Waikato Social Work graduates find their feet on the job

13 April 2012

Polly Brown and Kim Mitchell

Social workers: University of Waikato graduands Polly Brown and Kim Mitchell, who will receive their social work degrees at a ceremony in Tauranga next week, are already employed at Child, Youth and Family.

Three of the seven people graduating next week with their Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Waikato are already employed locally at Child, Youth and Family. One is working in Paeroa and the other two in Tauranga.

Tauranga locals Polly Brown and Kim Mitchell, who now work as care and protection social workers for children under five, say they are delighted to be putting their learning into practice.

Face-to-face work satisfying

“It’s great to finally be working with families face-to-face after four years of study,” says Ms Brown, who came to university straight from Tauranga Girls College.

“I started studying psychology in Auckland but found it too science-based. What I really wanted to do was work with people, so I transferred to the programme in Tauranga. After that I never looked back.”

She acknowledges that having more life experience can be advantageous as a social worker but, at 22, she says her age is actually a benefit in many situations.

“Most of my clients are young mums who often relate really well to someone similar in age.”

Need for social work professionals nationwide

Acting convenor of Waikato University’s social work programme Kelly Smith says there is a need for trained social work professionals right across New Zealand who have the skills and knowledge to assist people to work through the various social issues in our communities.

“We liaise regularly with the social work profession, social work agencies and registered social workers to ensure our graduates leave the programme with the theoretical knowledge linked to practice skills,” says Ms Smith. “It’s great to see our graduates finding local employment.”

Graduand in the right career

Mother of three Kim Mitchell had worked in reception and office management roles before realising her passion was assisting people to work through issues and find solutions. Now she says she’s ‘definitely’ in the right career.

“My role is to find the resources to protect children and keep them safe. I thrive on the challenge and get that real peace of mind when I know the children are safe from future harm – that’s what drives me.”

Mrs Mitchell said her own family has been hugely supportive of her change of career and intensive study regime, and her children are now firmly focused on continuing their studies at tertiary level and following their dreams.

Programme growing steadily

The four-year University of Waikato programme, which is only offered in Tauranga, was developed in partnership with Bay of Plenty Polytechnic in 2009. Last year the programme had its first three graduates, who had transitioned into the degree following completion of the polytechnic’s Diploma in Social Practice.

Ms Smith says the programme continues to grow steadily with more than 40 people enrolled in the first year of the programme this year, up from 28 last year.

Graduands Ms Brown and Mrs Mitchell will be among 115 University of Waikato students graduating at the April 20 ceremony in Tauranga.

Ms Smith says there is a wide range of career opportunities open to social work graduates, such as roles in child protection, youth justice, advocacy, community development, family violence, elder care protection, health, mental health and social work in schools.

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