[some weeks ago, one of my social work classes – Community Organization – assigned me and my classmates to write a provocative blog post in less than 1,000 words about an issue we wanted to bring to attention about social work schools. Below is what I’ve come to write for that assignment:]

This is supposed to be a “provocative blog post”, but before I get there, I want to start with what I think – and I’m sure you’ll agree – is worthwhile context.

Context being: thank you and I appreciate you all.

No joke, and this isn’t just be conducting the usual diplomatic bullshit and ass-kissing that’s so emblematic in our institutional and political circles. I’m saying honestly, thank you:

  • for recruiting future world changers and empathic, holistic direct service practitioners, thank you
  • for representing such a misunderstood under-appreciated profession, thank you
  • for furthering our understanding of the society we live and the people we live with, especially ones most marginalized and ignored by everyone else, thank you,

I understand it is quite a challenging thing, training future social workers and connecting current social workers and other disciplinary professionals to the work that promotes for the well-being of our fellow human beings. It’s daunting considering schools of other fields are generally better regarded and better funded.

It’s a hands-on profession, and so ours is a profession that mandates students to meet certain amount of hours a week (for a total of 600 hours a year in most states) at an internship to be accredited.

Schools of other fields do this very differently. Schools of business and finance for example will prefer their students complete internships, but it’s not a requirement for graduation. I’ve personally talked with people who’ve majored in finance and have completed internships while pursuing their finance degree. What I can conclude from my conversations is that finance internships aren’t standardized the way social work field placements are, and in regards to the balance of whether it prioritizes student learning vs enhancing the profits of the site by taking advantage of student interns, they generally lean heavily towards company profits. This balance in social work field placements I’d argue is more in the middle generally. Based on personal conversations and correspondences I’ve had with people of other fields, I feel fairly comfortable concluding that internships in other fields, particularly in the field of film, journalism, political science, and even public administration and non-profit business management are less standardized and more so prioritize the needs of the site over the needs of the student interns.

In this regard, social work internships are commendable. All schools of social work must connect all of its students to appropriate internships, and constantly follow up on how both the student and the site are fulfilling CSWE standards for field placements. Social work internships, while just as susceptible to exploiting student interns as internships in other fields, are expected to be concerned with not only the benefits interns bring to the site, but also with the student’s learning and training to be an ethical culturally sensitive social worker.

But all that said, I think it can be said that social work internships are places where there is egregious exploitation of labor. Internships in other fields pay and compensate their students. In the social work field, students have to compete fiercely for meager stipends. For many aspiring social workers like myself, real horrors of non-profit industrial complex is first felt in these internships.

So this is where my words to you go from being thankful and optimistic to being a bit critical.

I want to point out to you that schools of social work many times do a lousy job of advocating on behalf of their students in internships. There are too few faculty advisers acting as liaison between students and field placement sites. I’ve met faculty advisers who have 60 students on their caseload. What luck that most of that adviser’s students don’t have serious issues in field placement! Because how is it that you expect one adviser to take on the tasks of representing 60 students, most of whom are in very different field placements working with very different supervisors?

Then there’s the more complicated issue of when the organization that accepts an intern from a social work school is unethical in its practice. I’ve heard stories from my fellow colleagues of racial discrimination by their supervisors at a field placement. I have my own story too, but one I don’t feel too comfortable sharing here. What I will tell you however is the result of my story, in that instead of my school backing me and advocating on behalf of clients who suffered due to the unethical actions of the agency I was interning at, the school had me sit down with them in the presence of three associate deans and ask me if I knew what I did was out of line.

I understand that schools have a relationship to maintain with the many different kinds of non-profit and even for-profit organizations they’re partnered with, but you can’t always side against the students. Why maintain a relationship with an organization that has a pattern and history of being problematic to students who are placed there?

It seems that when students fuck up, your support for them just drops, even after their tens of thousands of dollars going to the universities you represent and despite their hundreds of unpaid volunteers hours of sweat and tears exploited at their internships. Yet, when these field placement sites fuck up, and sometimes fuck up so hugely, you don’t even slap their wrists for bad conduct.

See? I told you this was supposed to be a provocative blog post. And we eventually got to me ranting like this.

I appreciate you schools of social work. I really do. I just believe we can do better, for our students, but for the clients we interact with, and for the communities that we serve. Because if we don’t, then for us students, you’ll get less thank yous and more fuck yous.

 Best,

A Social Work Student

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