Postgraduate student, Caitlin Shaw, reflects on her work placement with Stop It Now! Scotland

22 February 2023

As part of our work to build confidence and knowledge among professionals about tackling child sexual abuse, Stop It Now! Scotland provides practice placements for social work, counselling and psychology students.

As the only charity in Scotland focusing exclusively on preventing child sexual abuse, we use our expertise to strengthen prevention practices in the community. Over the five years that we’ve provided these placements, we’ve been continually grateful for the professionalism of the students and the energy and assistance they provide.

Our most recent work social work placement was Caitlin Shaw – a final year Master’s student from Edinburgh Napier University.

How would you describe your role within Stop It Now! Scotland?

I worked with clients who had either been arrested for viewing sexual images of children or were concerned about their problematic sexual thoughts towards children. I co-facilitated the Inform Plus programme for people who have offended. I also assisted with the helpline rota and worked with clients on a one-to-one basis, online or in person. Based in the Scotland office, I worked full time, but I had a study day every second Friday to catch up with university work.

What did an average day look like for you during your placement?

I might be on the phone rota in the morning, as well as writing a report for someone I was working with who was attending court or writing up case notes. After that, I’d have two or three client meetings. I would set aside an hour for each client because you wouldn’t always know where the conversation would go. We might carry on a piece of work we started last time or start something new. That could involve looking at the criminal justice system and the process involved, or it could be a general catch-up to see how they are. It would vary depending on the client.

Towards the end of the placement, I started interacting with other professionals and attended multi-agency Core Group Meetings in relation to cases where the offending behaviour of a client meant that a child protection plan is necessary.

What did you get from the placement?

I’ve been able to get real-life experience. In university, we learn about many social work theories –on intervention and effective communication skills – but this placement has consolidated what I’ve learnt. I was able to think about what I could use in my practice. Similarly, I constantly had to adapt my communication style to suit the person I was working with, either online or in person. I’ve been able to see what works, what things haven’t, and what I can do better in the future.

What was the most important lesson you learned about social work during your placement?

Working with people who have committed an online offence against a child, I found knowledge to be the most important thing for me. I only knew a little about this kind of crime before I started work at Stop It Now!. My practice would have been entirely different if I hadn’t done some initial research on this subject. I wouldn’t have come at it from a client-focused perspective.

I did some reading before starting the placement. Then I had a two-week induction period where I studied the subject more. I looked at theories like Finkelhor’s four preconditions and the cycle of online offending so I could better understand my clients. I continued that research throughout and shadowed other professionals to learn different approaches. I also reviewed The Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s procedures, including GDPR, confidentiality, safeguarding, and risk assessments, as well as getting familiar with Scotland’s criminal justice system.

You worked primarily with clients who had been arrested for online offences. How did you find time to fit self-care into your schedule, and what’s the best way to de-stress after working with people who have offended?

It starts in the office – everyone in the team was so supportive. We had informal and formal debriefs, and I had supervision weekly to help me not take my day home with me. Chatting about a difficult day with a colleague helps. I think looking after yourself in your spare time is also essential. I have a dog, so I take her for many long walks. And I play football, which helps me decompress.

What’s a recent debate or issue within child protection or social care interests you and why?

Something that has become apparent to me since working at Stop It Now! Scotland is that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that a child is someone under 18, but Scottish legislation has it as someone under 16. I found that interesting. There are definitely gaps within the system; being put through the adult criminal justice system at 16 can be a very traumatic experience. So, I think the criminal justice system should be reviewed to improve things for young people. (For readers information: Scottish Government has published guidance on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into public services.)

Do you plan on continuing in social work after you’ve completed your degree? If so, how has this placement influenced your career ambitions?

I do plan on entering social work once I graduate. I always saw myself going into criminal justice. But this placement has made me consider the third sector and working in child protection. It has opened my eyes to the importance of the third sector.

We’re really grateful for Caitlin’s contribution to the team in 2022. We wish her all the best in completing her studies.

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