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Reflective assigment PLO1

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Practice Learning Level 2 UGR
Danielle Mackle
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Throughout this assignment, I will critically analyse and reflect upon my first Practice Learning
Opportunity (PLO). I will provide an overview of key aspects of my learning and demonstrate
my personal and professional development since its commencement using Gibb’s Model of
reflection (1988), as illustrated through my work with two service users with whom I shall
refer to as young person ‘X’ and young person ‘Y’. I will outline how the application of
knowledge, skills and values enhanced my practice, giving particular emphasis to antioppressive practise (AOP). I will conclude by identifying key areas for future professional
development, considering how best to address them.
Firstly, reflective practice is a core tenet within social work and can be best understood as the
process through which individuals learn through and from past experiences, reflecting on it in
the present to gain new insight into one's ‘self’ (Boud et al, 1985; Ruch 2000). It is a powerful
tool that aids social workers in bridging the gap between theory and practice (Thompson,
1996) while challenging ‘biased or distorted thinking (Houston, 2015, p.8). Thus, reflective
practice helps to highlight an individual’s learning needs for the guidance of future practice
(Quinn, 1988).
Moreover, key role six of the Northern Ireland Framework Specification for the Degree in
Social Work (DHSSPS, 2015) indicates that to become a professionally competent practitioner,
social workers must take personal responsibility to engage in what Finlay (2008) refers to as a
process of ‘life-long learning’ in the pursuit of self-awareness through continuously critically
analysing and evaluating practice (p.1). As Houston (2015) outlines, this consequently leads to
improvements within the quality of practice and contributes to better outcomes for service
However, knowing how to begin to engage in reflective practise often proves to be a
challenging task for many social work students. According to Boyd and Fales (1983), to
develop the critical skill of reflection one must first be aware of how to be an effective
learner. Therefore, at the beginning of my PLO, my practice teacher encouraged me to ‘tune
in’ to how I learn by completing a series of questionnaires to figure out my personal learning
style. Upon completion of the Honey and Mumford questionnaire, I scored as a ‘reflector’ someone who learns best through observing and thinking things through before acting
(Honey and Mumford, 1992). This insight into my learning style proved to be significant in
aiding the development of my professional reflection as it helped me to facilitate a better
understanding of what informs my actions. This questionnaire was completed again at the
end of my PLO to highlight progress throughout my learning journey. Notably, the results
indicated that I had developed as both an activist and theorist due to the unique learning
experiences I had during my PLO, allowing me to link theories to practice and take a more
proactive approach in situations (Frantz, J. et al,2017).
Furthermore, given that I am a social work student and that the concept of ‘reflective
practice’ is relatively new to me; throughout my PLO I kept a reflective journal. Alongside
supervision – where I received direction, feedback, and constructive criticism – my reflective
journal acted as a ‘vehicle for reflection’ (Moon, 2006, p.1). This informed my learning and
supported me to become more critical and perceptive of my learning experiences, thus aiding
my personal and professional development (McConnell, 2006 as cited in Knott and Scragg
2007; Tate, 2013; Dewey, 1993).
Through the guidance and support of my practice teacher, I was encouraged to not only
engage in practical reflection but also emancipatory reflection (Sicora, 2017). This assisted me
in making sense of my experiences in a meaningful manner, enabling me to capture and
connect my thoughts, feelings, and actions. While at the same time, helping me to consider
situations outside of oneself by analyzing the power relations and oppressive forces that may
have created a barrier to effective practice (Taylor, 2010). The significance of this reflection
throughout my supervision sessions and journal entries proved to be crucial as a key theme
throughout my PLO and this paper centres around ‘power’ within the client-worker
relationship (Tew, 2006) and anti-oppressive practice (Thompson 2012).
