Thanks to several colleagues I have become aware of the initiative and petition to no longer require a field placement in social work, but rather to leave it up to the individual student who, under advisement, would make the decision that he or she thinks would be best about what is needed.
I write as the Director of Training for the Department of Social Work at Duke University Medical Center (where we have roughly 25 social work interns) and as a past recipient of “The Heart of Social Work Award” granted by the North American Field Educators and Directors, of the Council On Social Work Education.
While any forum that offers a platform for debate can claim neutrality on the issue at hand, the simple act of offering a platform confers respectability to the issue. What would be the response if I, for example, wished to start a petition to eliminate statistics or diversity from a social work education? What if I wanted to start a petition that would permit social workers to grant themselves Ph.D.’s based on work experience? Would the petition be taken seriously?
While there are some areas worthy of debate, there are others that are too outlandish for serious consideration. Working in the field as an intern must remain a part of a social workers experience. Internships should be neither painful or exploitative. If the student feels that he or she is being taken advantage of or that the internship is not worthwhile, then the school and the field, and the requirements of CSWE, must be held accountable. We must tighten standards, not reduce or eliminate them.
Many of us have had the experience of working under a manager who has never had to work in the trenches, or who simply doesn’t understand what it means to do quality clinical work. It is hard to believe that the experience so fundamental to what it is to being a social worker could be called into question. If the field practicum is eliminated, that person who skated by, might someday, God forbid, be your manager.
While one can always claim that various debates are useful, I sincerely hope that one side of this debate will be seen for how damaging such a prospect would be for those of us who aspire to hold ourselves and our profession to high respectable standards.
For more information on this topic:
William S. Meyer, MSW, BCD
Associate Clinical Professor
Departments of Psychiatry and Ob/Gyn
Duke University Medical Center
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I am reposting our earlier comment here, because the discussion has developed this second track.
We are writing to offer some evidence pertaining to the question at hand and that might inform the discussion. Our research team published the following paper in 2011:
Holden, G., Barker, K., Rosenberg, G. Kuppens, S. & Ferrell, L. W. (2011). The signature pedagogy of social work? An investigation of the evidence. Research on Social Work Practice, 21, 363-72.
The Abstract offers perhaps the best summary:
Objective: Many professions use some form of internship in professional education. Social work has utilized field instruction throughout much of its history. Recently, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) designated field instruction as social work’s signature pedagogy. A systematic review was undertaken to examine evidence related to this designation. Method: Twenty-five primary databases, three grey literature sources, a research university library (for monographs and collections) were searched in addition to a survey of the invisible colleges and hand searching of journals. The goal was to uncover quantitative studies of social work field instruction in the United States. Results: None of the studies that passed the initial review and were acquired for full examination met the inclusion criteria, precluding a meta-analytic integration. Conclusion: The assertion that field instruction is the signature pedagogy of social work would be more credible if supported by stronger evidence.
This is what is referred to as an ‘empty meta-analysis’. If you are interested in reading the full paper you can send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
AdOn Social Work Internships: The Importance of the Standard Posted: 4/11/2014 14:03
On the discussion on allowing field placement to become voluntary for social work intern, who would make the decision that he or she thinks would be best with his/her advisor. l have had the experience of both attending grad school with and working under managers who not only had had no personal interaction with someone from my background also had no firsthand knowledge of the cultural and racial groups that made up the bulk of social service client population in our area. As a result they were frequently inappropriate and offensive in their interaction with staff, clients and students because of unfamiliarity. Fieldwork sensitized future social workers to local family and community issues and I believe made them more effective social workers. To throw new social workers into the fray with no experiential knowledge of how policies and theory work out with real people is a recipe for disaster. I agree with Dr., Meyer the discussion should be about raising the standards of social workers level of skill, expertise and practice.
Janice Helena Hawkins MSW, PhD
JHawkins Strategic Research
It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to. W. C. Fields
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I would hope this type of initiative is supported by the few and not the many. Unfortunately, as history exhibits, if the few vocalizing issues are in power changes may be implemented. I must express my opinion about field placements and researching evidence based practices.
This really hits a chord for me. I have been a field supervisor for over 18 years. I believe field placements are the next focus for social work education along with integration of technological practices. There may be no quantitative research suggesting the efficacy of field placements in social work, but if asked, there are thousands of qualitative stories supporting the method. We only need to look at other professions where field placements are as essential to the curriculum as the content itself. Medicine, psychology, the sciences, and teaching, support internships through research.
I do agree we need to research field placements in social work as to “why” they are effective. Assessing standards of practice, critical and creative thinking abilities, self-regulation, value and ethical shifts, or diversity awareness have tremendous potential for research. There may well be a day when every profession has a field internship to integrate theory and practice.
One advantage missing in social work research, present in the other areas I mentioned, is funding. As more resources for research become available, the field of social work will blossom in their pursuits of evidence based practices. Social workers have a focus on their populations, and not research, partly because finances are not available to make a liveable wage. Research is not on the agenda if most of our profession is a pay check or two away from our client populations.
Once government and society acknowledge the importance of the issues our work addresses, we will not have to choose between helping and research because we don’t have the funds. We will be able to combine practice and research. Resources will support effective measures addressing social, political, and financial inequity in the US. Passing the Social Work Reinvestment Act can be the start of this acknowledgment.
Social Work education like any other business is faced with cutting corners; good internships and competent field instructors (supervisors) are feeling the economic squeeze.Changing the fundamental in situ learning experience of MSW’s, their field work, into a hybrid of options essentially destroys “learning from experience” with real clients/patients. This cannot be accomplished in other settings. Agencies, hospitals, prisons, rehab centers, to name a few and the streets are the core of social work practice. Our ethics and social justice aims are intertwined with field work. Academic settings can only teach about theoretical practice situations and from canned cases, from field work, paradoxically.
As a former Assistant Director of field work, a field work on site group supervisor, and as a classroom clinical faculty there is no better tradition for learning direct practice than exposure to real life situations; like home visits in child centered cases, at the bedside of an ailing patient with dementia, in drug rehab groups, and so forth. If we take the “social” setting out of social work you are left with a “worker” with no work environment! That is like training a “drone” as a worker watching a population in need but viewed from a sociological reductionistic distance.
Any other option is reduced to intellectual academic