One of the greatest parts of my job is being involved in the social work internship program for MSW students. It is something I truly love, not just for the challenge and fun I have, but because I understand how vital it is for the profession. Social work is a unique field, we have the ability to utilize the skills we learn on every level of social work. Although we might work in a micro area, or focus on macro issues, we require a proper understanding of both in order to be effective.
The first dose we receive of that is through our social work internships. A hefty part of our education, internships can be anywhere from a disaster of what not to do, to the greatest learning curve of your life. Good and bad internships alike provide experience and a broader knowledge base. More importantly, by having the internship requirement while you are in a social work program, you are forced to see that practice through the lens of social work. There are plenty of people working in similar fields who bring a lot to the table going back for their MSW, but the experience alone isn’t enough.
Think of other professions: physical therapists, medical students, nurses, teachers. All of these professions and more require not only experience in the field, but supervised experience in the field. This is usually paired with classes that walk the student along various parts of their learning. The supervisors in fieldwork settings work along with the school to ensure that necessary requirements and growth is met. You may be in the field for twenty years without realizing what proper interventions a social worker is in need of. It doesn’t mean you weren’t great at your job, just that positions alter, and we can always learn a thing or two. How often have you learned something and realized that for years it was done incorrectly? The school is vouching for your ability to practice once you leave with your degree. It is up to us to maintain those standards, and to raise the bar for the profession.
Every social worker needs certain foundation skills, and for those skills to be developed properly through the educational institutions who work with our accreditation standards. Although my passion is macro work, I would consider myself a poor social worker not having the clinical understanding and experience working in the field. For micro social workers, not having a broader perspective only serves to limit the understanding of our role. It is why our education must maintain a well-rounded quality. Our system breaks down without this understanding. It creates silos and causes disconnects within our profession.
There has been talk about eliminating or altering internship standards for social work students, particularly those for non-traditional students. While there is merit to recognizing that many bring a wide range of knowledge and skills when entering school, it is difficult to see this idea as anything but potentially damaging to our profession. We need to discuss raising the standards of social workers. Taking away internships serve only to demonstrate a lesser range of expertise and scope of practice. What would be beneficial is to encourage different internships, alternative placements to meet the interests and broaden the horizons of the typical student. Ideally, most internships would be paid, which could lessen the burden of those of us who have to also work through school, but alas, not everything will be possible.
For those in favor of this elimination I must ask you: would you encourage the elimination of student teaching for education majors who have worked as a TA or in day cares/pre-schools, or alternative settings and see them as fully qualified? Would you want a doctor who was able to exempt himself from medical school hours because they volunteered in clinics? They might bring a lot of great knowledge, but we can never shirk away from upholding professional standards and learning and then hope it will be enough. We must be better.
Council on Social Work Education Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards
By: Courtney Kidd, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer
Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment