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Chapter 4 – Failed

By March 24, 2020Uncategorized
by Lauren Hislop 

Click a chapter link (right) to follow this story from the beginning.


Greeting the New Year, my soul soared. My second year of social work was going to lead to placement and under the supervision of a qualified social worker, my degree would finally come alive. My dreams of being in a workplace would transform into reality. 

When I moved to Newcastle, I boarded with a family and living away from home, gave me newfound independence. 
      In the first semester, we had to complete a subject enabling us to proceed to placement. There was also an assessment requiring us to counsel a ‘client’ actor for five minutes. We had to be a ‘social worker’ using reflective listening skills, whilst being observed by three examiners. When our lecturers described this assessment to us, they ended by saying that a few people fail the assessment each year! 
      Due to my speech impediment, I was filled with dread. My potential for stuffing this up felt colossal. One of my friends suggested practicing and was happy to act as a client. It was his idea that during my introduction to the ‘client’, I inform him/her that I have cerebral palsy, causing my speech to slur. He said I should encourage the ‘client’ to request me to repeat myself if required. I believed this to be sound advice and absolutely decided to use it. 
      Assessment day came and my nerves were through the roof. I have struggled to make myself understood all my life and now I would be tested on it! My name was called and as I walked into the exam room, my lecturer turned to me, snootily exclaiming, ‘we don’t know how you’ll go, but we’ll give you a try.’ I was ushered into that room so rapidly, I didn’t have time to be mortified. I conducted my interview, using my friend’s advice. Afterwards the ‘client’ wished me good luck and I believed him to be sincere. 
      I left the room, fleeing to the Ladies. I cried in a cubicle. Unfortunately, my howls reverberated throughout the building. Ros, one of the lecturers I respected, tapped on the toilet door. I sheepishly opened it. ‘You passed!’ she exclaimed with a smile. The relief I felt was indescribable. 

In second semester, attendance at uni would be 3 days a week and then 2 days of practicum. Worried about balancing these commitments with study, I was permitted to delay my placement until the summer break. I would work for 10 weeks full time. 
      As eager as I was to start work placement, my living situation in Newcastle was unstable. Nearing the end of semester, I had to leave where I had been staying.  My friend temporarily offered me one of her children’s rooms, not an ideal way to commence prac. I didn’t let it deter me. 
      I was placed in a hospital with a supervisor working in child protection. Her clients were mothers of newborns, at risk of harming their child.  
      As I walked into the hospital grounds on my first day, I was beaming with pride. Wearing professional attire, I shuffled my way to the front desk and was greeted by Alice*, my supervisor. She was my age and appeared nice but I did not warm to Alice. She showed me around some of the extensive grounds of the hospital, rendering me puffed. 
      I delved enthusiastically into the fast paced and stimulating work environment. From my office, one could hear the clicking sound of heels in rapid succession down the corridor.  Sitting in on multi-disciplinary team meetings was invigorating as I observed the interactions amongst professionals. I also observed patient interviews conducted by my supervisor. The patients seemed undaunted by my presence and on occasion, I found them to be more accepting of me than staff. During lunch, I thoroughly enjoyed my exchanges with some of the social workers.  I felt included and valued as a member of their team. 
      I felt optimistic and appreciative for the learning experience. However, a few weeks in and optimism faded to extreme fatigue. Working full time during the week and travelling to and from my mum’s place on the central coast every weekend was placing a strain on my body.  

I had to write a literature review, undertaken in an isolated computer room. It didn’t bother me, I deeply appreciated being there. However, the slow pace of my writing hindered the completion of my literature review. I compensated by completing extra work at home; weekends and nights spent on both the review and daily journal entries. My only respite was mealtimes and sleep. 
      My body was working at maximum capacity and was depleted. However, I chose to ignore the signs, ruthlessly determined to make it to the finishing line. The adage ‘my soul is willing, yet my body is weak’ dominated my thoughts. My mind was constantly reprimanding my body for its betrayal! 
      Writing case notes was a challenging task. My peers wrote directly into the files. I had to access a computer, type and print them, then ask for them to be attached to the case notes. My supervisor suggested I needed to find ways to address this, without providing alternatives. I wasn’t able to carry a laptop and didn’t own an iPad, what else could I do?  
      I was not in a nurturing environment at placement, regularly the recipient of subversive messages from my supervisor, that not sustaining the pace of my able-bodied colleagues was proof of unsuitability. I was navigating a ship in stormy waters without a life jacket. I had to succeed and so resolved to endure this drudgery. 
      Allegedly we could contact a lecturer at the unit if we had any difficulties. However, this lecturer had previously expressed to me concerns about my ability to succeed in the course. I was not going to provide an opportunity to confirm her beliefs! 

I had my mid-placement review on the 20th December. I was given a glowing report and my supervisor praised my abilities. It was agreed that I was to begin independent casework. 
      I left the meeting relieved and went home for a few days over Christmas. Upon return, my supervisor told me I was likely to fail the placement, due to not completing the literature review. I was aghast! I had not been given any indication that I would fail. I hurriedly wrote and submitted the outstanding paper. However, when my supervisor called me into her office, my heart skipped a beat. She announced I had failed and would not be proceeding to third year!  
      “YOU FAILED”. Those words emerging from her porcelain mouth, shattering my dreams for the future in a single moment.  After she left the room, I was inconsolable. I was a soldier wounded and removed from battle. The white flag rose, I surrendered. And just like that, with a tear stained face, I left the hospital and made my way home.

*the name of the supervisor has been changed

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