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.

The Social Work Internship Debate

The debate of social work internships is a hot topic right now, and I hear a complaint about field placements come up daily. People have been constantly arguing about what works and what should be implemented. It does not seem like there is a clear consensus on the issue, and who knows if there will ever be one. I thought of sharing my perspective, especially with the Summit on Field Education coming up in October.

unpaid internship
Photo Credit: Beatriz Albuquerque, 2005, Chicago, Work For Free Project. Beatriz Albuquerque www.beatrizalbuquerque.com

Before I begin, I will share some information on my background. I am currently a dual-degree master’s student in social work and public administration, and get the chance to be exposed in two different programs. I have a clear focus of what I want to do, but still open to new opportunities. I am 23 years old and will be beginning my TENTH internship at the end of this month.

Yes, I have completed ten internships ALL in the public sector, and I value each of their experiences. In addition to my internship experiences, I worked at the career center at my undergraduate school for over three years and currently work at the career services office at my current school for almost a year. I would say, that I have had my fair share experiences with internships and have observed and learned what works and what does not. That being said, I want to share my thoughts on this internship debate and offer my thoughts.

First of all, I believe there should be an internship requirement for social work programs. Internships are valuable experiences and complement the information learned in the classroom. The more internships a student completes, the more opportunities they get to develop their career goals as well as expand their network. I completely agree with the required mandate for all concentrations, but I certainly do not agree with mandates that are currently in place and some of the suggestions I have heard.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Strict Requirements do not work and making them stricter will not work make them better: The strict requirements that are currently in place for social work internships are harming the current generation of students. Anyone advocating for even stricter requirements is ignorant of what is like to be a student now. We want options, and we want to individualize. Students entering colleges now have grown up believing we are unique, and we constantly brag about it. We each have our own interests and skills, and we want to find experiences that compliment them. A universal approach does not work for every client, and it certainly does not work for every social work student. Enforcing strict requirements is harming social work programs and ultimately the field.

Internships are for Exploration: As I noted before, internships are a chance for students to explore opportunities in their desired field. Since social work is such a vast field, it is important for students to have the opportunity to explore the many options. Students should be able to explore things they like before they enter into a career. I am not positive, but I certainly believe that many students drop out of social work program, because they are forced to perform work they do not want to do. If students had the option to explore areas of interest to them, then maybe they would value their experience more in the program.

Disciplining Does Not Help: This should be an easy topic to conceptualize, but schools across the country are punishing their students for wanting something different. Students are kicked out of programs for horrible field placements at the fault of the school for placing them there. Students are deemed UNFIT social workers for pointing out flaws at their agencies. The director of field education at my school has told numerous students to DROP OUT of the program simply if they do not like the rules. Isn’t that ridiculous? Since when is punishment the way to address issues in social work? Shouldn’t we supporting students through their beginning stages of being a social worker instead of setting them up for failure?

Mandatory Social Work Credentials for Supervisors Limit Options: I understand the reason for requiring a supervisor to have a social work background, but this limits so many opportunities for social workers to get great experiences. If you think about it, there are social workers that understand the values of social work WITHOUT a social work degree. If someone without a social work degree is doing the exact same work job at a similar agency than someone with a social work degree, why can’t they supervise a social work student? If colleges are in need of more placements for students, this should be a rule that seriously needs to be reconsidered. Having a social work degree, does not qualify you to be the best social work supervisor.

Concurrent Course Requirements: I am not sure if all schools require this, but my school definitely does. They require students to be taking course at the same time as their placement, primarily meaning they can’t complete their internship hours at all over the summer. This rule is ignorant of the needs and schedules of current students. I do believe an internship should begin after the student begins coursework, but this rule just makes things harder for students. Taking a full course load and completing an internship that is most likely unpaid is already a lot, and add on top of that working somewhere to pay the bills. If schools were more flexible with this rule, then maybe students will be able to complete the program with less stress and more enjoyment.

