Student Spotlight: Paula, Social Work Student

In September 2023, Savera UK welcomed Social Work student Paula for a work placement as part of her course. Paula joined the Direct Intervention Team, who provide advice, safeguarding and advocacy services to survivors, those at risk and professionals who work with them, as well as offering welfare and wellbeing interventions that help individuals in their new beginning

As Paula’s time with us came  to a close, we asked her to share her experiences during her placement, what she’s learnt and what her plans are for the future.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a 39-year-old mature student, currently studying my second year of my three-year Social Work course at Edge Hill University. I have two sons and a partner and in my spare time I enjoy quality family time, meeting with friends, walking and reading. This is my first placement for my course and as a mature student I had a really positive experience here at Savera UK.

What was the focus of your work while on placement with Savera UK?

The focus was working directly with people who are survivors of or who are currently experiencing ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices. I have been working with them to risk assess and safety plan, and to provide help in the areas identified as risks that needed intervention.

The role included advocating on behalf of individuals and making sure other professionals involved were aware of the implementations in place for the client. We would signpost to different organisations that could possibly increase wellbeing for them and their families. I would also make sure clients were aware of the regular activity groups and programmes by keeping them posted about dates and schedules, as it is important to encourage them to join us in an attempt to break the isolation many clients experience.

What surprised you about the role?

Not the role as such but the work Savera UK does. I was surprised by the volume of clients and the nature of abuse they had been subjected to  and still experienced here in the UK. I knew what ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) was through my course but I didn’t have a great understanding and was unaware of how many cases of HBA and harmful practices were actually occurring. This role opened my eyes to the severity of it and the need for organisations like Savera UK.

What did you enjoy most about the role?

I really enjoyed being part of the team where from the first day I didn’t feel like a student! Everyone in the organisation made me feel welcomed and respected. I never felt uncomfortable asking any member of staff for help or advice, a big worry of mine that was soon eliminated. My experience at Savera UK has helped my confidence going into new environments, especially in my future placements.

Did the placement meet your expectations, prior to starting the role?

It has exceeded my expectations in every aspect, from working with colleagues and clients to the general role. I was able to grow and progress professionally and personally because of how comfortable I have felt in my surroundings. 

Building deeper relationships with clients was something I wasn’t anticipating. Meeting clients face-to-face made the role much more meaningful and allowed me to get to know them on a more personal level while still keeping professional boundaries. Savera UK works with a wide range of clients from diverse cultures and backgrounds, which meant I often found myself overcoming language barriers to get to know clients better . This was key so I could understand how their mental health and home life was on a regular basis.

What did you learn while working with Savera UK? What was the most important thing you’ll take away from your experience?

I have learnt how important it is to be culturally competent . By working with clients from a wide variety of cultures, I have been able to become a more culturally appreciative individual. Not only in regard to ‘honour’-based abuse but my general knowledge of the history of countries, languages, religions and holidays has increased. Savera UK taught me beautiful aspects from a variety of cultures that I previously was not aware of and now I am able to educate the people around me. Most importantly, my knowledge and understanding of the differences between ‘honour’-based abuse and domestic violence has grown drastically. 

The interpersonal and specialist skills I’ve gained through this placement I will take into my future as a student and professional within the social sector. After qualifying, I can confidently signpost professionals and clients to Savera UK’s specialist services.

What was the most challenging thing that you did during your placement?

The most challenging part was definitely hearing client stories first hand. The first time I was exposed to hearing a survivor’s story of female genital mutilation, I specifically remember finding it very difficult. The team is amazing at supporting each other when dealing with sensitive topics. Witnessing a survivor speak out for the first time motivated me to establish the correct interventions to help clients find their ‘savera’ (new beginning in Hindi).

Based on your experience working with Savera UK, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing organisations supporting survivors and those at risk of harmful practices?

Education and awareness is crucial for all organisations specialising in ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices. Some professionals can lack a deeper understanding of these issues and how to approach them. ‘Honour’-based abuse and harmful practices are complex issues that need specialist teams to advocate for survivors. By spreading awareness, more cases would be recognised as ‘honour’-based which would allow survivors to receive the correct interventions. 

What do you think needs to be done to tackle that?

It is important for organisations to take the responsibility of training and educating internal staff so they know where to go and how to reach out for the correct support. If everyone had an advanced level of understanding they may have the passion I have for the work Savera UK does and the amazing people they help. I feel like I have done that already, after 70 days I feel I have been educating other people on my course. If one person had that knowledge and shared it with 30 other people, imagine how much that awareness would spread.

What was the happiest moment of your placement?

I have loved it all! Even though some days have proved more challenging, there has never been a day I have walked out and thought I didn’t enjoy that day.

The Christmas season was the best! It was nice to provide the clients some quality time with the staff and other survivors. We watched Christmas movies, played board games and generally created an environment for clients to comfortably express themselves. I was able to see the positive impact we have on these individuals which was incredibly rewarding.

What are your future plans? 

After working at Savera UK I plan to complete my Social Work degree and become a qualified social worker, possibly specialising in a different area to what I originally anticipated. The impact of working here has given me a different outlook on my future career from working with the elderly to now wanting to help families and communities.

How will you use your practical experience with Savera UK going forward?

Overall I will be a more empathetic and competent social worker. I will continue advocating for survivors and those at risk of ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices and educating others about the incredible work Savera UK does!

Is there anything else you would like to add/share?

I would like to thank the whole team for giving me this amazing opportunity! I feel like the next person to gain a placement here at Savera UK is incredibly lucky, I honestly wish I could stay for longer! I am confident they will have an amazing experience. 

Joining the team has given me the chance to grow into the student I am today. As a result I want to keep Savera UK as a contact and would love to do more work with them in the future. 

I have developed not just professionally during my time at Savera UK, but personally too. Working with so many brave clients has given me a new perspective on life and has inspired me to do what I can to end HBA and harmful practices beyond my placement.