Reflective model:
In terms of reflective frameworks, while I will refer to alternative reflective theories such as
that of Schön (1983) to explore the different ways in which I reflect (e.g., reflecting ‘on’ and
‘in’ action), I have chosen to utilize Gibb’s (1988) model of reflection (Figure 1) throughout
this assignment. Due to also being a visual learner – as identified through Vark’s learning style
questionnaire- I found that the ‘reflective cycle’ diagram (Figure 1) works best for my learning
style as it enables me to visually conceptualize the idea of reflection into six stages, providing
a straightforward yet comprehensive framework for working through and examining
experiences (Fleming and Millis, 1992).
Figure 1: Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle.
My PLO was based in a residential care home for adolescents. It is an eight-bedded residential
home that provides medium to long-term care for young people between the ages of 12-18
years old. Throughout my PLO the ages of the current young people living in the home ranged
between 13-17. Each young person has experienced a myriad of challenges (e.g., drug/alcohol
misuse, behavioural and mental health issues) that stemmed largely from deeply embedded
trauma during their childhood (Strijbosch et al, 2015 as cited in Children’s Social Care, 2021).
While older social work literature still refers to residential homes as ‘units’ or ‘facilities,’ many
of the young people I worked alongside during my PLO expressed how strongly they disliked
such terms as they feel there is a stigma associated with such language and suggests that they
are living in an institution similar to a prison facility, for example (PDDW, 15, 9, 21). According
to Steels and Simpson (2017) using such language is damaging as “it gives a negative message
to society that only the ‘worst’ children live in residential care” (p.1404). Applying Thompson’s
(2012) PCS model, it is clear that this is oppressive on a wider cultural level and reinforces the
negative stereotype that children and young people living in residential homes are
‘troublesome’ (Emond, 2003). Therefore, considering this, you will notice that I have adopted
the term ‘home’ instead as I -alongside the young people I worked alongside during my PLObelieve that it aligns more with AOP.
Role and responsibility:
My role within the team could be characterized by what Maier (1981 as cited in Milligan
2006) refers to as the ‘core of care which is marked by the rhythms and rituals of the home’
(p.11), with its ‘requirements to work in the moment yet to connect the immediate to the
overall experience of the young people (Smith, 2003, p.242). My duties involved working
directly with the young people, both on an individual and group basis, continuously assessing
the risk and needs of each young person daily, implementing care plans and providing
ongoing personal, emotional, and social support as well as working alongside other members
of staff and multidisciplinary agencies (Ward, 2007).
The Children (Northern Ireland) Order (1995) alongside The Human Rights Act (1998) and The
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) are the three fundamental pieces
of legislation through which Residential Child Care services are underpinned. The procedures
outlined in these pieces of legislation guided all the care planning, safeguarding, and
therapeutic assessments I completed as well as the direct work I undertook alongside the
young people.
Reflection on practice
Young person ‘X’
The first of the two cases I will reflect upon will be my work with young person ‘X’ during a
critical incident. I will focus on the ethical dilemma that arose regarding the necessity of
balancing the rights and wishes of the service users alongside balancing the complexity of risk
within the ‘care versus control’ debate (Banks, 2012).
Young person ‘X’ is a seventeen-year-old female who has been living in her current residential
home for the past three years. Young Person ‘X’ is the subject of a full Care Order under
Article 50 of the Children’s (NI) Order 1995. She has a confirmed history of neglect and
emotional and physical abuse by her birth parents. There are also allegations of sexual abuse
by young person ‘X’s father. Young person ‘X’ has no current contact with either of her birth
parents. She ‘X’ has a history of drugs and alcohol misuse and has expressed suicidal ideation
in the past.
As young person ‘X’ is now legally at the age where she can cease to be looked after by the
Trust, she has decided that she would like to move out of the residential home and into
independent living. This will take place within the coming months. In preparation for this,
young person ‘X’ currently resides in the semi-independent flat that is attached to the
residential home in preparation for her transition into independent living. Young person ‘X’
has also recently entered vocational education and has begun working a part-time job.