Now that I’ve discussed addressed some of the issues I see. Here are some suggestions I have for improvement:

  • Students should be required to have an internship since social work programs are professional programs, but students should have flexibility and should be individualized to their interests, skills and needs.
  • Students should have option in the internships they obtain and should practice applying and obtaining these internships in preparation for job applying process. Students can obviously receive help and support from the school during this process.
  • Students should not be punished for bad internship experiences. They are learning experiences and should be taken treated as such.
  • Supervisors should be approved by the school, but should not have to have a social work degree. Mental Health counseling, advanced psychology, public administration, public policy, business administration, and other applicable degrees can be effective supervisors and provide the student a great perspective in their internship.
  • Students should be able to be flexible with their internships, as long as they are meeting the requirements.
  • Minimum hours requirements could be implemented to ensure students perform an adequate amount of applicable field experience.
  • Internships must be approved by the field office as applicable placements, and the student and supervisor should set a learning plan to ensure all the social work objectives are met in the internships.
  • Students should not have to be placed in internships outside of their career interests unless they desire.

I hope this article is a start for discussion, not an argument. I do not mean to cause problems or trouble, but merely offer a different perspective that could be helpful in this internship debate. Please share these thoughts, and I’d like to hear other opinions.

8 Reasons Social Work Students Should Volunteer More Often

I have mentioned in previous articles that volunteering is important especially for students. Volunteering is usually thought of as an act of kindness benefiting the community, and it makes you feel good about yourself. Although this is true, volunteering can also provide opportunities which may far exceed your original expectations of simply giving away free time. It surprises me when social work students do not want to volunteer or decline opportunities given to them.

The social work mission is focused on ameliorating the community, and social workers should be at the forefront of improving as much as we can. Students especially should volunteering because the competitive job market, as well as the many doors that can be opened. Here are some of the benefits volunteering gives students:

  1. VolunteerExpands your network. I cannot stress enough to fellow social work students that your network is vital to your success. Being community leaders, the more people we build relationships, the stronger the impact we can have. Volunteering connects you with other volunteers, agency staff, and other community members.
  2. Career exploration. Many students do not have a sense of what they want to do when they enter a social work program. They sometimes struggle with their career goals, especially when they are placed at internship sites they do not enjoy. If every once in a while they get the opportunity to volunteer doing a new job, they can personally explore for themselves the career path they wish to take.
  3. Develop or learn new skills. Social work is a diverse field and requires us to have many different talents, but sometimes our internships and jobs only focus on a few of those areas. Volunteering allows you to test new skills that you may have not be using in your internship. Clinical interns can be learning how to fundraise, build networks, lobby, communications skills and other macro skills. On the other side, macro students can be working directly with individuals or providing counseling they may not be doing in their day-to-day responsibilities.
  4. Start building rapport with your new staff. Currently in my program, the first year students end their first year placements around May, and then begin their new ones at the end of August. We have a whole summer in between these where we have no required internship commitments. This is a great time to maybe volunteer or get involved with the agency you plan to be working. I just spent hours volunteering for special events organized by my next year’s placement, and I definitely plan to volunteer more before the end of the year. I made the time to get to know my staff before I start my internship which will make the beginning easier.
  5. Free Food/Giveaways. Do I need to elaborate? Financially strained college students not wanting free food and sometimes free giveaways, now that’s a problem.
  6. Personal Time. We all need personal time and we all need to relax. Social workers have a greater risk of burning out because of the exhausting work they do. Volunteering can be a great way to relax, feel like you are still contributing to the community and escape the hardships of their jobs or academics.
  7. It’s fun! I have the best time volunteering and I know many others do. Get some friends together and go have a good time!
  8. Feeling of Enjoyment. We all know that volunteering gives individuals a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment. We know it feels good and it is important. Volunteering feels even better if I know that I am assisting the staff with their jobs, making an impact on the community, as well as developing my professional skills. It’s a win-win-win!

Volunteering may not be easy with the amount of commitments social work students have, but if we remember that volunteering now only helps the agency and community, but helps yourself at the same time. With the amount of benefits that come from volunteering, I highly recommend students to do help out as much as they can handle.

Ten Tips for Wrapping Up Your Internship!

