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The Heart Of Social Work

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 5449 words Published: 25th Apr 2017

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The origins of professionalization of social work date back to post Civil War era and the emergence of two opposing approaches to dealing with the needs and struggles of society: Charity Organization Societies (COS) and Social Reform. Charity Organization Societies (COS) – later developed into casework – offered a more individual approach, and Social Reform, represented by the Settlement House movement, which focused on addressing the societal causes of poverty. Initially working together for the so much needed social change, both movements eventually separated their actions due to the distinctiveness in their approaches (Axinn & Stern, 2008).

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The end of the 19th century was about individual change and voluntary relief action. Herbert Spencer’s application of Social Darwinism with its two key attributes – “struggle for existence” and “survival of the fittest” – to social work has gained forceful influence (Axinn & Stern, 2008). The widespread perception held that poverty was simply a factor of natural selection and aiding poor would make them indolent and unproductive (Hofstadter, 1955). Over time, however, the “scientific charity” approach faced an increased hostility because of its administrative methods that lumped together all the poor in order to save tax money (Axinn & Stern, 2008). Still, the efforts of Mary Richmond and her Social Diagnosis were a crucial development for the social work profession. The book was an answer to Abraham Flexner’s report from 1915 declaring that social work was “not yet” a profession, and turned casework into a major form of social work practice (History of Social Work).

The Settlement House movement was more focused on the malfunctioning of society. Guided by the “three Rs” – Research, Reform, and Residence – the movement provided a variety of services including recreational, educational, legal, and health services. Settlement workers also became involved in social research and social action. As social reformers, they joined forces with labor, women’s organizations, socialists, and others. Many of them, such as Lillian Wald, Florence Kelly and Paul Kellogg, rose to national prominence. Jane Addams became one of the most well known figures in the nation (Axinn & Stern, 2008).

The Great Depression and New Deal steered the newly created profession toward public welfare. As social workers realized the seriousness of the depression and they re-embraced reform and social work organizations began lobbying the national government for action. New type of social work – rural social work – was also created (Axinn & Stern, 2008).

In the early 20th century, social work strove to advance its status, define its purpose, and establish educational standards. With Mary Richmond’s efforts of developing training programs, the social work profession was on its way to becoming recognized as a profession. Settlement leaders continued their commitment to social reform, but after Flexner’s report the practice of social casework was identified as the core of the new profession (History of Social Work).

Modern social work practice emanates from both traditions – individual and social reform. Today, social work is a professional and academic interdisciplinary field that is dedicated to the pursuit of social change and improving the quality of life of individuals, groups and communities (Morris, 2008; Simon, 1994). The profession strives to help “the individual to become the best he can be – the community to become the finest and fullest expression of social life that it can be, with no one left behind” (Morris, 2008).

The History and Role of Field Education

Field practice casework has always been a central aspect to the profession of social work. As education for social work became more formal in the 19th century, the field education – where classroom knowledge is applied in a social environment with real clients – has been regarded as an essential component of social work profession. It is in the field practicum that the student social workers begin to apply knowledge skills, and principles, and grasp the complexities and subtleties of assessment, intervention, and evaluation within diverse social and organizational settings.

From the 19th century origins of social work as an outgrowth of charitable organizations working with the poor, field practice in casework has been central to the profession. As education for social work became more formal, a field practicum in which classroom knowledge is applied in a social environment with real clients has been regarded as an essential component. Through Field Education, social work comes alive and students begin to see the real faces and stories behind the important issues they have read so much about, and they also begin to take responsibility for their chance to affect change.

SINCE 1968, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) has required schools of social work to achieve cultural diversity in enrollment of students, hiring of faculty, and development of curricula (McMahon & AUen-Meares, 1992).

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has recently published standards in cultural competence that oblige social workers to strive to deliver culturally competent services to increasingly diverse client populations (NASW, 2001). Through its curriculum policy statement, CSWE provides a broad mandate for the infusion of multicultural content into academic courses (Carrillo, Holzhalb, & Thyer, 1993; Julia, 2000). It is, however, in the application of knowledge about cultural differences through a supervised internship or work environment that the training in multicultural competencies is integrated (Van Soest, in press). Although the role of field instructor is considered pivotal to student learning in social work (Bogo, 1993; Kadushin, 1991), little practical information exists to guide field instructors on approaches to infuse cultural diversity issues into the supervision process (Arkin, 1999; Cashwell, Looby, & Housley, 1997; Leong & Wagner, 1994).