Due to the major changes that are currently occurring in young person ‘X’s life, it was
important that I had an insight into the impact of transition within an individual's life course
from adolescence into the early stage of adulthood (Walker and Crawford, 2014). Upon
reflection, tuning in to this helped me to better understand the impact of ’stress as well as
the opportunity for positive change created by transition’ (Hutchison, 2019, p.353). Reading
‘Helping Children in Care Cope with Change’ (Jay,2015) made me aware that young person ‘X’
is likely to experience a sense of loss and grief as she prepares for her new beginnings and
adjusts to the prospect of life outside of residential care (Kubler-Ross, 2005). Loss and grief
can present itself in many different forms and generate an array of complex responses which
can seep into an individual’s behavior (Sweetman and O’Donnell, 2020). Therefore, it was
important that I built a strong professional relationship with young person ‘X’ in order to
effectively support her during this time (Trevithick, 2012).
On the particular occasion in question, I answered a call from young person ‘X’ who informed
me that she had taken between eight-ten paracetamol tablets over a short space of time
while at work and was feeling unwell. I can recall initially feeling deeply concerned for young
person ‘X’s wellbeing, fearing that she may overdose due to her consumption. Urdang (2010)
disputes that if social workers do not ‘master their own feelings, then the ground is ripe for
problems to occur’ (p.526). Therefore, I reflected in action (Schön, 1983) and quickly
recognized that I needed to remain calm and contain my own emotions and anxieties
surrounding the situation to ensure they did not manifest themselves into my response and
intervention (Sheldon, 1995). Failure to do so may have led to countertransference and
further distressed young person ‘X’ who was already unsettled and upset (Breda and Feller,
Throughout the duration of the call, I actively listened and employed an empathetic and
sensitive tone to help communicate and reassure young person ‘X’ that I was there to support
her (Cournoyer, 2013; McLeod 2007). This acted as a form of ‘support intervention’ during an
emotionally charged time (Kadushin and Kadushin, 1997, p.205) and helped to calm young
person ‘X’ and alleviate her concerns that staff would be angry with her.
Moving on, I then asked young person ‘X’ to elaborate on the situation (e.g., why did you take
that many tablets?). At that time, I thought that using predominantly open-ended questions
would enable young person ‘X’ to formulate her thoughts and feelings into her own words,
assisting me in gathering a more extensive understanding and aid the risk assessment and
management of the situation (Trevithick, 2012; Campbell and Taylor, 2020). However, my
approach proved ineffective as young person ‘X’ replied with “I don’t know” and “why are you
asking me that.” While it was not my intention, the wording of my initial questions may have
appeared critical and judgmental, and this may have resulted in young person ‘X’ not wanting
to engage with me due to her feeling as though my questions were ‘accusatory or
authoritarian’ (Campbell and Taylor, 2020; Seden 2005, p.29).
Recognizing ambivalence and realizing that time was of the essence, I adapted my
questioning technique to stimulate greater participation by using Hargie’s (2004) inverted
funnel questioning style. By using closed questions to begin with (e.g., are you currently
suicidal), enabled me to elicit the necessary factual information, while following up with a
probing question helped me to gain a more in-depth understanding of the case at hand (e.g.,
how were you feeling before taking the tablets?) (Trevithick, 2012). Reflecting upon the value
of ‘individualization,’ a key learning point that I gained from this experience is that one style
does not fit all when it comes to working alongside service users (Biestek, 1961). Therefore,
for future practice, I must ensure that I adapt and adjust my interviewing/assessment style
accordingly to support the individual needs and requirements of each service user and their
Moreover, after seeking medical advice, it was recommended that young person ‘X’ attend
the hospital. I advised young person ‘X’ that she should inform her manager that she was
unwell and needed to go home as a safety precaution to which she refused. I was
disheartened by young person ‘X’s unwillingness to cooperate given the severity of the
situation. My immediate response was that, if young person ‘X’ did not inform them herself
that I would call into her work and inform her boss. My rationale behind taking such a
directive approach was that the safety of young person ‘X’ was paramount, and I had to base
my decision on what I perceived to be within her best interest based on the available
information I had at that time (Trevithick, 2012; Campbell and Taylor, 2020).
