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    It’s Time for Social Work Internship Reform

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    On March 14, 2013, the Council for Social Work Education opened the public commenting period for individuals, schools, and organizations to make recommendations to help improve the social work degree. Social Work Helper conducted a focus group via twitter with educators, practitioners, and students to help identify the most important issues to the social work community.

    devilwearspradaInternship reform was the primary concern for focus group participants. Participants overwhelming believed that social work students should be able to customize their degree based on need and work experience. In my article, Suffering in Silence: Identifying the Oppressed, I go in more detail about why I believe this policy change is needed.

    If students can’t be trusted to come to the best conclusion on the number of internship hours they need under counsel of their advisor, how can we entrust them as social workers to problem solve someone else’s life with no stake in the outcome?

    Currently, the Council for Social Work Education has instituted a 400 hour (12 credit hours) minimum internship requirement for BSW and over 900 hours (18 credit hours) for MSW students. Most people believe it’s the NASW or individual institutions that have the power to reform the internship requirement, but the CSWE is the accrediting body who instituted this policy. Macro MSWs and BSWs are often competing in the job market against other generalist degrees in which the social work degree is not even listed as an acceptable degree.

    These mandatory minimums prevent schools from innovating generalist and macro programs to be competitive against the degrees generalist students are facing in the job market, and they prevent students/consumers from tailoring a social work degree to fit their needs, projected goals, and desired career paths. Removing a mandatory minimum structure does not prevent students from continuing to take the same internship credit hours if that is their desire, but it does also allow for flexibility for those who want to specialize and/or who are already working in the field.

    We understand that eliminating the 960 hour mandatory minimum internship requirement for the Clinical track MSW degree may be problematic since it’s the only master level degree that has the ability to conduct psychological assessments and/or treat mental health disorders. However, the Department of Psychology already uses the desired model for their Generalist and Clinical Psychology degree which can be viewed at  http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/grcat/programpsyc.cfm.

    Although my petition does not specifically request changes for clinical practice, there are many fact based reasons for changes. The generalist Master of Psychology degree does not require an internship, but instead uses a thesis  and/or internship based model. Additionally, the clinical masters psychology degree requires only 10 credit hours in paid internships while the MSW requires 18 credit hours in unpaid internships. Social Workers always want to compare ourselves to Psychologist, what about in these instances.

    For the generalist track MSW and for all BSW programs, we want the mandatory minimums for internships removed, so students can customized their social work degree based on need and work experience.

    * For Students with Work Experience or Working Practitioners, senior seminar or Capstone projects are both acceptable standards to demonstrate knowledge. Currently, the social work degree is the only degree that requires double or quadruple internship credit hours out of all disciplines.

    • BSW Student who plan to take advantage of the Advance Standing Status and seek a Clinical MSW, they should be able to reduced internship credits and add more psychology course work. However, BSW Students with no work experience should be encouraged to continue incorporating internship hours in their plan of study.
    • BSW Students and Nonclinical MSW Students should have the opportunity to customize their degree based on need, work experience, and desired career path whether this means taking more technology, business, clinical or political sciences courses in lieu of more internship credit hours.
    • Traditional BSW Students and Non-Clinical MSW Students with demonstrated work experience should have Capstone projects as an alternative to demonstrate knowledge which is an acceptable standard across disciplines. Students should not have to pay college tuition to work for free when it creates a hardship and does not add value to the social work degree.

    The purpose of the internship is to provide work experience and to prepare students for the work force, but these mandatory minimums retard student’s ability to tailor a social work degree to the individual instead of using a cookie cutter approach.

    Eliminate the mandatory minimums for all BSW programs and the nonclinical/generalist MSW degree for 2015, and make it retro-active for current students. Let’s also use this as an exercise to show the power of social media. Public commenting ends May 4, 2014.

    According to CSWE President Darla Coffey, “CSWE does not require programs to allow students to earn field credit through their employment – accrediting bodies are not that prescriptive. CSWE does require that they programs have policies in place in order to ensure consistency and transparently.” However, there is no enforcement to ensure students have the same opportunities available per institution. Removing the mandatory minimum internship requirements will provide students with more autonomy in choosing the best options available to them while still having counsel from their Advisors.

    Before this solution is easily dismissed as a radical departure from the way things have been traditionally done, as social scientist we should be asking our schools of social work to analyze the demographics and trends of incoming students. What are the financial needs of students who enroll, have BSW enrollment declined into graduate schools, what does the make of the student enrolling look like?

    If there is a skew towards traditional students versus non-traditional students, this is an indicator of a larger problem especially when recent studies report only 16 percent of students are traditional students. How is social work measuring up and what are the barriers to obtaining a social work degree.

    EmailbyDarlaCoffey

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    Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    29 Comments

    29 Comments

    1. Social Work Helper

      Social Work Helper

      April 21, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      Barbara Neilson you are entitled to your opinion, and your complaint will be taken under advisement.

    2. Barbara Neilson

      April 21, 2014 at 7:28 am

      and btw, it’s not me that is “offended”. it is that it is a visual misrepresentation and an insult to the students in practicums and to the agencies they are getting their experience in, the communities they are serving and the clients they help.

    3. Barbara Neilson

      April 21, 2014 at 2:50 am

      what you can’t change the picture? why not?

    4. Social Work Helper

      Social Work Helper

      April 21, 2014 at 1:30 am

      Unfortunately, this will be the case until the public commenting period for the CSWE is over. Apologies for offending you.

    5. Social Work Helper

      Social Work Helper

      April 20, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      What if I told you a Masters in Clinical Psychology does 10 credit hours internship hours while an MSW does 18 credit hours, and they get paid internships while MSW interns are unpaid? Although my petition does not address clinical practice, there are many fact based reasons for changes. The generalist Master of Psychology degree does not require an internship, but instead uses a thesis. Social Workers always want to compare ourselves to Psychologist, what about in these instances. http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/grcat/programpsyc.cfm

    6. Barb Kistler Meyer

      Barb Kistler Meyer

      April 20, 2014 at 11:08 am

      The degree should still prepare one to be a social worker. If students apply for jobs others are doing that is their choice. We have to have minimal requirements to prepare students to practice social work. Field work is what really prepares students. My fear is that we water down the degree

    7. Maureen Donlan Butler

      April 20, 2014 at 1:24 am

      Do I misunderstand? No internship if you say you aren’t clinical? Or if you have work experience? My first response is that everyone with a Master’s in Social Work should have comparable, reliable experience. Worried that requirements/standards suffer.

    8. Barbara Neilson

      April 19, 2014 at 9:55 pm

      if you are going to continually re post this issue, please use a realistic picture. I have never ever in over 35 years as a social worker, field instructor, student intern, or placement coordinator , heard of a social work practicum student getting coffee (unless preparing for a group) shopping, buying flowers etc. Clearly you have picked an intern from “The Hills” or some other show. it is demeaning to what a professional social work practicum is about.

    9. Rampal Meena

      March 26, 2014 at 6:33 am

      Agree,

    10. Social Work Helper

      Social Work Helper

      March 25, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Please sign the petition and share.

    11. Eula Hendricks

      March 25, 2014 at 4:16 pm

      Agree!

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