOCIAL WORKER AND A LIFE COACHING PROGRAMME FOR SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN AN ODL CONTEXT
4.1 INTRODUCTION
4.2 FINDINGS ON THE ATTRIBUTES OF A GOOD SOCIAL WORKER AND A LIFE COACHING PROGRAMME FOR SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN AN ODL CONTEXT
4.3 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 5: POSSIBLE FUNCTIONAL ELEMENTS FOR A LIFE COACHING PROGRAMME FOR SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN AN ODL CONTEXT
5.1 INTRODUCTION
5.2 A COACHING FRAMEWORK FOR SOCIAL WORK TRAINING
5.3 FUNCTIONAL ELEMENTS IN SUPPORT PROGRAMMES OF INTERNATIONAL OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING INSTITUTIONS
5.4 FUNCTIONAL ELEMENTS IN THE SUPPORT PROGRAMMES OF TWO LOCAL RESIDENTIAL UNIVERSITIES
5.5 FUNCTIONAL ELEMENTS IN SUPPORT PROGRAMMES WITHIN UNISA
5.6 FUNCTIONAL ELEMENTS IN SUPPORT PROGRAMMES WITHIN
THE DEPARTMENTS OF SOCIAL WORK AT OTHER UNIVERSITIES IN
5.7 FUNCTIONAL ELEMENTS IN THE PRESENT SOCIAL WORK CURRICULUM AT UNISA
5.8 FUNCTIONAL ELEMENTS OF A LIFE COACHING PROGRAMME FOR SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN AN ODL CONTEXT FOUND IN LITERATURE
5.9 THE ROLE OF THE COACH
5.10 OTHER SOURCES
5.11 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 6: A SELF-COACHING PROGRAMME AS SUPPORT FOR SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN AN ODL CONTEXT
6.1 INTRODUCTION
6.2 THE CONTENT OF THE ONLINE SELF-COACHING PROGRAMME FOR SUPPORT OF SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN AN ODL CONTEXT
AN ONLINE SELF-COACHING PROGRAMME FOR SUPPORT OF SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN AN ODL CONTEXT
6.3. FEEDBACK FROM PARTICIPANTS ON THE LIFE COACHING PROGRAMME FOR SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS WITHIN AN ODL CONTEXT AS PART OF A PILOT STUDY
6.4 IMPLEMENTATION GUIDELINES
6.5 CONCLUSION
CHAPTER 7: SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
7.1 INTRODUCTION
7.2 SUMMARIES AND CONCLUSIONS OF CHAPTERS
7.3 RECOMMENDATIONS
7.4 CONCLUSION
BIBLIOGRAPHY
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