However, ‘reflecting on action’ (Schön, 1983), it is apparent that I disempowered and
oppressed young person ‘X’ by negatively exercising my structural power and authority as a
social work student, providing her with an ultimatum which left her with no other choice
other than to comply (Thompson, 2012; Walker and Beckett, 2011). As a result of this, I
sought the advice and guidance of my practice teacher during supervision of how to deal with
such situations to improve future practice. While we both acknowledged that I had a duty of
care to safeguard young person ‘X,’ my practice teacher encouraged me to consider a service
users’ right to autonomy and self-determination in making their own choices and decisions –
even in times of crisis, given they have the capacity to do so (PDDW, 11/11/21).
Upon reflection, applying a person-centred approach (Rodgers, 1943) would have assisted me
to better understand young person ‘X’s hesitation while enabling me to communicate risks
more effectively (Campbell and Taylor, 2020). This in turn may have helped to facilitate a
greater partnership and assisted young person ‘X’ and I to come to a joint decision
collaboratively based on respect, honesty, and mutual understanding as opposed to me
forcing a decision upon her (Koprowska, 2014; Egan, 2014).
Young person ‘Y’
The second case that I will focus on involves Young Person ‘Y’ - a fourteen-year-old female
who is currently being voluntarily accommodated under Article 21 of the Children (NI) Order
(1995). Young person ‘Y’s childhood has been characterized by what Bellis et al (2016) would
refer to as multiple adverse childhood experiences (i.e., growing up in a household in which
her father had a substance misuse problem and mental ill health) and trauma (i.e., sexually
assault). These experiences have greatly impacted young person ‘Y’ and she now exhibits
challenging and harmful behaviour which is believed to be linked to her exposure to these
chronic stress situations (Hughes, 2012).
Young person ‘Y’ has a history of absconding quite regularly and often demonstrates violence
and aggression towards staff and those she views as figures of ‘authority’ (e.g., social services,
police, and medical personnel etc.). The main theme of my learning while working alongside
young person ‘Y’ centred around how to effectively deal with conflict and challenging
behaviours in a way that does not negatively impact the professional working relationship
between the service users and I.
My first encounter with young person ‘Y’ took place at the beginning of my PLO under
challenging circumstances as she had absconded from the home and her emotions were
extremely heightened. While shadowing a fellow Residential Social Worker (RSW), young
person ‘Y’ demonstrated extreme verbal aggression towards me and threatened to physically
harm me. This initially shocked me because of the language and hostility displayed and as a
result, I found it difficult to keep my composure and responded by ‘freezing’ (Levenson,
2017). The RSW had to intervene and de-escalate the situation which left me feeling
incompetent and I began to question my abilities and whether I possessed the confidence and
professional skills to overcome challenging and resistant behaviour (Trevithick, 2012).
During supervision I expressed my frustrations, outlining how I was disappointed in myself
due to my inability to ‘reflect in action’ (Schön, 1983) and think on my feet using the
knowledge, skills, and values I had developed during my Preparation for Practice Module the
previous year. My practice teacher indicated that, although I felt panicked during the
interaction, I had in fact acted accordingly given the timing and circumstances (PDDW,
22,08,21) Considering I had not yet established any form of relationship with young person
‘Y,’ attempting to prematurely challenge the situation could have had a detrimental impact on
our future working relationship (Trevithick, 2012).
Furthermore, Gibbs (1986) emphasizes the significance of making sense of why situations
occur in order to effectively learn from past experiences. In retrospect, although I reviewed
young person ‘Y’s case notes and spoke with members of staff who made me aware that
young person ‘Y’ struggles to come to terms with her traumatic childhood and the stigma of
being a ‘Looked after child,’ I had failed to consider and anticipate how my presence as an
unfamiliar social work student in her home may have unsettled young person ‘Y’ (Wilkinson et
al, 2017).