The purpose of field instruction is to help you integrate the theory and knowledge base of social work learned in the classroom with the practical experience gained through work in social welfare settings. The purpose of the field education department is to provide students within the MSW program with an opportunity to learn hands-on through an internship work experience. Students that complete the foundation field practicum which focuses on generalist social work practice and arrive in the advanced year with a solid knowledge of theoretical frameworks that guide generalist practice, an understanding and acceptance of social work values and ethics, and well developed skills related to beginning social work practice. Field education in the foundation years provides the student with an opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of social service systems to access appropriate community resources. In addition, students learn to communicate in urban settings, apply theoretical knowledge to urban problems such as poverty, and to determine how oral, written, and technological information reflecting professional social work skills. To become effective social work practitioners, students need to experience working directly with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities and working collaboratively at every client system level to assess needs and to develop plans for addressing them. The field placement provides opportunities for experiential learning consistent with the more cognitive approaches provided in the classroom. This paper reviews the critical importance of field education in social work and will suggest incremental steps through which state, county and university partners may work together to shape a structural plan that will preserve and enhance the quality of the field component and the program as a whole.

The goal and purpose of field education

The purpose of the field education department is to provide students within the MSW program with an opportunity to learn hands-on through an internship work experience. Students that complete the foundation field practicum which focuses on generalist social work practice and arrive in the advanced year with a solid knowledge of theoretical frameworks that guide generalist practice, an understanding and acceptance of social work values and ethics, and well developed skills related to beginning social work practice. Field education in the foundation years provides the student with an opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of social service systems to access appropriate community resources. In addition, students learn to communicate in urban settings, apply theoretical knowledge to urban problems such as poverty, and to determine how oral, written, and technological information reflecting professional social work skills.


The purpose of the field practicum is to provide students the opportunity to work in a professional setting to develop and demonstrate skills in social work, to integrate the theories and practices learned in and out of the classroom, to develop a sense of commitment to the social work profession and Code of Ethics, to develop an understanding of the diversity of a community population and the role of diversity in social work practice, to develop an understanding of how administrative processes and policies impact delivery of services, to develop professional relationships within the community to better understand local resources to benefit future clients, and to confirm personal interests and abilities in the social service field.

As students undertake learning within the reality of agency life, a vehicle is established whereby use of theory and conceptual frameworks acquired through course work is applied, skills are developed and refined, and attitudes and values are examined. Additionally students are afforded opportunities for analysis of the effects of social welfare policy on programs and services, opportunities for the development of research questions in relation to practice efforts, and opportunities for evaluation of practice interventions. Field practicum courses enable students to personally affirm the validity of content presented in the classroom. The progressive, reciprocal relationship between theory and conceptual frameworks and practice becomes a dynamic in the teaching-learning process of field instruction. Field Instruction enables students to integrate the knowing, feeling and doing aspects of their social work education. It is designed to produce a knowledgeable, skilled, self-evaluating and professionally reflective social worker.



1. Basic understanding of how generalist social work practice is applied in a specific agency setting.

2. Knowledge about the application of theories to client situations in the agency setting.

3. Knowledge regarding the use of culturally sensitive practice methods with diverse and at-risk populations.

4. Knowledge about the social work system and structure in an agency, and how the structure impacts the provision of social work services.

5. Awareness of practice issues, policy issues, and related research information relating to the student’s field setting as well as to the placement settings of other students.

6. Awareness of appropriate methods for social action related to the agency purpose and function and participation in these when appropriate.

7. Awareness of social service resources in the area to enable students to broker services to enhance client functioning and well-being.


1. Enhancement of interviewing skills to enable the student to develop working relationships with diverse types of clients and client groups, to formulate initial and on-going assessments at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels, and to modify relationship styles to fit the client situation.

2. Ability to prepare an appropriate intervention/service plan for actual clients based on person-in-environment and strengths assessment and the availability of agency services.

3. Increased self-awareness of the student’s own intrapersonal and interpersonal attributes that enhance or interfere with therapeutic relationships or the social work role.

4. Application of practice and program evaluation skills for purposes of accountability, outcome monitoring, improvement of practice, and program development.

5. Development of the ability to use supervision in an appropriate manner for continued growth and development.

6. Development of the ability to work collaboratively with a variety of helping professionals.

7. Development of appropriate documentation skills within the agency setting which are clear, organized, and meet professional standards for the profession and the particular agency setting.


