Social work practice requires integration of knowledge, values, ethics, and skills. The field education experience enables students to apply knowledge from the classroom to real-life practice settings.This enables students to integrate theory and practice and develop into competent, ethical social work practitioners. In addition, the completion of field education is a requirement of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the accrediting body for BSSW and MSSW programs.
The Field Coordinator for each campus/program is responsible for facilitating the placement process for each student in that program. Each student works with her/his Field Coordinator to identify potential placements and to arrange for placement interviews. Depending on the specific program and level of placement, this process may involve submission of planning forms, resumes, meetings with the Field Coordinator, attendance at placement fairs, and completion of one or more placement interviews. The final decision regarding placement assignment is made by the Field Coordinator.
A Field Instructor must have a degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. A BSSW field instructor may have a BSSW or MSSW degree. An MSSW field instructor must have an MSSW/MSW degree. Field Instructors are also required to have two years of post-social work degree practice experience.
The College of Social Work has developed partnerships with a wide variety of public and private, not-for-profit and for-profit organizations serving diverse client systems throughout Tennessee, in other states, and internationally. Students are able to select from this dynamic list of organizations to arrange for placements in their areas of interest. Although not every student interest can be addressed in every location, the College offers multiple placements in schools, hospitals, state and local government agencies, community organizations, mental health and substance abuse treatment settings, and in the criminal justice system. Placements also provide specialized services to seniors, veterans, immigrants and refugees, the homeless, and persons affected by trauma. Students are able to engage in placements that focus on advocacy, policy practice, program development and evaluation and community organizing. The College maintains a variety of placements that enable students to meet the requirements of certificate programs in Veterinary Social Work,, Gerontology, and Treatment of Trauma.
The field coordinator has primary responsibility for development of field placement sites. If a student is interested in placement in a setting that is not currently affiliated with the College, the student should contact her/his field coordinator to notify her/him of interest in the site and to provide contact information, if available. The field coordinator will contact the site to explore the possibility of developing a placement for the student. Both the placement site and the field instructor must meet all College requirements.
The vast majority of placements are available only during regular weekday business hours. CSWE accreditation standards require that students be supervised by someone with a social work degree who meets the requirements to be a Field Instructor. Although there are some organizations that serve clients 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the social work staff usually works during normal daytime business hours. If students can only complete their field placement during evening and weekend hours, they will likely be unable to complete the MSSW program.
Students are responsible for their own transportation to their field placements. The availability of public transportation varies by area, and many field agencies are not accessible by public transportation. Consequently, students generally need access to a personal vehicle for field placement. Lack of access to a personal vehicle severely limits the number of placement options available to a student. In addition, many placements require students to do home visits, visit other agencies, or attend meetings at other locations.
Students are expected to approach their field placements with openness, flexibility, and commitment to engaging in the learning experience. If the student has concerns about the quality of the learning experience, s/he should first discuss these concerns with her/his field instructor. If the concerns persist, the student should contact her/his field liaison for assistance. If the student’s concerns cannot be satisfactorily addressed by this process, the student may submit a request to the field coordinator to terminate the placement and be reassigned to another placement. The decision about whether to reassign the student is made by the field coordinator.
Students are not allowed to quit or resign from their placements. However, they may submit a written request for termination of the placement to their field coordinator. If the student is experiencing distress in the placement, s/he may contact the field instructor to notify her/him that she will be absent and then immediately contact the field coordinator to schedule a consultation meeting.
Students may request to complete a field placement within their employing agency. Certain requirements must be met in order to meet accreditation standards. The employing agency must meet the College’s requirements for field placement sites. The placement cannot be the same as the student’s employment position and must represent new learning that addresses the competencies of the specific field education course. The student’s field placement must be supervised by someone who is not involved in the student’s employment supervision and who meets all College requirements for being a field instructor. The student must submit the written proposal and a signed contract to her/his field coordinator for approval. This procedure is detailed in the field manual.
Students are assigned to one organization each academic year for their field placement. The student’s educational experience is enhanced by presence and engagement in the agency over time. The student gains increasing knowledge of the agency’s structure and services and is able to engage in increasingly complex projects and services. An organization may provide some exposure to another agency through coalition meetings or joint projects.
Most organizations in which students are placed do not have funding to pay students for their work. However, if an organization has funding for student salaries or stipends, the student may accept this as long as the student’s role as learner remains primary. The student may not accept a regular staff position in the organization and count this as field.
Many field agencies have specific requirements for students to complete criminal background checks, drug screens, physical exams or screenings, submit driving records, etc. Students are required to fulfill the specific requirements of the agency to which they have been assigned. In most cases, students will be financially responsible for these requirements.
The BSSW Junior Placement provides an introduction to professional social work practice in an agency setting. This placement may include more observation and shadowing than practice experience. The BSSW Senior Placement is focused on development of competence in the skills of generalist social work practice. This placement includes observation but requires that students be actively engaged in assessment, intervention, and evaluation of practice at multiple client system levels.
The MSSW Generalist placement enables the student to apply the broad course content in an agency setting and develop competence in generalist social work practice. This includes assessment, engagement, intervention, evaluation, advocacy, and policy practice at multiple client system levels. The concentration placement is focused on the development of advanced knowledge and skills for practice within the student’s chosen concentration and, if applicable, a specific certificate program. As such, this is a much more specialized placement experience.