Many college students are finally ending their academic years and semesters. Classes always seems so long, but at the same time, time flies! Since the semester is ending, internships are coming to a close as well. It can be a sad situation, as many students love their internships. On the other hand, it may be a nice relief for the students who did not care for their position. Regardless of interest, it is important for all students to make sure they end the internship in good standing. An internship can provide references and connections for students in their later career endeavors. A good student always makes sure that they have wrap up everything at their internship and maintain a great relationship.

career-opportunitiesHere are ten tips to help you interns finish your experiences:

1.Finish any projects/assignments. This is self-explanatory, but make sure you complete everything you were assigned. The completion of your hours is not an excuse for incomplete work. Your contribution to the agency may be really important, and you do want to be the intern who leaves incomplete work for the agency.

2.Set a final date with your supervisor. Another self-explanatory tip, but it is important. Some schools have hours requirements for credit, and some students think they can just peace out once their hours are completed. This is not true. Sit down with your supervisor and figure out an exact date that works for both of you, before you plan to leave.

3.Ask about other agency opportunities. If you are about to graduate, it would not hurt to ask about jobs with the agency, full-time, part-time, seasonal. You already have an understanding and connection to the agency, which may make the transition a lot easier. Also, internships can be long interviews! Many interns get hired after their position, so make sure you ask about sticking around to let them know you are interested!

4.Offer to train the new intern(s). For those of you at agencies where interns overlap, offer to help train the next intern. You obviously can give the new intern a great perspective and prepare them for a great internship experience. You have an insight your supervisor does not have, and you can maybe help them avoid any mistakes or ensure they do things a certain way. This always shows your supervisor that you care about the agency, and they may connect you to future opportunities.

5.Thank your supervisor and other colleagues. An internship is a great experience, and it takes work to plan and hire an intern. Make sure you thank your supervisor and anyone else you worked with before you leave. A nice thank you card is good way to show you a thankful for the opportunity they gave you.

6.Be sure to leave your contact information. You probably won’t be keeping the email address they made for you, so make sure you leave an updated email address they can contact you. Make sure it is professional obviously. Also, seniors and graduates, ensure that your email address is not your school one, because you may lose it once you graduate.

7.Connect with them on LinkedIn. If you haven’t already, add people in the agency on LinkedIn, while they remember you! You don’t want to wait a few months or years, and have them try to remember you. If you add them right away, then they can endorse your for some skills or write a recommendation for you while your performance is still fresh in their head.

8.Update your resume/LinkedIn. Before you leave, update your resume and professional profiles with everything you completed. Have your supervisor look at it, and help with the wording. You want to make sure you encompass your whole experience before you forget and move on to the next opportunity.

9.Sign up on the volunteer list. This applies mainly to my nonprofit folks. If you agency uses volunteers in any capacity, sign up to be one. Staying connected to the agency can only help you later on in life. I interned at an agency in the fall, stayed connected through the spring via volunteering, and was offered a job once I graduated. Do extra things to stay noticed and they will remember you.

10.Stay in touch. Again, staying in touch can only help you. Before you leave, ask if it is alright for you to stay in touch with them, and then ask what is the best way to contact them. This will prove that you plan to stay in touch. Remember connections could lead to many things!

Internships are the most important experiences for students to figure out their career development goals. Make sure you optimize your experience, and take advantage of the future opportunities that could come. Just because you end an internship, does not mean it cannot benefit you later down the road. Social work students should especially be doing this, since many of us spend a whole year as an intern. We receive quality experience, and our supervisors did a lot for us. Make sure you do as much for them, and put yourself in a situation for them to believe you are going to be a great social worker. Be a superstar intern, and make them remember you!

Successful Strategies to Help Students Prepare for Job Searching After Graduation

As graduation approaches, many students are contemplating about the next step.  Both graduates and undergraduates are on their way through the job process searching for various post-graduation opportunities. As many know, finding a job does not just instantly happen and finding a job you actually want can be a miracle. For us younger professionals, it may seem impossible to find a full-time position and we may feel discourage approaching the work force. Part of the reasons for this are societal factors that we cannot control, but students can decrease the stress that may arise from graduating and open multiple doors.

images (35)While we are preparing ourselves for the next step after college or graduate school, the weird thing is that many students just sit back and relax thinking everything is going to work out for them. It is very frustrating when students think that once they graduate, opportunities are going to come right to them. This is not reality. The real world is competitive but vast, and all you have to do is go out and look. You have to prove to your community and yourself that you are a professional and capable of the job you want to get.

