Planting a seed: Encouraging service users towards educational goals


Planting a seed

It can take time to see results; it may even be years later that a service user can fully understand the nature of the help which he or she received. This makes accounting for social work help difficult—when do you carry out an evaluation to be sure that it is valid?’ (Cree and Davis, 2007, p. 154).

Heather Fraser, Dee Michell (@DrDeeMichell), Michele Jarldorn and Liz Beddoe (@BeddoeE) have utilised feminist memory work (Haug, 2000) to explore the experiences of women from low socioeconomic backgrounds studying a degree in the social sciences. An incidental finding was that social workers can make a significant difference when they help service users through ‘interventions’ that are motivating and facilitating of resources, not just pathologising and problem-saturated. We can focus on the future as well as the (problematic) present.

Some interventions undertaken by social workers and other professionals take time to develop but can produce powerful and even unlikely results in the longer term. Results may come from chance encounters or interactions not instantly understood by all parties as important. In many instances, positive results are not immediately obvious and so it can be difficult to fully appreciate the influence of social workers (and other professionals) (Cree & Davis, 2007). Nigel Parton (2009) also observed that longer term efforts to effect social change and enhance clients’ quality of life are liable to be underestimated, overlooked and undervalued in cultures that value fast, brief interventions using narrow evaluation measurements. And sadly we are not in an era that values Slow Social Work despite it being what people want!

In an article published in Social Work Education we explore how social work efforts to nurture and support their clients can take time to bear fruit, specifically efforts to encourage service users to participate in higher education. We’ve used a gardening metaphor of planting seeds to explore this process, and to value the (often) unquantifiable work that social workers (and others) do to promote positive growth in others. These are people who plant seeds of possibility not only in places where the soil, sun, water, temperature and quality of seed itself is optimal, but also in harsher contexts and conditions. We note with concern, however, that seeds of doubt can be planted as easily as seeds of possibilities, particularly for people whose academic capacity may have already been undermined and underestimated.

Our interest in social workers sowing seeds of possibilities and seeds of doubt germinated spontaneously from a study not designed to examine social science students’ experiences of social workers. Rather we had set out to explore how women from low socioeconomic backgrounds experienced studying a degree in the social sciences. As tertiary educators, our focus was primarily educational and sociological. We noted at the beginning of this project that this was an under-explored combination and we chose memory work, a feminist participatory method to facilitate our understanding of the opportunities to and obstacles from low socio-economic women studying at university.

Read Here  Jarldorn, M., Beddoe, L., Fraser, H., & Michell, D. (2015). Planting a seed: encouraging service users towards educational goals. Social Work Education, 34(8), 921-935. doi:10.1080/02615479.2015.1098607


Cree, V. & Davis, A. (2007). Social work: Voices from the inside. London: Routledge.

Haug F. (2000). Memory-work as a method of social science research, a detailed rendering of memory work method, Accessed on 22/1/2012 and available from:

Parton, N. (2009). Challenges to practice and knowledge in child welfare social work: From the `social’ to the `informational’? Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 715-721.



About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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One Response to Planting a seed: Encouraging service users towards educational goals

  1. Pingback: Working-class women study social science degrees: remembering enablers and detractors | Social Work Research in New Zealand

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