1. Respect for an individual’s worth and dignity and their unique characteristics.

2. Importance of advocating for the client with organizations and systems to ensure protection of rights and procurement of needed resources.

3. Appreciation for professional ethics, especially confidentiality, regarding clients, peers, agencies, and recognition of the individual’s right to self-determination and active participation in the helping process.

Council on Social Work Education’s 2008 Education and Policy Standards (promotes classroom and field learning as equally important for student learning) – its effect/impact on SW field education

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the entity that accredits all social work programs in U.S. universities at the BASW and MSW levels. All California university graduate social work programs have CSWE accreditation. In its recent educational policy statement, the CSWE concluded as follows:

Signature pedagogy represents the central form of instruction and learning in which a profession socializes its students to perform the role of practitioner. Professionals have pedagogical norms with which they connect and integrate theory and practice (Shulman, 2005). In social work, the signature pedagogy is field education [italics added]. The intent of field education is to connect the theoretical and conceptual contribution of the classroom with the practical world of the practice setting. It is a basic precept of social work education that the two interrelated components of curriculum- classroom and field-are of equal importance within the curriculum, and each contributes to the development of the requisite competencies of professional practice. [1] 

Several fields have a signature pedagogy, a method by which knowledge is traditionally imparted to students: the case method and moot court in law, student teaching at the primary school and university levels, even minimum flight hours for student pilots.

The importance CSWE attributes to the fieldwork component of any social work program is reflected in the hourly field requirement for each university degree. For a two- year accredited MSW program the requirement is 900 hours of MSW supervised field work. The BASW degree requires the student to complete 400 hours of supervised field. To become an accredited program of social work, a school must, among other stringent requirements, demonstrate how its field program “connects the theoretical and conceptual contribution of the classroom with the practice setting, fostering the implementation of evidence supported practice.” Further requirements include the candidate school’s providing “orientation, field instruction training, and continuing dialog with field education settings and field instructors.”

Structure for Field Practicum – The Anatomy of an Internship

(short review of a few MSW Internship Programs (or maybe just Rutgers’s?)

There are two semesters of field practicum for all social work majors. Students typically enter field their senior year. Students complete both semesters of field concurrently in the same agency unless there are extenuating circumstances which necessitate a change.

SWK 488: Internship Practicum I and SWK 489: Internship Practicum II each require 225 documented hours, for a total of 450 hours of agency work over the course of two semesters. Even if a student completes 250 hours prior to the end of either semester, that student is required to complete 15 weeks of field placement during both the fall and spring semesters. Students may accumulate internship hours between the fall and spring semesters. This arrangement must be made with the field instructor and approved by the NCU Field Coordinator. If this situation should occur, students may count accumulated hours toward the spring semester, but will still be responsible for completing the 15 week internship at a reduced number of hours per week. Students are not required to work during fall or spring holiday breaks or final exam weeks; however, they may choose to schedule hours with the agency during these periods. SWK 488: Internship Practicum I and SWK 489: Internship Practicum II, meet weekly throughout the entire period of the field placement. In addition, there are other required social work courses students take each semester (Fall: Pysch 460 – Research Methods and Spring: Psyc 495 – Senior Project).

The NCU Field Education Coordinator, in conjunction with the student, and the agency field instructor, will make decisions regarding students’ changing agency placements at any point.

Field Practicum Seminar

During a student’s field placement, he/she participates in a weekly Field Instruction Seminar. The seminar serves a very useful function by combining students from a variety of field of practice settings. This enables the student to have a broader perspective in terms of practice settings, client populations, and treatment methodologies than they might not otherwise experience.

Each seminar class is organized around a theme, such as racism within society, the value of practice evaluation and evaluation techniques which can be easily implemented and enrich practice, sexism within the profession, and goal setting and contracting with clients. The student may be assigned readings related to each topic. Discussion is geared toward enhancing students’ experiences in their internship, assisting them in making linkages between the knowledge they have obtained in the classroom and their experiences in the field, and facilitating their ongoing professional development.

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A weekly component of each field seminar is a group discussion of the student’s experiences during the week. The discussions enable the student to share the high points and low points of their week, successes and frustrations. The students serve as a support system and provide constructive feedback to each other. This aspect is considered by the students to be an especially valuable component of the class.