Here are a few easy things to do that every student can do that make their professional development grow:

Challenge yourself at your internship. I am tired of hearing students saying they do nothing at their internship or it is too easy. You have the ability to do more opportunities. Evaluate your current responsibilities and speak with your supervisor about doing more things. Meet with other people in the agency and ask them for help. Helping out the agency in ways they need shows you are willing to work and contribute to the success of the agency, not just yourself. Internships are not only learning experiences, but crucial to professional development.

Network! Network! Network! The majority of jobs are found through networking! People hire people they like, and people connect people they like. The more people who like you, the more people who can help you. Meet as many people as you can at your internship. Just Go to events, meet people at programs, conduct informational interviews! Network! Many of the social workers I have met, have not been the greatest at networking. Starting to network as a current student is a great way to practice, develop professional skills, and build connections for future opportunities.

Find a Mentor! Having a mentor is probably the greatest thing you could ever do. I have a mentor right now, and he is awesome. We get to talk about our interested fields and connect with each other on a professional and personal level. Find a mentorship program to participate in, connect with alumni from your school, or reach out to people in the desired career industry. Having someone with experience who will then offer advice or advocate for you, is definitely a resource you want to have. You never know who they know or what they can do for you later on.

Join a Local Chapter of Professional Organization!  This is really surprising because many students do not realize the opportunities from joining a relevant professional organization. The main reason why you should join is: They want younger people involved! They are established professionals in your field who can give you advice, trainings, connections, and maybe even a job. I think it would be smart as a student to connect with people in your field who can connect you with a job after graduation. Reach out the a local chapter of a professional organization related to your career interests. You definitely should be involved!

Attend trainings! There are tons of trainings out there for professional development and opportunities to learn more than you can in school. There are two main benefits from attending them: you get information you can put on your resume or apply the material to a current position AND you get to meet people in your profession. It’s a win win! Go learn and network!

Volunteer for LOCAL organizations! Students sometimes get in that bubble of their college and do not branch out into the local community. Volunteer with local community members. Help out at a special event. It shows you care more than yourself. Many of you intern for nonprofit organizations, and volunteering for the fundraising department or any needed areas could put you in a great position with the agency.  A great position that could lead to a job. Plus, you meet more people and more opportunities arise! (Hint: if you didn’t get the points about meeting people, then I am telling you right now. It’s important!)

All these tips are good strategies social work students can be doing to build our career development. We students are going to be the leaders of the future, and we need to develop our professional profile. Even doing one of these tips, can give you an advantage to either get a job or obtain better opportunities. Even though a Master of Social Work degree is a professional degree, the education forgets about professional development. We need to prove right away that we are capable of performing the tasking jobs we are preparing to have.

The Pros and Cons of Placing Students in Internships

As many of you know, internship experiences are the most important part of a social work program. Since the MSW is a professional degree, having a professional experience that you can apply your coursework is necessary. Internships do more than provide free labor and something to do.

They test the student’s knowledge and help them discover their future goals. Internships are learning experiences, and students should complete as many internship opportunities as they possibly can. I am about to finish my eight internship, and I know I will be completing at least one before I graduate school. Without all these internships, I would not have known the aspects of the social welfare sector that I like and dislike, as well as where I excel.

Considering these points, it is important for schools to be able to provide successful learning experiences. In order to ensure students get these opportunities and abide by the regulations of the Council of Social Work Education, most social work schools place their students at sites. I do not want to state that this is a wrong way to complete internships, especially for graduate students, but there definitely are positives and negative components of this approach. The following points should be considered while we talk about this internship reform.

I’ll start with the positive aspects first of this approach first.

Students are guaranteed some experience.Whether or not the student believes it is applicable, the student will get experience that they will benefit them in one way or another. They may not being doing the work they want to do or end up doing, but they are learning something that will help them in some way or another.

It helps those students who are unsure of their career goals. Even though I believe that students without career goals should not enter graduate work, this way helpful for them to identify opportunities and explore fields of social work, they may not realized existed. Let’s face it. An MSW degree can be an exploratory process, especially for some of the less qualified and motivated students.

The school has better connections than the student. Obviously, the school staff knows more professionals and agencies in the local community than the student. If a student is not originally from the area or went to college in another city, they may not have the connections or know of the agencies to obtain an internship. Agencies also can reach out to the schools and inform of their ability to host students.

