Social Work Internships Optional?

law student social media interns

Disturbing whispers spread across social media about making Social Work field internships optional. Even more significant is the petition circulating to advance eliminating the field agenda. There was even a thread about if we really need internships in my dissertation class. Social Justice Solutions (SJS) posted an article supporting internships with subsequent support from educators outside our profession. Why is this even a question?

After reading all these articles and posts it occurred to me, the reason for this push may be two fold. The first is lack of research on efficacy about internships in the social work profession, but I covered this in my response post on SJS. Here is an excerpt:
“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 livable wage. Research is not on the agenda if most of our profession is a pay check or two away from our client populations.”

The second issue may be in the push to streamline education into an online or blended format. Education has never been more accessible to diverse populations. Adults now have access to earning a degree with flexible time options for education. Now here comes the rub.  In higher education’s push to increase education options, has this been at the expense of quality education?

Internships are not convenient. They cannot be done online. Squeezing in a 16 or 24 hour internship is difficult for anyone. Add full time work, kids, a partner, extracurricular activities, and for some this is the formula for a superhero or a choice for a different field.

I empathize, I do. In graduate school, I had a partner, a baby, worked part time, and some months bills didn’t get paid, all to earn my MSW. We qualified for food stamps. I held 4 part time jobs, with a partner and two children during my PhD. However, I still believe we cannot afford to let go of internships. The benefit of my internship experiences started the foundation of my practice. Even though it was 21 years ago, I can still refer back to my internship for learning. I would not be the same practitioner without my undergraduate and graduate field experiences. My professional practice would not have the depth it has now.

For me there is no question about field practicums. I would be a shadow of who I am professionally. I would not be the same person.  Don’t compromise the profession for an easier, softer, way.
Written By Ellen Belluomini, LCSW

Social Work Internships Optional? was originally published @ Bridging the Digital Divide in Social Work Practice and has been syndicated with permission.

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