Six recent graduates of The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work MSSW program are working in London, England: Class of 2008 – Hillary Harris and Lindsay McCartney; Class of 2006 – Claire Barber, Nancy Brown, Amber Phillips, and Jessica Villeda.

Harris and Villeda first traveled to London as students in university’s Maymester course, “London – Roots of Social and Economic Justice,” established in 2005 by Ruth Rubio, clinical professor of social work. Maymesters are short-term, faculty-led study abroad programs that start following the spring semester. Rubio and Barbara Anderson, clinical associate professor of social work, teach students in the course about the historical roots of the professionalization of helping others and the profession of social work.

“My experience in the Maymester program allowed me to get a sense of the way social work is practiced in the UK before arriving to experience it for myself,” said Harris, who had already planned to relocate there after graduation. Harris now works for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and is based at St. Mary’s Hospital.

“My main role is discharge planning and case management for those that are leaving hospital and are temporarily or permanently disabled and for the elderly. I arrange for home help, coordinate with other professionals, liaise with families, and consider wider issues of a patient’s rights and abilities to make decisions.”  Harris also worked at St. Mary’s with classmate Nicole Vykoukal ’08, who spent six months in London after graduation. Vykoukal now works with the National Domestic Violence Hotline in Austin.

“The Maymester course was instrumental not only in influencing my decision to move here, but it opened my eyes to a world beyond America. I highly recommend that course to all students,” said Villeda, who works for the London Borough of Havering along with Claire Barber and Amber Phillips. Each of London’s 32 boroughs (counties) has its own social service departments that include child protective services. Villeda is a member of the Children in Need Team that works to keep families together long-term and support the family.

“Havering’s children’s services is the U.S. equivalent of CPS,” said Barber, who started employment as a social worker nearly three years ago performing assessments for the purpose of child protection. Barber was recently promoted to the position of acting advanced practitioner and continues to hold complex cases, while serving as a consultant for less-experienced social workers and providing supervision on specific cases. She also acts as a liaison with other organizations in the area that are involved in child protection. “I knew that the types of social work positions here would be much more limited than in the U.S., but I wanted the international experience,” Barber said.

Nancy Brown is a social worker for the London Borough of Islington. “Most foreign social workers end up in child protective services when they first come over as that is where the greatest need is and London boroughs are willing to sponsor visas. Once you have gained a bit of experience it is possible to try and move into different kinds of roles although social work roles in the UK are not nearly as varied as those in the U.S.,” said Brown. “I wanted to live abroad for a while and learned about the opportunities for foreign social workers in the UK, so it seemed like a good fit.”

Lindsay McCartney arrived in the UK and was employed by the London Borough of Greenwich in a Care Planning Team working with children and families. Several months later, she was sponsored by the London Borough of Greenwich to hold a permanent position and a three-year visa. “I work with both foster care children and child protection cases. When there is a shortage of qualified people here to work in child protection, the UK will sponsor Americans in order to fill this shortage.”

All of these alumnae, except Phillips and Villeda, came to London on a six-month visa through BUNAC, with the possibility of signing a permanent contract and staying longer. From 1966 until the introduction of the new UK immigration rules in 2008, BUNAC successfully operated the Blue Card Work in Britain program that allowed tens of thousands of U.S. students to take a job in the UK for up to six months.

“Now that BUNAC no longer offers the six-month visa, the only option for social workers is to apply directly with the London boroughs for permanent positions and this tends to be more difficult. It will have an impact on future social workers who want to come to London and work,” said Villeda.

Photo: From left, are Class of 2006 MSSW alumnae Nancy Brown, Jessica Villeda and Claire Barber.

Read more about the university’s Maymester in London program.