There is less worry about abiding by the national council’s standards. Most likely a student does not know the policies and procedures of the CSWE, and they would have to attempt to understand all of them in order to choose a placement. Luckily for students, the schools have staff that know the policies and ensure each experience qualifies.

Students learn to make the best out of situations. As social work students, this the best part of schools placing students at agencies. Social work students are unique and are working with clients who may not be able to change their situations. How are we supposed to motivate our clients to make the best out of their situations, if we cannot make the best out of our own? Our internships are ways for us to experience first-hand what it is like to be given a situation and learn to maximize the opportunity. There is definitely something to acknowledge when a student turns an internship that may not want into an experience they enjoy.

Even though there are many good things, every system has its flaws. Here are a few things that I noticed that are not beneficial:

There is no guarantee that the student will be able to explore their interests. Internships are learning experiences, and crucial for students to figure out what they want to do. If the internship experiences are chosen for them, then they cannot explore their interests. Students should be about learning as much as you can possible while in school, and should passionately follow opportunities that interest them.

Students may not be adequately prepared to obtain a job in their desired field. Most MSW programs have at least two internship experiences, depending on the program. If a student is placed in two internships they do not like or realize they would like to do something else by the time the graduate, they are going to have a difficult time finding a job they do like. For example, my school places you the first year, but you get the chance to choose your placement the second year.

The fact you can choose your second placement is their excuse when students complain that they would like to pick their placement. I honestly do not agree that answer is good enough. For example, a macro student interested in policy will most likely be placed in a clinical internship their first year, then they chose their second year placement. The next year they pick a policy internship, but realize they do not like it or would prefer to do something else like program management. Now what? The student has two internship experiences of things they do not want to do, and are not prepared to have a job they may want to have.

Graduate students should not be babied.By the time an individual reaches graduate school, they should have a specific plan of what the degree is going to do for them. If a graduate student does not have any idea of what they want to do, then they should NOT go to graduate school. They should probably go work for a couple of years, do more internships, complete a public service program or spend time figuring out what you want to do before you spend your money on something that you may end up not liking. Placing students in their internships is treating them like high school or undergraduate students. Graduate students should be more than capable to find their own internships.

Students do not develop the professional skills needed for job searching post-graduation. This is a big flaw I see in this system. Students need to learn in school while they have resources available to develop professional skills, such as resume writing, cover letters, interviews and networking. If the school does all of that for them, students will not have the necessary skills needed when they enter the job market. In some ways, this method promotes laziness since the school is going to do everything for the student. Students need to learn to do the work themselves and prepare for applying to jobs. It is not easy. Ask any graduate. Students need to learn to fail when it comes to job. Every young professional is not going to get every job they submit an application. Learning this now and obtaining support from school services will be extremely helpful when they undergo the arduous process of applying for jobs post-graduation.

Placing students becomes political.Unfortunately, I feel that almost everything is political and social work schools certainly have to deal with these issues. Agencies will expect quality students from the school, and if they do not get them, they may not accept any more interns or even graduates. Schools then have to deal with placing the good students are the sites they want to maintain good relationships with, and then the rest of the agencies get the students left over. If an agency and student both a say in the process, then less responsibility falls on the school if they experience does not work out. Also, schools may focus on the social work areas that benefit the school rather than the student. Students need a voice in these decisions, especially since it is influential factor in their lives.

Honestly, I believe each student should be treated individually. We cannot use a universal system for every student. The students who may have discovered what they want to do and have a strict career plan should be allowed to tailor their education to that field. The students who may not know what they want to do can opt to be placed and the school can take care of it. I completed eight internships and had a job before I started my MSW program. I knew what I wanted out of this program more than the students who did not do any internships before starting graduate school.

I may have been fine finding my own internship, but other students may have not been prepared. Students are professionals or are learning to become professional. If they pick an internship they do not like, then they know that for next time. Without this opportunity to explore, how can a student develop successful career goals on their own with a school holding their hand the entire process?  It seems ironic that a field focused on motivating the individual to make decisions in their life has such strict regulatory standards. Universal methods and social work do not usually go together.

