Investing in the next generation of social workers

11 March 2022
Intensive Case Manager Melanie sitting at her desk

At Sacred Heart Mission, we know the value of strong social work practice in supporting people who have experienced homelessness and disadvantage. Learn how our student placement program support aspiring social workers into the sector.

What is a social worker?

Social workers help empower people to make change in their lives and improve their personal and social wellbeing. At Sacred Heart Mission, our social workers sit in a range of programs, and are all trained in our trauma-informed service model.

They are strong advocates for people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage, supporting them to navigate the services they need and alleviate barriers to accessing them.

Training new social workers

Sacred Heart Mission trains new social workers every year through our student placement program with RMIT University. SHM offers up to ten social work specific student placements across the organisation, providing students a diverse range of opportunities to gain experience in multidisciplinary and supportive teams.

Student Placement Officer Jane Bakos coordinates the program with RMIT, providing avenues for group supervision, professional development and peer support.

“The Student Placement Program is the core space where students have the opportunity to experience the work and reflect on how this integrates with their studies and build this into their practice,” says Jane.

In Jane’s view, the program builds resilient workers and increases the capacity of the homelessness sector.

Jane says that “watching students graduate is pretty cool – having them choose Sacred Heart Mission and transition to an employee is the best part of my role!

Throughout the Covid pandemic, we adapted our placements around government restrictions and modified our programs to provide safe and accessible services to the people we support. Our students have continued to thrive, even in challenging times.

Jane, Student Placement Officer smiling into the camera
Jane coordinates the Student Placement Program together with RMIT University.

Transitioning into employee roles

Eve Giles, Pathways Worker at the Women’s House completed her placement in 2021 at Homefront, where she was able to independently case manage her own clients with support from her supervisor. She loves working in Women’s Services so an ongoing role at Women’s House was a great way to build on the skills and organisational knowledge she gained as a student.

“I had layers of support, but the most valuable aspect was the weekly peer support group of students, especially as our cohort predominantly studied online. I can’t understate how special it was,” she says.

Tania di Paolo-Knight, in the same cohort as Eve was successful in gaining an ongoing role in the GreenLight Plus program, after completing her placement in that team. “My placement allowed me to conceptualise my learnings and provided me the opportunity to debrief and feel supported in the role,” she says.

At Sacred Heart Mission we have employed close to 75 per cent of all students who come into our program into ongoing roles across the organisation.

Several former students have even gone on to become supervisors themselves – we call this our “student inter-generational learning model” and it makes our program even stronger.

A safe space to learn

One of these people is Mel Lu, who completed her final social work placement in the Rooming House Plus Program (RHPP) in 2018.

“I found the team at RHPP really supportive and welcoming. They provided a safe space for me to learn where I felt comfortable,” she says. After her placement, Mel joined the casual roster as a support worker across the organisation, completing shifts at RHPP and Sacred Heart Central before being offered a graduate position at St Vincent’s Hospital.

Ultimately, Mel missed working in the homelessness sector and when a part-time position at our Journey to Social Inclusion program (J2SI) came up in late 2019, she jumped at the chance to return to Sacred Heart Mission. Mel started in the new J2SI team in 2020 and finds working in J2SI extremely fulfilling.

“This role allows you to be a good advocate and show real passion for your job as a social worker,” she says.

In 2021, Mel had the opportunity to supervise an RMIT social work student, “I drew on my own experience from being a student, and what I felt would be beneficial to discuss with them, to help shape a trainee social worker to be job ready,” she says. “I like using my experience and knowledge to help benefit someone else, and the wider community.”

Student placements
Find out more about our work placement program for university and TAFE students: