How to Ace your Social Work Fieldwork Placement

Undoubtedly, social work fieldwork placements are a key component in social work education. Acting as an essential link between studies and practice, field placements can greatly impact the future functioning of students, and hence why students do their utmost to achieve a successful placement.

But how you may ask?

Throughout both of my fieldwork placements, I gained a number of skills and tips which helped me to cope with the demands and stress fieldwork placements brought with them.

Time Management

In the beginning of my fieldwork placement, I struggled. I was still finishing my dissertation, had to keep up with 8 cases, as well as attend lectures once every fortnight. I had no other choice, but to challenge myself to plan before hand and manage my time better.

My advice to you is to write an exhaustive list of all the things you have to do. You can either do this every week or once a month whichever you deem the most helpful. Prioritize the list accordingly and plan how much time you will need to spend on each task. Avoid getting stuck on single activities, if you feel like you cannot concentrate on a specific task, be flexible, and move on to another task. Every time you finish something, tick it off your list – it is so satisfying!

Supervision

You have probably learnt the importance of supervision during your lectures. Now is the time to actually make use of it. Do not hesitate to ask for supervision if you feel more guidance and information is needed. Additionally, ensure the time allocated for supervision is not used solely for case management. Use some of this time to discuss how you are coping with the workload, the feelings clients are evoking within yourself, your fears and safety concerns if any. Do not be afraid to use supervision as an added support. Whatever is said during supervision is confidential (obviously, if no harm will be caused to self or to others), so use this opportunity to process and assess your placement because hearing others’ problems is surely emotionally draining.

Research

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of doing research throughout the course of your placement. Be informed and read about the client group you are serving. Understand and be aware of the services available to them and the skills you can use when working with them. Fieldwork placements are a great opportunity for you to widen your knowledge, so make sure that you do this to the best of your ability. Both editorial and academic journal articles can be a source of information for you. Read them while commuting, watch videos while eating or cooking – educate yourself as much as possible because as they say, “you cannot pour from an empty cup!”.

Ask Questions

Your practice educator is not expecting you to know it all on your last day of placement – let alone your first day! Social work is a learning process, and we can never reach a point where we can say we know everything. Human beings are different and dynamic. Hence, why asking questions will only help you understand your client group and what is being expected to enhance your practice. Do not hesitate to tell clients that you are not sure about an answer while assuring them you will research a solution. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification, if you did not understand something. Ask your practice educator about the agency’s policies, regulations, procedures or any reference materials you can access when needed. Do not pretend you know it all – because you do not, nobody does!

Respect your Practice Educators and Tutors

You may not always agree with your practice educators and tutors, but ultimately they are the ones who will be assessing your progress. Starting on a wrong foot is surely not ideal which can derail the placement before it begins. Try to stick with their guidelines and even though you may feel at times it’s wasting your time on unnecessarily. I highly suggest you take a step back before complaining. I am not saying you should be passive, however, avoid arguments about word limit of essays, working hours or workload. Keep in mind your practice educators and tutors know what they are doing, so if they request something try to find a diplomatic path forward.

Do More than it is Expected

Give your placement your very best, and at times this may entail doing work that is not compulsory. Attend any meetings, conferences or opportunities taking place within your organisational framework. Observe how graduate social workers interact with their clients, chair a meeting and extend your comfort zone. Volunteer to take phone calls or intakes, even if this may mean staying for an extra hour. It is amazing how much you can actually learn from this! In the beginning of my first placement, I was terrified to answer the phone because I was always scared that I will stutter, or say something wrong. However, after sitting in the office and answering the phone for 10 weeks, I have gained a lot of confidence while talking to others over the phone.

Self-Care

Ultimately, as social workers, we have to preserve ourselves because we have minimal tools to protect ourselves from burnout. So while I highly suggest you do all the above, you also need to have an ‘off’ button. Learn to assess and identify your limits in order to detach yourself from placement related work for a few hours a day especially before going to bed. Dedicate some time for yourself, read a fiction, watch a funny video, take bath or go for a walk – do something that makes you feel good. Stop yourself from going to bed thinking about the following day and the long to-do list that you have waiting for you. Avoid thinking about action plans and give your mind a well deserved break.

Although sometimes you may feel unstoppable and very motivated, especially in the beginning you must remain mindful of your body limits because otherwise, you will be risking being burnt-out before actually stepping into the profession.