Also View Segments on PBS NewsHour:

Former Interns Debate the Worth and Legality of Unpaid Internships

Will Work for Free: How Unpaid Internships Cheapen Workers of All Ages

Suffering in Silence: Identifying the Oppressed

When I first created Social Work Helper, I was surprise at the number of emails that I started receiving. Maybe, the name gives the impression that I have the power to help the oppressed and the distressed from a social work perspective. However, what troubles me most are the emails/messages I receive from students and practitioners who feel distressed and oppressed in their own social work environments.

speak-upWhen I first started receiving them, I was fresh out of graduate school as a non-traditional, single parent student. At the time, I was experiencing my own bitterness towards graduate school and the profession. I reached out to another well established social work print publication asking for advice on what to do with these letters and messages I was receiving from students and new practitioners. Unfortunately, I received the response that I have experienced many times while working in the profession which was “none”.

I tried to be empathetic and provide a sounding board as best as I could during this period of time, but at the same time I was also looking for an escape plan from my chosen profession. Having both my bachelors and masters degree in social work, it did not provide me with many options. My options after graduate school was equating to licensure and doing therapy. However, after my first internship in grad school, I needed therapy and wanted nothing to do with social work. Having to quit a full-time job as a social worker to work for free full-time as a social worker/student intern hurt me emotionally, physically, and financially. I went back to school because I wanted a promotion, and I didn’t think it was possible with a BSW.

Through Social Work Helper, I try to tell people stories and create awareness on issues because sometime we tend to evaluate and analyze policies/issues using only the lens of our own experience or people we know. The oppressed are suffering in silence and fearing retaliation for speaking out against their oppressors. Some might say why didn’t you complain, and my answer is complain to who? I worked over a 1000 free hours within a year while earning my advance standing macro degree. A failing grade for field practicum means you don’t graduate or may have to leave the program, so I suffered in silence until I earned my freedom. Essentially, I feel like I went in debt in order to pay someone to abuse me, and I was told by my field placement instructor that students couldn’t learn unless it was painful.

A couple of days ago in response to the petition I created requesting internship reform, a student sent me an email asking that I share their story, but asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. It’s important for me to note that I would have never shared this story without being asked to do so. Here it is as follows:

I saw your petition online and wanted to take the time to thank you most sincerely for your efforts. I wrote a comment to attach with my signature, but it was too long for the section to submit in full. I’m sending it now from my old high school email address as I do not wish to be singled out by my current university.

I will be the first person in my entire family to attend and graduate from a four year college. While my parents were scrimping and saving to afford tuition, I have worked tirelessly to attain and retain admission to my state’s most prestigious public liberal arts college. When I learned earlier this year that I would be paying several thousand dollars of my parent’s hard earned money to work an internship not of my choosing, comfort level, or skill set, I was devastated; I feel as though I’m being forced to pay to change fields. My internship is at a privately owned nursing home conglomerate where I have the barest minimum of face time with residents and have absolutely no role in contributing to the helping process; I’m an un-glorified pencil pusher. I feel stuck, and have regularly asked to complete my internship somewhere else, anywhere else; unfortunately, my requests have always been denied due to a scarcity of qualifying internship sites.

Thus, I’m left feeling out of touch and disenfranchised; my experiences are never relevant to my classes’ discussions, and I’m frustrated that I’m lining the pockets of a corporation instead of meeting the needs of clients through a non-profit agency setting. I feel angry with the School of Social Work, and have come to resent my decision to purse a life in the field of social work at all. I always knew that such a degree would entitle me to the potential for poor pay and emotional hardship, but I expected to be rewarded with a sense of self and purpose that I’ve yet to find in my senior year in the field. Instead, I feel taken advantage of, cheated, manipulated, ignored, and lied to. I’ve been told not to complain and that my feelings will only help me to better empathize with future marginalized clients. I disagree; any potential for empathy has turned to resentment and my passion to repulsion in the face of their subterfuge.

At the beginning of the year, 2/3 of my classmates (about 40 people) were preparing to take the GRE and begin scouting for graduate schools. Now, though? We have maybe 8 people still intending to pursue going straight through to get their MSWs. Most people too aren’t even looking at jobs in the helping professions for after graduation; almost everyone I’ve talked to about career plans has spoken of taking a year or two off and working minimum wage jobs at restaurants and retail stores just to get away from the stress that our internships have taught is all that we have to look forward to as professional social workers.

