A mentor assigned to help students on a new social work course at Liverpool Hope University has discussed her unique route into the profession.
And Amaka Ibuzo says she’s passionate about ensuring Black social workers feel ‘fully supported’ in their roles.
This year sees the launch of a ground-breaking new degree programme at Hope - Black Access to Social Work - a Route Into the Profession for Diverse Communities’ - being run in conjunction with Liverpool City Council and spearheaded by the Lord Mayor Anna Rothery, who’s been a driving force behind the project.
The institutions say that too few people from the city’s Global Majority groups take-up roles in social work - which has a significant knock-on effect for those needing care.
And to combat that shortage the University and the Council are creating 15 brand new spaces on Hope’s Social Work degree programme exclusively for those from under-represented communities.
One of the key elements of this Black Access to Social Work course is that undergraduates won’t just complete a work placement, they’ll also be assigned an experienced ‘mentor’ - a black social worker already working on the front line for the Council.
The idea is that the mentors can use their wealth of knowledge to guide students on their own career pathways.
And here Amaka, an experienced member of the City Council’s Fostering Service team, reveals how working for a disability car insurance specialist ultimately led to her finding her calling in life:
Amaka was born and raised in Nigeria, but has lived in Liverpool for the past 14 years.
And the mum-of-three came into social work in an unconventional way.
She’d spent many years in Nigeria working as a marketing officer and customer service officer for a major bank, having got a degree in English from the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.
As she admits: “I wasn’t thinking about a career in social work - not at all!”
But all that changed when she arrived in the UK and took a job working for an insurance firm specialising in providing cover for ‘Motability’ vehicles - the charity scheme that enables disabled people, their families and their carers to lease a new car.
It was while helping these families that Amaka, 43, had a revelation: “I was working with these vulnerable people, sometimes helping when they had an accident. And I enjoyed it so much, even though I was limited to having these interactions over the phone.
“One day I just decided I wanted to do more. I started looking out for other opportunities and social work just sort of came to me.”
Amaka completed a Masters in Social Work in 2015 and she soon found herself working for Halton Borough Council, Cheshire, and plunged straight into Child Protection.
She adds: “I dealt with all sorts of issues - drug and alcohol, domestic violence, mental health, and child neglect - and the cases were often complex.”
By November 2016 she’d joined Liverpool City Council’s ‘Care Planning and Court Team’, before moving to an ‘Early Help’ role, where social workers will go into a home and try to manage a situation at the first signs of trouble, so that it doesn’t escalate.
And, ultimately, Amaka is now working for the Council’s Fostering Service, overseeing foster carers who work with children removed from their parents and ensuring these carers have the appropriate skills and training to provide for these young people.
Some of the reasons Amaka is passionate about mentoring Hope students is to be that listening ear; someone who has walked in their shoes and is able to offer empathy.
Amaka would like to use her wealth of experience to support them to navigate their practice effectively. She says: “I am hoping that having a Black mentor will enable Black students to be open about any fears or insecurities they have regarding race and their practice.”
She’d also like to share her experiences of the small ‘microaggressions’ she’s faced as a Black social worker - not overt racism, but the underlying tensions she’s sensed.
Amaka explains: “Sometimes it’s not what it’s said, but what goes unsaid. It’s the unconscious bias, it’s the look you receive when you walk into a room.
“With some of these things there’s no ‘evidence’. It’s not tangible. It’s more of a feeling. And Black students need to be aware of the microaggressions that they might experience.
“There have been occasions when I have sensed that people have undermined my authority due to my appearance or accent.”
Meanwhile Amaka is also uniquely placed to offer support because of her huge breadth of experience, which she describes as coming ‘full circle’.
She reveals: “I’ve worked in Early Help, where the trouble first starts, I’ve gone to the Child in Need team, where the issue has escalated, then Child Protection where the situation is becoming much more serious, and also the Court team when it’s a major issue.
“And, finally, I’m now working in fostering, when the child has finally been removed. Some people might have this assumption that if a parent puts a single foot wrong, the child is removed. But that’s simply not true. We do a lot of work with the families to try and make sure that we never get to that stage.
“And what I’d say to Hope students is that this is intense work. If it gets to the stage of a child being removed from a home, you know that you have done your best, you know you’ve tried hard to avoid this scenario and that there’s a significant risk of harm to that child.
“It might have been a ‘drip, drip process in terms of the escalation of the threat, but if you do not take that action, that child could be at risk - even at risk of death. Once you assess the reasons, it’s easier to take that action.”
As for Amaka’s own motivations for wanting to become a mentor on this programme, she says it’s extremely ‘timely’ that this initiative has been launched.
She reveals: “This is something which is very much needed. At first, the sceptic in me worried that this was a knee-jerk reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement, or a box ticking exercise. But having spoken with the team behind Black Access to Social Work, I know that’s not the case. We’re finally doing something about Black social workers feeling unsupported.
“I like the idea of putting my money where my mouth is. That’s why I’m here. I want to make sure this is done right.”
** How do I apply?
To apply for the Black Access to Social Work - a Route Into the Profession for Diverse Communities programme you should first apply to the standard Social Work undergraduate degree at Hope through UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service).
Then, once you’ve applied through UCAS, you should send details of application, along with your UCAS number and your current address, to the email firstname.lastname@example.org
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