New social work degree could safeguard against a bad border and ensures long-term professionalism.
The BA (Hons) in Social Work is a three year course being run out of the School of Health Studies at St Bernard’s Hospital paid for by the Care Agency.
“It is the very first time we have a locally-delivered social work degree,” said Neil Costa, Minister for Health. “Social work tends to be a course that more mature students wish to read. But of course more mature students tend to have work and family commitments so it is very hard for them to leave to the UK for three years.
“We announced it in the budget last year and there was a rigorous selection process that led to eleven students starting. The ones delivering the course are the Kingston University, who we work with at the School of Health Studies.”
This past year the school of health studies – that has been running courses in Gibraltar since the 1990s – is working closer than ever with the University of Gibraltar to, as the minister said, “deepen and broaden our provision of degrees”.
“This course is being done as a trial,” said Dr Ron Coram, Gibraltar School of Health Studies Principal. “It might happen more often in two or three years’ time but that depends on the needs of the care industry.
“Caregiving is definitely different to what it was ten or twenty years ago. It is extremely complex and dynamic as people are living longer so a lot more professionalism is needed in the sector.”
The students are released from work by their employers for a week at a time to attend the course based on the top floors of St Bernard’s hospital. Teachers are brought over from Kingston University as and when needed whereas most lecturers for other courses are based here permanently.
“Social work is an international career with values of respect and positive regard working within an ethical dimension,” reported a Kingston University lecturer. “In terms of the local context we make sure that students know of the legal differences with UK on their placements. It is so interesting that case studies are all based on the local experience too.
“It is very important to be emotionally trained,” said Nicole Viagas of the Care Agency. “As a professional you need to have those boundaries and clear supervision because the moment you become emotionally involved with your clients, you are no longer very helpful to them
“Nowadays it is necessary for all our social workers to have a Health and Care Professions Council qualifications. It has professed over the years from a certificate to a diploma, degree or masters course.
With the nursing courses running for a few years now, the Government started a three-year mental health nursing degree at the school in September.
“We are not at all concerned about the border after Brexit,” said Costa. “We feel there will be a free-flowing border but we need to have resilience and robustness in our systems. The only way we can make sure is educating those who provide our care services – nurses and social workers who reside in the community.
“With 15,000 people crossing the frontier every day – the majority of them being Spanish citizens – how would they replace one of their biggest employers?
“But there is no harm and a lot to gain by having members of the community studying these professions just in case.”