In addition to the discussions, there are written components to field instruction seminars. For instance, students are required to submit weekly logs in which they describe and analyze the activities of the week in their field placements. Confidentiality of clients is protected as identifying information is omitted. Each student is required to do a comprehensive analysis of the policies that operate in the agency. All assignments and the grading scale are identified in the course outline.

Individualized Learning Plan

In addition to the goals and learning objectives of the Internship Practicum, it is very important that each student be aware of and verbalize individual goals for field instruction which are pertinent to personal learning needs and the particular field agency. Near the beginning of each semester of placement, the student develops an individualized learning contract that includes learning goals, objectives, activities/tasks, and evaluation measures that address areas of professional knowledge and skills in need of development or improvement. Agency field instructors and the NCU Field Education Coordinator are available to assist students with this process.

Students complete three copies of the Individual Learning Plan. One copy is submitted to the agency field instructor and one to the faculty liaison. The third copy is to be retained by the student. The learning goals can be modified or others added at any time during the placement, and progress toward goals is evaluated at regular intervals.

Recommended Field Learning Experiences

Each field agency offers a unique opportunity for students to experience social work in all its many facets. Populations served will vary as will the make-up of the staff and the types of services provided. Within this broad range of field learning experiences, it is highly recommended that certain types of experiences be made available to students in field instruction settings.

The following is a list of recommended field learning experiences:

Orientation to the agency – includes staff, facility, office procedures, filing system, types of services provided, agency’s place in the social service network, methods of intervention, etc.

Experiences in developing and managing effective relationships – includes opportunities for students to observe a number of staff with their own individual styles of intervention, participation in a variety of helping relationships, and the use of supervision to assist students to determine how they can develop an effective working relationship with a variety of client systems.

Recording experience – includes case summaries, letters to clients and other agencies, process recordings of interviews, and eventually direct entry of students’ recordings into the agency’s records, etc.

Administrative experiences – includes observation/participation in staff meetings, funding hearings, public relations functions, budget planning, grant writing or reading grants already funded, lobbying efforts, board meetings, contracting requirements, etc.

Experience in resource/referral management – includes overall orientation to services available to client population being served by the field agency; telephone contacts with other agencies providing support services to clients; scheduled visits to key agencies with whom linkage for clients is most common; and learning procedures for effective referrals.

Interviewing experiences – includes observing, planning, and conducting interviews for a variety of purposes (intake, with staff, for volunteer programs, assessment, intervention, etc.), with diversified client systems in a variety of places (agency, home, school, hospital, etc.) The use of process recordings, observation, and tape-recorded sessions provides the field instructor with data to aid students in further developing interviewing skills.

Experience with procedures for evaluation of individual practice and agency programs – includes designing a plan for evaluating own practice, client progress, and effectiveness of interventions; data collection and analysis; becoming familiar with procedures for agency program evaluation; and conceptualizing/ developing a system for program evaluation if none exists, such as evaluation of service by clients.

Experience with groups – includes observation and participation in groups such as client groups, staff meetings, client staffing, and groups available in the broader community for the purpose of developing an understanding of group processes and skill in interacting in groups as a member or facilitator.

Experience in community activities – includes observation and/or participation in assignments that facilitate understanding of the community and its social service network, the field agency’s role in the community, as well as assignments that draw attention to unmet community needs and provide opportunity for community planning.

All learning experiences have, as a long range goal, the opportunity for students to develop increased skills, a greater level of independent functioning, and the development of a sense of professional identity with its accompanying values and guidelines under which the profession operates. Enabling the student to learn to utilize the supervisory relationship is central to the student’s growth in this area as well as all the other areas recommended for field learning experiences.

These suggestions can provide the student with sufficient opportunities to experience all facets of the agency as well as to create a structured learning experience. Other experiences of particular interest to a student can be incorporated into the student’s individual learning goals and contract at any time during the placement.

Current delivery of field education

contextual factors affecting field education

the nature of professional social work practice

theories and evidence-based practice related to field education

formats and methods of field instruction

the nature of student learning and effective approaches to student learning and competence in field education

the important relationship of the field instructor and student

Evaluation of student competence and methods of measurement in field education

It is recommended that the field site supervisor and the student review the evaluation tool used in the practicum as one of the first tasks of their supervisory sessions. This will help focus the teaching and learning of both parties. The field practicum is graded on an A – F scale. This grade will be determined by the NCU Field Work Coordinator with input from the field site supervisor.

