National accolade for young social worker dedicated to helping refugees

A passion for helping vulnerable children and strengthening communities has led to national recognition for an Oxfordshire social worker – and a field trip providing support at Rohingya refugee camps.

Nabeela Talib, 24, has been shortlisted for Student Social Worker of the Year at the profession’s top annual award ceremony, following highly successful training placements at Oxfordshire County Council. Having completed her Master’s degree at Oxford Brookes, she’s currently on work experience in Delhi with the Human Rights Law Network – a grassroots organisation made up of lawyers and social workers which has recently turned its attentions to the plight of Rohingya refugees.

It means she won’t be able to make the awards ceremony later this month – but that’s a small price to pay for doing the job she loves.

Nabeela said: “I was in a strange state of disbelief and awe when I got the email about the nomination. All I’ve done in these past two years of my MA is put my head down and put all my energy, life and soul into the placements as well as the academic work. I don’t feel as though I’ve done anything particularly special - it's only because I've had amazing mentors along the way and they've helped me harness my passion for social work.”

Early interest

Nabeela first developed her professional interests when, as a teenager, she and her family began fostering unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Following an initial placement with Asylum Welcome as part of her post-graduate course, she joined the council’s Looked-After Children and Leaving Care teams.

Nabeela said: “The placement gave me an incredible understanding of children's social work and how social workers are practicing in such creative ways to help support young people. Although I was not in my chosen field working with asylum seekers, and slightly out of my comfort zone, I developed a great interest and passion for the work being done.

“Children's social work gives you the unique opportunity to work with children and young people who are in vulnerable situations and are marginalised in one way or another by society. Not only do we get the chance to support them in their journey, but we get the platform to make a difference to the generation that is our society's future.”

She added: “To bring about positive social change within the world, I believe we must strengthen our communities, and to do that, we must strengthen the families - which is why children's social work is so crucial. It helps empower families to work together as well as safeguarding and enabling children and young people to realise their fullest potential.”


As a social work trainee Nabeela managed a caseload of six young people carrying out regular home visits, reviews and planning meetings. In addition to working directly with the children, Nabeela spent time with foster carers, the families of young people, their support workers and other professionals.

She said: “One of the best things about Oxfordshire is that it is very well connected to local organisations, initiatives and universities. Oxfordshire itself covers such a wide range of locations, from Banbury to Oxford City, all of which are different from each other and offer a diverse range of scenarios and settings. There is also so much to learn from the teams of social workers, all of whom are very accommodating and welcoming.”

Her training has given Nabeela a valuable insight into both the challenges and rewards of the role – summed up well in one particular case, where a child became the subject of care proceedings after initial hopes she might be able to make a swift return to her parents.

“There were a series of difficult conversations that I had to have with this young person, about the possibility that she would need to stay in long-term foster care. Although from the outside it looked like a negative situation, when I finished my placement she made me a card and told me I was the best social worker she'd worked with. I realised then, that even if sometimes the work we do as social workers can be difficult, something as basic as a respectful and cooperative professional relationship can go a long way.”

Great example

Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services Steve Harrod said: “Nabeela has been a great asset to our children’s social work teams and shown herself to be an excellent practitioner. She’s also a great advert for the successful partnership we have established with our local universities, both in terms of practical training for students and recruiting local graduates into the profession.

“She’s clearly a great example to any young person thinking of pursuing a career in social work, and I’d like to wish her the very best of luck in whatever she chooses to do next in her professional or academic career.”

Next steps

Once Nabeela has returned from her India placement, she wants to continue working with asylum seekers and refugees, and has her eyes on completing a PhD while continuing to practice as a social worker.

She said: “My MA dissertation explored the issues social workers face in a challenging environment towards asylum seekers, and put forward suggestions for improving practice to help support asylum seekers in the UK. I would like to expand on this when I write my PhD, whilst continuing with my social work practice so that the theoretical and academic work I do for my PhD is anchored in the reality of practice.”

Get into social work

To find out more about becoming a social worker in Oxfordshire visit www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/workforus