Why Social Work Internships Are Necessary
Before you are ready to start your career in social work, you must first have experience applying what you learn in the classroom to a real-life environment. Most social work degree paths require that students undergo a period of social work field placement via social work internships, which represent opportunities to experience the real challenges and responsibilities of social workers.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the primary accrediting body for social work programs, has defined the social work field education practicum as an integral part of social work education. The CSWE gives equal weight to classroom and field experience in the social work curriculum, each being recognized as contributing to the development of the competencies required for professional practice.
Field Education Guidelines
All Master’s of Social Work (MSW) programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) must incorporate field education into their curriculum to adequately prepare students for careers in social work. MSW programs work with local social service agencies, government organizations, hospitals, schools, or businesses to place students in a social work internship.
According to the CSWE, social work field education must meet the following stipulations:
- Field education is associated with an academic program at an accredited institution of higher learning.
- Field education is structured around a classroom or academic experience, with articulated learning objectives/competencies.
- The college or university exercises oversight over the internship program and provides educational credit.
- The field education experience is supervised by social work program personnel; there is an agreement between the program and the field site as well as a learning contract between the student and the site.
- The Social Work Field Education program is meant to be solely educational and to provide training to prepare the professional social worker. It is not meant to supplant or replace existing employees of social work within the field education program site.
- The field placement is meant to provide an educational and training opportunity to the social worker and is not meant to provide any immediate advantage to the employer or the field site.
Placement Factors for Social Worker Internships
When partnering students with social work internships, schools generally consider your previous work and volunteer experience, professional interests, and intended career path.
In order to become accredited, an MSW program must meet the CSWE’s minimum requirement of 900 hours of field education. This occurs in two placements – first and second year. Internships may occur during the summer but are often completed during the academic terms throughout both years of the program.
A first-year internship placement generally orients you with the profession and enables you to provide direct service to individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities. During your second year placement, when you declare a concentration and take more specific career-related classes, you will likely intern in a place that builds on first-year experiences and helps you develop an advanced understanding of a specialized area.
Finding the Right Social Worker Internship
When searching for an internship that is right for you, it is important to remember that the MSW program is responsible for your placement and should provide ongoing support, maintain field liaison contacts with agencies, and evaluate your learning. Your school’s network, expertise, and resources will go a long way in finding you a successful and meaningful placement.
You should be proactive when your school is placing you in a social work internship. Voice your preferences, mention organizations you might want to work with and be vocal if you are not comfortable with your placement. By working closely with your faculty, advisors, and counselors, you should be able to find the field placements that best enhance your learning experience and prepare you for your career in social work.