Helping Pets and People in Crisis

happy pets

As more research emerges about the link between human welfare and animal welfare, it has become increasingly clear of the relationship that binds the two together. In recent years, the animal welfare community has fully embraced the human-animal bond issue as animal shelters across the country work to reduce the number of owned animals being surrendered due to emergencies and find innovative ways to strengthen pet owners who are at risk of falling through the larger safety-net.

These new efforts are raising awareness of opportunities to better address the link between child abuse, elder abuse, and animal abuse and cruelty by expanding cross reporting and training among all first responders. It is now a pertinent time for human service agencies to begin to integrate animal welfare issues to meet the needs of the individuals they serve.

While it may initially seem awkward for social service organizations to expand their scope in this arena, this is actually not new for social workers who are historically at the front lines of addressing the needs of most marginalized populations. Today, more than 65% of the US population are pet owners, and it is very likely that some of these individuals and families face significant challenges impacting their housing, health, and safety.

Incorporating animal welfare into the work of human service organizations is not hard difficult but does require a meaningful pivot in thinking about helping a person/family in their whole environment. In terms of key social work interventions, much of the work remains the same from engagement and assessment through treatment. However, by recognizing a pet in the household, engagement and assessment can actually be stronger, thereby facilitating a treatment that is comprehensive for people and animals in the home. Incorporating animal welfare into traditional human service work can be done through these ten areas:

Engagement: Ask about the pet’s name and learn about the client’s relationship with the pet. Knowing about the animal (history, age, veterinary care, behavior) can reveal issues related to the individual as well.

Document: Include the presence of pets in all chart documentation, including a photo of the pet if possible. That way, the information of an animal can be shared with new workers. Include a Pet Information Page to collect information about the pet and services needed.

Assessment: Using the animal as an assessment point can showcase gaps in care (is there pet food, is there human food) as well as address environmental issues. Identifying pet needs (veterinary care, spay/neuter, grooming, food) is useful to the understanding of the client in the environment. In addition, assessments can highlight the relationship between the pet and person, whether there is a risk of human or animal neglect, or if there is a concern for elder abuse or animal cruelty.

Learn about the Issues: Pet owners face a number of crises along with the rest of the population including domestic violence, eviction, and illness. Some states have protections in place legally for situations of domestic violence including naming pets on Orders of Protection. One starting point is the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals online toolkit for social workers:

Explore Resources: There is an increase of low cost/free services targeting at risk pet owners to encourage spay/neuter and regular veterinary care.

Advocate: Front-line workers in under-served communities can advocate for animal welfare issues including spay/neuter, community cat issues, and increase of services (such as pet food banks) to help clients at risk of relinquishing their pets.

Collaboration: Human service agencies can partner with animal welfare organizations to address needs in the most under-served communities and assist the most at-risk clients. By recognizing the issues and understanding solutions, human service organizations can meet additional needs by monitoring and following up with clients and animals in the home.

Early Intervention: Early acknowledgement of pets in the home requiring services can allow interventions for individuals facing emergencies (hoarding, domestic violence, health/mental health issues) to encourage pet retention versus pet relinquishment.

Emergency Planning: Recent events showcase that everyone benefits when preparedness is encouraged whether the emergency is a terrorist attack, a large-scale hurricane, or other event. Social workers can encourage pet owners to secure emergency supplies for themselves and their animals, identify emergency temporary pet caretakers (in case of hospitalization or other emergency), and compile pet go-bags so that no one is left behind if an emergency is activated.

Program Expansion: Human service programs can address gaps in service delivery by expanding their initiatives to better meet the needs of vulnerable pet owners. Several ideas for expansion include identifying pet owners and assessing needs, providing pet food banks, implementing pet foster programs, offering veterinary clinics, and developing small grant programs to help pet owners in case of hospitalizations.

Having a pet that is loved and considered a family member should not impede accessing a level of assistance that non-pet owners can easily access. Locally, several social service organizations are beginning to lead the way by expanding their programs to target pet owners. These include Urban Resource Institute for implementing an emergency co-shelter for victims of domestic violence and their pets, and Search and Care, for expanding their friendly visiting program to target homebound seniors with pets. While these are great advances, it is now time for more human service programs to consider incorporating animal welfare into their work.

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