I hope my story can be helpful in substantiating the need for reforming social work internship requirements.

Join us tonight at 9PM EST for the #Macrosw chat which is a collaboration made up of community practice organizations and individual macro social workers. We will be discussing internship reform and the public commenting period for the Council for Social Work Education. The collaboration consists of ACOSA @acosaorg by(Rachel West @polisw), Network for Social Work Management, Deona Hooper (Founder of Social Work Helper @deonahooper), Karen Zgoda (PhD Candidate at Boston College), The University at Buffalo School of Social Work and the University of Southern California School of Social Work. Each member of the collaboration will take turns moderating the #MacroSW chats. The #MacroSW twitter chats occur on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month. The full archive of this chat can be viewed at https://storify.com/SWUnited/internship-reform-and-macro-practice.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mary Kay Victims

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  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

Creating a Focus Group Using Twitter: Week Two of Twitter Study

focus-group-full

Have you ever wished you had a second opinion or a group of people you could poll to help with your decision-making process. Politicians, product designers, and advertisers do it all the time. They often will conduct a focus group, which is a small sample of people, in order to get feedback, test theories, or to conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis on their issue or concern.

Focus groups are only one method in a researcher’s data collection arsenal, but this method is ideal for investigation because you can ask follow-up questions in response to answers by the participants. Creating a focus group may sound complicated, time-consuming, expensive, and/or inaccessible to the financially challenged. However, creating a focus group using twitter is fairly easy and simple to do in order to gather information on perceptions, opinions, beliefs or attitudes for a given subject.

Methodology

Week two of the #SWHelper twitter study uses Twitter as the vehicle to conduct a focus group. The focus group was tasked with identifying recommendations to improve the social work degree on the BSW and MSW for the CSWE 2015 EPAS public commenting period. Social Work Helper advertised a live tweetchat on a specified date and those who were interested in discussing the innovation of the social work degree would be the participants for the focus group.  The chat consisted of educators, students, and practitioners. Participants were asked several questions during the live chat, and  then they were directed to a 7 question structured survey that took them outside of Twitter to complete.

Survey Result Highlights

When asked what is your primary concern for making changes to the social work degree, participants were given internship reform, more tech/business courses, or diversity courses to include more on lgbtq and reproductive justice as their answer choices. The results were 38 percent chose internship reform, 33 percent chose tech and business courses, and 27 percent chose the diversity answer. As the secondary concern, participants identified diversity with more lgbt and reproductive justice education at 40 percent. With over 70 percent stating there is not enough diversity education in this area in a separate yes or no question.

When asked about the types of internship reform for the BSW, participants were given the choices to reduce to 100 hours with more core classes, 200 with more core classes, remain at 400 hours, or the ability to customize based on need and work experience. For BSW internship reform, 53 participants stated students should have the ability to customized based on need and work experience with over 70 percent giving the same answer when asked about MSW internship reform.

Week’s Best Tweets

There was also a tweetchat after party that lasted for hours after the live event, but I didn’t have the stamina to continue. However, I will be able to measure those tweets as part of the of the detail study. We saw several issues emerge such as access to online education and tech access as a social justice issue. Focus groups can identify issues that may not have been on the researcher’s radar for initial consideration. However, these issues were only allowed to emerge through conversation and follow-up. To view the full tweetchat archive, go to http://sfy.co/dczv.

Challenges, Barriers, and Limitations

Taking participants off-site to complete a survey may have an effect on the number of survey participants because it takes them away from live engagement. Additionally, while conducting your focus group, participants may actually influence attitudes and opinions of other twitter users through their combined reach and potential reach during your data collection process.

Next Week Tweetchat

Join us on 3/30 at 3PM EST using the hashtag #SWHelper for Week 3 of the Twitter Study. We will be exploring using Twitter for the purpose of community organizing. For this tweet chat, I will be asking participants to identify organizations and hashtags these organizations use on Twitter in order to encourage #socialwork interaction. I will compile this information from the live twitter chat to create a twitter list for promoting interdisciplinary communication and learning via Twitter.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of USAbility.gov

Exit mobile version