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This paper outlines the experiences of an undergraduate social work program (Bachelor of Social Work) in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Two terms used throughout the paper include: 1) “service user,” equivalent to “client” in the North American context and 2) “caregiver” also known as “carer,” a term used to describe individuals who play the role of caring or supporting service users/clients. This first author (KD) had the rare opportunity to learn about social work education from a different vantage point while living for a period at Queen’s University in Northern Ireland. Her experiences of working in the North American Social Work context suggest that the role of service users in the social work educational context still remains an elusive subject (Austin & Isokuortti, 2016). Her experiences, along with her academic team, are described in this institutional case study, which explores the roles that service users and caregivers play in educating social work students prior to their first field placement. The analysis showcases the rich experiences to which social work students are exposed when preparing both personally and professionally for a long-standing career engaging with service users and caregivers in various community, residential (group care), hospital environments and community settings. While schools of social work strive to provide students with educational opportunities that will enhance their transition into field-placement settings, many remain challenged at how to teach the core skills of social work practice. Educators can be removed from the day-to-day realities of practice. This makes is difficult to provide real-world examples to students. Students, however, want clarity about the realities of practice. Providing students with exemplars is critical in preparing them for competent and confident practice. Exposing students to the real-world challenges of service users’ and caregivers’ lived experiences is an essential component in the development of social work practitioners.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalField Educator
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2016


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