Newly Qualified: Flexibility of agency work

Kamara Palmer is an agency social worker in Leicestershire Council's 16-plus leaving care team. She graduated from the University of Birmingham in September 2009.

What led you into social work?

When I was 18, I moved to London for a bit and did my first degree in event management and tourism studies. Soon after I graduated, I had my daughter and then my son. I became a single parent soon afterwards and decided to move back to my home city of Wolverhampton.

Being a single parent changed my perspective on life. I started to notice inequalities in society and social exclusion. I was no longer interested in what my degree had taught me, so I decided to really think about what I wanted to do.

I didn't realise I could do an MA in social work until I had a conversation with one of my cousins and realised all you needed was a first degree.

How easy was it to juggle the MA with bringing up children?

My daughter was three when I started the course and my son was two. I had good family support, so my mum was able to watch them while I did it.

There were other students who were also in my situation as single parents, so that definitely helped me through. It was challenging at times, meeting assignment deadlines, but I got through it in the end. The lecturers were understanding and gave me extensions to deadlines sometimes.

What has it been like as an agency worker so far and what work have you done?

It's been good. Obviously, they know I am newly qualified, so there are certain things that I can't take on, like hardcore child protection stuff.

I started my first job in July last year in Leicestershire Council's care management team. The position I'm in at the moment, supporting young people who have just left care and helping them to access the support they need, is just for eight weeks.

Why did you decide to go down the agency route?

Because of the flexibility. I need that as a single parent, because I can negotiate how many days I want to work. I told myself I'd do agency work for two years, then I'll get a permanent role, because of the stability it offers.

What level of responsibility are you given as an agency worker?

You take on the same amount as council-employed staff, but the cases that I'm given tend not to need a long-term social worker. There was a case that I was about to get recently, but the manager decided that because I was only there temporarily, it wouldn't be a good idea.

I like having the opportunity to move around and see how different places work and learn different areas. But it doesn't have the same stability as a permanent job. I make sure I tell the young people I work with from the beginning how long I'll be there for. I'm quite good at detaching myself from the workplace.

Do you think newly qualified agency staff get as much support as council employees?

I don't think so. Even the supervision for agency workers doesn't seem as much of a priority as it is for council workers. If I ask for it, I know I'll probably get it. But I don't think it's as rigorous as it is with council workers.

The first year can be tough and certain things can knock your confidence. Sometimes, you do need that one-to-one support.

What do you want to do next?

I don't know what's going to be happening in six weeks' time. And that is exciting for me. If I was able to choose, I'd love to work with adults with substance misuse. When you're working with children, there's so much more complexity and there are so many bases that you have to cover. With adults, you have a bit more freedom.

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