Masters in Social Work (MSW) Field Work & Placement

MSW Field Placement

MSW Field Placement

An extraordinary amount of time spent in the completion of a Master of Social Work program is spent doing field work. Students are placed in one or more - usually several - functioning social work environments in order to observe social work professionals at work and learn from them. The accrediting body for MSW programs, the Council on Social Work Education, mandates nine hundred hours of field work for successful completion of an MSW degree. That means hundreds of hours for each of the two years devoted to the program; most of the second year is spent in the field.

Locations for field placement are determined through consultation between the student and faculty. Generally students find a placement they find attractive, and then check to see if it is on the "approved" list kept by the school. It is not unusual for a student to find a placement opportunity that seems ideal only to learn that the location is not acceptable to the school. However it's important that students grasp the nature of the field placement process before delving into it.

Schools of social work all have their own criteria for acceptable field placement sites. Some schools won't consider a for-profit organization. Others will accept placement in a for-profit, as long as there is a sliding scale for services that provides access to clients with low income. Some schools might find religious organizations unacceptable placements for MSW students. There may be policy issues over the funding source for the agency in question; namely, whether funding is public or private.

Some schools look on diverse placement opportunities as a virtue. New York University's Silver School of Social Work has agreements with over six hundred agencies and service centers throughout the region, but all of them are public facilities or non-profit organizations. Duke University includes several Catholic Charities facilities in its placement list and also offers opportunities at a number of military installations in the area. Many schools consider hospitals to be good field placement opportunities, and not all hospitals are non-profit organizations.

Because so many student hours are devoted to field learning, these placements are important to both student and faculty and the selection process may involve a number of steps. Students who are engaged in the process should consider the concerns of the school faculty, the concerns of the agency under consideration, and seek out the appropriate fit. One of the factors that characterizes most field placement programs is an ongoing relationship with the agencies approved for field placement participation. It's important that student placement have some value to the agency and that the professionals running the agency understand the educational value of these internships. That's why many schools characterize their arrangements with field placement agencies as "partnerships."

Field placements will generally differ in nature between the first and second year. The first year, or "foundation year" focuses on generalist social work practice skills. Second-year placements move to the clinical skills required for a licensed MSW, providing experience with individuals and advanced direct practice with groups, families and couples. This is the year when MSW students begin to learn the challenging skills required for family interventions, for assisting in school environments, and for detecting and managing child abuse situations.

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