In this situation, Trevithick (2012) emphasizes the importance of drawing upon our theoretical
and empirical knowledge base in order to “understand how experiences are perceived,
understood and communicated” by individual service users and how this impacts behaviour
(p.2). Hawkins-Rodgers (2007) highlights the centrality of consistency, stability and familiarity
for young people living in residential homes as a means of supporting them through their
trauma. While Levenson (2017) states that it is not unusual for ‘looked after children’ to be
wary of individuals and situations they are unfamiliar with due to their inner working model
(Bowlby, 1988) processing their “expectations of the world as an unsafe place in which
relationships are fraught with danger and disappointment” (p.109).
Reflecting upon this during supervision with my practice teacher helped me to understand
that young person ‘Y’s hostility towards me was probably not personal but rather a defence
mechanism due to me ‘disrupting’ the status quo within the home which incited her ‘fight or
flight response because of her adverse childhood experiences (Herman, 1992).
As a result of this, I was prompted to broaden my understanding of trauma-informed care as
a model of intervention when working alongside young person ‘Y’ (Levenson, 2017). This
enabled me to view young person ‘Y’s case more holistically and assisted me in
empathetically engaging with her (Carr, 2003; Dill, 2016). Thus, young person ‘Y’ and I were
able to build a strong therapeutic alliance based on “kindness and respect and listening and
reacting with curiosity and compassion” (Levenson, 2017, p.110). I established that simple
everyday actions such as helping her with homework or engaging in conversations about
things she was interested in helped us to build a strong rapport and facilitated a supportive
environment in which young person ‘Y’ felt comfortable expressing her feelings and concerns
in an open and honest manner with me (Lefevre, 2010).
In comparison to the beginning and end of my work with young person ‘Y’ I feel that much
had been achieved. Although young person ‘Y’ continued to test boundaries and exhibit
challenging behaviour throughout the entirety of my PLO, I was able to gain a newfound
understanding of what might ‘trigger’ young person ‘Y’ into a ‘conflict cycle' (TCI Handbook,
2013). This understanding, alongside the positive working relationship that we had
established greatly assisted me in deescalating and resolving conflict situations with her in a
way that was restorative and preserved our relationship (Campbell and Taylor, 2020).
By undertaking further training (e.g., Sanctuary and Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Training)
and knowledge of the ‘Just Right State’ Materials; (Bhreathnach, 2019) which facilitates the
process of self-regulation and co-regulation through the use of food, sensory activities and
enriched environment provision and observing how other members of staff effectively dealt
with similar situations, I was able to reflect upon what I learned and incorporate it into my
own practice. For example, when working with young person ‘Y’ during times of crisis, I
learned of the importance of an enriched environment and effective verbal communication.
Using short and simple sentences that were jargon-free and paraphrasing back to her
demonstrated that I had listened to what she was saying and helped me to support young
person ‘Y’ to recover back to her baseline behaviour (Trevithick, 2012; TCI Handbook, 2013).
Future learning:
Reflecting on my practice throughout my first PLO ‘X’ using Gibbs ‘Reflective Cycle’ has
offered ‘conclusions and constructs to guide future decisions and actions’ (Svinicki and Dixon,
1987.p141). Each experience, interaction, and relationship I built with the individual young
people during my time on PLO offered a unique learning opportunity for personal and
professional growth and development. This has assisted me in gaining greater self-awareness
and enabled me to identify both my strengths and weaknesses which I will strive to improve
upon as I progress into level three. For example, for my future learning needs, I have
identified that I need to learn to enhance my delivery of anti-oppressive practice by gaining a
greater understanding and appreciation of my role as a student social worker and the power
relations that come along with it (Smith, 2013). This will help me to avoid unconsciously
oppressing other service users in the future as I had with young person ‘X’ during our
telephone call.
Moreover, while I acknowledged I have made considerable progress in my ability to manage
challenging crisis situations during my time on PLO, I still have much to learn as I am only at
the beginning of my social work journey therefore, I need to engage in a continuous
commitment to reflect upon my practice in order to ensure I provide the highest standard
and quality of care to those I am serving to ensure that their needs are fully met.
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