Step Up to Social Work - Graduate Story

Jacob Baldon, a recent graduate of the Step Up to Social Work, talks about his experience on the course and where this has led him to in his career.

  • Why did you choose to study at Salford?

There are two main reasons that I studied at Salford. Firstly Step Up to Social Work for the North West bases it’s teaching at Salford for both Greater Manchester and Yorkshire and Humberside which means it was the only real option for me to complete Step Up. I was also an Undergraduate Student at Salford between 2011 and 2014 studying politics and I knew the university well, which made it feel less daunting to start Step Up.

  • What made you want to study your chosen course?

After I finished my undergraduate degree in 2014, I worked in children’s residential care, for housing charity Shelter with prisoners approaching release and then spent two years at Manchester’s Secondary Pupil Referral Unit in their safeguarding team. When the application process to Step-Up opened in 2019, I felt that I was ready to take the step in to qualifying as a social worker, and Step-Up was the best option for me. I was living on my own, and needed the financial benefits of Step-Up which allowed me to continue my lifestyle whilst also qualifying as a social worker.

  • Tell us a bit about your course

To try and explain this to someone that has no idea about Step-Up or social work in general may be difficult, but I will give it a go. Step Up is a full time intensive 14 month Post Graduate Diploma in social work, which allows people with experience of working with children, families and vulnerable adults to gain a professional social work qualification, leading to the ability to be employed in social work jobs in Children and Families, Adults and mental health social work.

The course can feel like a bit of a rollercoaster at times, however if you think you want to work in this area it is the most direct and straight forward route in, and I still think that although it can feel a bit crazy at times that at the end of it you do feel ready to begin work as a social worker.

  • How did you learn on the course? Are there practical’s/fieldwork/live projects/guest speaker opportunities?

So, three months into my course the first UK lockdown was announced and this caused some massive changes to the planned course. My experience of this was definitely impacted by the lockdowns, and it also lead to changes in the teaching and placement experiences of me and the other students.

For the first three months I had scheduled teaching days 3-4 days a week, with 1-2 days of independent study. I like Salford University’s library, so on my independent study days I would work in the library as I had more access to resources, and I found it easier than working at home.

There was a mixture of teaching from academics and front line practitioners, which gave the course some balance. There was a lot of group work and peer support for learning, and we also had regular check in’s with our academic tutors.

After the lock down began we had an extended break, and then began a module on Children and Families’ social work, which originally was going to be planned for later in the year, following the completion of our first placement.

Jacob Baldon
  • Did you undertake a placement? If so, tell us a bit more about your experience

I had two placements within the 14 months, a short placement (that should have been 70 days, but was more like 40 due to lockdown) and then a 100 day placement at the end of the programme.

The first placement you go on is in Adult Social Care, and I knew going in to this that this was not the area that I wished to work in, and in all honestly I found it more difficult as a result of this. I was placed at a hospital in Greater Manchester, assessing and discharging people where there concerns about their abilities to look after themselves due to ill health or age. I believe it was important to see, but I never really felt comfortable in the hospital environment.

My second placement was fantastic, as I was placed in a combined Child Protection and Duty and Assessment team. I knew this was what I wanted to do, and felt that I had a relatively good understanding of what this would be like. The realities of child protection social work are that it is the most demanding form of social work, with there often being high case loads, complex issues and negative stereotypes about social workers. In spite of this, Child Protection social workers keep children safe, support families whilst in crisis and I knew this is what I wanted to do.

In practical terms as a student you have a (relatively) protected case load, where you may be completing Child and Family Assessments, building relationships with children and their families, leading on Child in Need planning with families, and you may also experience some of the statutory safeguarding actions social workers sometimes need to take whilst a qualified social worker co-works with you.

My advice to students who are going on placements in a team like this are to ask to shadow on visits, court hearings and pretty much every opportunity you have. There are literally hundreds of different things that social workers do each day, and I found people were really keen to have students with them.

  • What support is on hand for your studies? What are the teaching staff/technicians/school staff like?

I was supported by an academic tutor and the programme/module leads throughout my time on Step Up.

  • Tell me your career journey since you’ve graduated and how did Salford / your course help with this?

I stayed with the combined Child Protection and Duty and Assessment Team that I completed my second placement with for 14 months post qualifying. This was a great experience, and I developed a range of skills and confidence in myself here. I completed my Assessed and Supported Year in Employment here and cannot thank everyone on my team, line and senior managers enough for all of the support I had over this time.

In early 2022, I saw an opportunity advertised to be a social worker on the Complex Safeguarding Team in the local authority where I grew up and I was offered the role. Some of my previous experience has been working with young people who have experienced exploitation and I feel proud that I am able to do that in communities that I grew up in and feel passionate about. I’m still in this role, and feel more passionate about it now than ever.

I wouldn’t have been able to do either of these jobs without completing Step Up with Salford, as I needed the social work qualification to be considered for the roles.

  • What advice would you give to someone just starting on the course?

This feels like a difficult thing to write down as there is so much you could focus on here. I think what I would say is that at times during the course, placements and even when you qualify that there will be days when you think “what am I even doing here” or “How can it go on like this” but then something will happen that reminds you of why you do what you do, and how important it is that you’re trying to help children, families and communities at a time when things have become very difficult for people.

In more practical terms I would also say that a good thing to remember is that there will always be too much to do and too little time to do it, it’s just one of those things about being a social worker. Just keep communicating with your manager for help prioritising and you’ll get round to everything in the end.

  • What would you say to someone thinking about studying Step Up at Salford?

Really, I think you should do it. It’s a great opportunity to qualify as a social worker, open loads of different career options and do something that really makes a difference to children, families and communities!