SSA begins alternative re-accreditation process for social work educationBy William Harms
The School of Social Service Administration has begun an innovative project in which it will pioneer an alternative process of re-accreditation recently established by the Council on Social Work Education, an accrediting body.
The re-accreditation process has historically involved a lengthy period of self-study, followed by extensive documentation. For the first time, the council has approved an alternative process that permits a school of social work to use the re-accreditation process as an opportunity to develop a new way of doing the school’s work.
“It seems particularly appropriate for SSA to take up the challenges of such a newly developed approach to accreditation, because we have been continuously accredited since the founding of CSWE’s predecessor organization in 1919,” said Edward Lawlor, Dean of SSA. “The opportunity to devote resources ordinarily committed to the self-study process to the development of new approaches to social work education seems ideally suited for us at this time.”
A central part of social work education has been the placement of students in social service agencies, where they work alongside seasoned social workers and get hands-on experience in the practice of social work. “This will continue as the centerpiece of field education,” said Karen Teigiser, Deputy Dean of the Master’s Program.
But there have been recent changes in the field. “The demands put on social workers have increased, while the amount of time available for individual cases has decreased. At the same time, what social workers need to know has increased dramatically,” said Teigiser, who is helping to oversee the new re-accreditation process.
In order to develop a new approach, Lawlor convened an executive committee composed of leaders in human services who shared their knowledge about the skills they look for in employees.
At the same time, a faculty task force conducted 11 focus group sessions with field instructors, faculty, current students and alumni to gather their ideas of fieldwork education. They then prepared recommendations for the new program that will include a variety of phases to acquaint students with the work they may perform as social workers.
The SSA faculty unanimously approved the recommendations in late May.
Of the students enrolled this fall, half will follow the traditional fieldwork program, while the other half will take part in a new program model, which provides a fresh approach to social work education. This division of students will allow faculty to better evaluate the model program.
Students following the traditional approach will spend the academic year assigned to an agency, where they will learn about the work of that agency and provide social services under the supervision of a field instructor.
The students in the new program model began with an orientation to social welfare practice and preparation for practice. Starting the second week of the fall term, the students will spend two days per week for four weeks, attending lectures and panels with SSA faculty and field instructors about some of the basic values, knowledge and skills needed for their field placements.
As the students begin their fieldwork, they will be assigned to clusters of agencies. The agencies might serve the same geographic area, for instance, or a particular population, such as the elderly, or the same type of problem, such as mental illness.
In preparation for direct service, the students will become familiar with their field agencies by working on a project that contributes to the work of the agency.
Throughout their field experience, the students will discuss their experiences in an Applied Learning Seminar, which will meet biweekly and involve students from their own cluster of field sites.
In Winter Quarter, the students will begin work with clients. Although they will be at one agency, each will be exposed to at least one other setting or level of service within their agency or cluster. For instance, a student placed in an inpatient psychiatric setting may do a six-week rotation leading an outpatient group once a week at another agency in the cluster. Or a student who works on a medical surgical floor with adults may do a four-week rotation, spending one afternoon per week assisting with community placement in pediatrics at the same facility.
The new program will be evaluated as part of the re-accreditation process and once approved, the new approach will be implemented for all students beginning in the 2004-2005 academic year.
Work on the re-accreditation initiative is supported with a $300,000 commitment from David and Mary Winton Green. Mary Green is a 1949 graduate of SSA, a former fieldwork instructor, and has been a member of the SSA Visiting Committee since 2000.
“I’m aware of the importance of fieldwork to social work training,” Green said. “It’s an opportunity to translate social work theory into practice. It’s also an effort to strengthen the human services part of the students’ education.”