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Social work students experiencing significant financial hardship during unpaid placements

5 April, 2024

Interview by Castor Chacko, adapted by Ashley-Rose Redstone

Professor in Counselling, Human Services, and Social Work at the University of Auckland, Liz Beddoe, says students studying social work do not receive enough support over their unpaid placements to sustain themselves.

A recent study found many social work students experience significant financial hardship and negative impacts on their health and well-being while completing compulsory field placements.

58.4% of 353 respondents surveyed reported seeking medical advice on their mental health, with 60% saying they experienced significant anxiety, stress, or depression but chose not to seek medical advice.

Professor in Counselling, Human Services, and Social Work at the University of Auckland and co-author of the study, Liz Beddoe, told 95bFM's The Wire students struggle to balance study requirements with paid work and other commitments.

"We have come across students who are sleeping in their cars. Students tell us about challenges they face just getting enough to eat."

Currently, social work students must do two placements totaling 125 days of unpaid placement work.

“Students are working either full-time or three days a week and they are not getting paid for doing that work,” says Beddoe. 

“They should be able to survive periods of placement without having to work extra shifts or weekends, which effectively means they are working seven days a week.”

In some countries such as Wales, Beddoe says students can access a bursary system that provides financial aid during their placements.

Students in Aotearoa can apply for hardship grants through their university. But Beddoe says these are given out sparingly and are not enough to sustain students.

Beddoe argues that introducing financial support for full-time placement students would help address staff shortages in the health sector.

"There are shortages of professionals, and the loss of nursing graduates, for example, to Australia for higher pay."

"Not just social work students, but all students going into helping professions, we need them."

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air