It’s Time for Social Work Internship Reform

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

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.


Published by

Deona Hooper, MSW

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. View all posts by Deona Hooper, MSW

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