The NCU Field Work Coordinator will meet with the student and the field site supervisor at least twice during the semester and more frequently, if needed. The regularly scheduled meetings will occur around mid-semester and again at the end of the semester. The student evaluation form should be completed prior to the evaluation meeting.

Student’s final grades will be determined by the overall evaluation from the agency and progress made on their learning plans that are developed early in the semester. (Learning plans can and should be modified throughout the semester with mutual consent from the student, faculty, and NCU Field Work Coordinator.)

If, at the midterm evaluation meeting, the field supervisor and Field Work Coordinator agree that the student is not displaying appropriate social work skill and therefore at risk of failing the Practicum, the student (with input from the field supervisor and Field Work Coordinator) must write a corrective action plan to address deficient areas. This plan must be signed by the student, field supervisor, and the NCU Field Work Coordinator.

Challenges and Potential Solutions

Field education is the primary interface between the school, the agency and the community within which both reside (Glassman, 2008). Field work provides the occasion for the student’s application of knowledge, values, theory, problem-solving skills, and affect to inform his or her practice ( Schon, l987). Stressing the essential character of field education for the future, authors Reisch and Jarman-Rohde observed, “As economic safety nets are dismantled, remaining agencies will have more clients but fewer staff to address their needs . . . field instruction will become an even more significant component of social work education.” (2000). To meet the needs for well-prepared staff members in economically challenged agencies, these authors argue that enhanced university-agency cooperation is needed to make certain students have the skills, values, experience and personal qualities to work effectively in an increasingly stressful work environment (Reisch & Jarman-Rohde, 2000).

In addition to providing students the opportunity to acquire practice skill, field instruction is also the primary domain for informing curriculum and faculty of practice issues and needs, particularly practice effectiveness (Glassman, 2008).

The positive aspects of a high-functioning, agency-university field program reverberate to the benefit of all involved: students, agency staff, faculty, and community. Consequently, greater interface and field program development that involves all partners to the educational process is particularly appropriate and valuable to a program like CalSWEC, in which the future employer has the direct opportunity to participate in preparing the new recruit. Under current economic conditions, CalSWEC agency and university partners will need to rethink how best to structure field programs around the state and more clearly articulate the roles of the individual entities involved.

A high quality field work experience is essential to give the entering child welfare social worker the tools to use both his/her education and the agency and community resources effectively. The NASW has noted that “practitioners and researchers are continually challenged by the difficulties agencies face in recruiting and retaining a competent child welfare workforce. “Part of that challenge is insuring that entering staff are equipped with adequate practice in working with actual clients under realistic agency conditions. Preparation in the form of high quality supervised field work has a beneficial effect on workforce retention, as demonstrated by the excellent CalSWEC retention rate of its MSW graduates, all of whom have experienced field practice as well as classroom preparation ( California Social Work Education Center, 2007).

Conclusion – the importance of integration of theory and practice in social work

CalSWEC’s Title IV-E Program, noted as a national model for agency-university partnerships in social work education, is at a crossroads. National economic forces that threaten the operation and staffing of social services agencies throughout the country now threaten the Program’s capacity to supply its students with the kind of high quality field experience they require to become effective child welfare social workers. In this climate, schools of social work may need to reconfigure the university-agency relationship, develop more field -centered education, and re-assert the community-based origins of the profession (Glassman, 2008). Schools of social work need to consider the possible benefits of creating rotating field sites, developing new agency forms for the purpose of education, and modifying existing agency structures to integrate service, education and research more effectively ( Reisch & Jarman-Rohde, 2000).


For the large and diverse state of California, a number of different models may need to be devised for conducting field education and building placement capacity to accommodate regional needs and resources. Rather than a reactive, crisis-based response to changing economic conditions the following set of recommendations are proposed to move forward:

Initiate a multiyear CalSWEC initiative to develop a systematic, long-term structural plan for creating and sustaining high quality field placement opportunities statewide. The initiative would encompass the following:

Engage agency directors and university faculty in dialogue to examine regional needs and resources then develop field placement models that meet the regional needs and resources. Models may include rotating field sites, field units and unified content and competency development that will be operated by agency and university partners, at pilot sites designed to address particular regional needs.

Through careful pilot development, test the efficacy of the models.

Leverage the university/county/CDSS partnership


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