Recent complaints raised by a group of Master of Social Work students about their non-profit fieldwork placement have prompted debate among students and administrators in the School of Social Policy & Practice.
In a Nov. 27 article in The Daily Pennsylvanian, several SP2 students voiced their dissatisfaction with the opportunities the school provides for them. Every week, in addition to two days spent in the classroom, MSW students are required to work for three days as interns in one of five neighboring states.
In these internships, students are supposed to gain practical, hands-on experience in a particular area of social work. The students who voiced concerns, however, said some of these internships do not come with enough supervision and direction.
Additionally, they criticized the SP2 administration for not paying sufficient attention to individual students when they may encounter problems in their fieldwork.
Though administrators have not yet taken any official action to address these concerns, the students’ complaints have caused some to defend the quality of SP2’s programs.
“Some students are going to have good experiences, and some students are not going to have good experiences,” said third-year MSW student Anne Day. “But I don’t think [individual experiences are] indicative of the program or anything.”
Day, a part-time student, said she has had a positive experience as an SP2 student.
Before beginning her internship, Day changed her field placement two times because she either didn’t want her original placement or managed to find another satisfactory position. Looking back, she said the SP2 office was a major help in working through these frequent changes.
“I know that’s a headache for [director of Field Education] Anne Weiss, [but] she was nothing but concerned and passionate the entire time, even if I did not have a valid reason,” Day said. “Weiss deals with 300 other students who have other priorities, and it’s extraordinary” that she took time to work closely with one student.
However, there have been numerous cases in which students have felt dissatisfied with the program, and multiple efforts have been made to change the Field Office within the SP2 community.
“There have been surveys, projects, committees and meetings, [but some students] still felt that all of that is just show,” said a second-year MSW student who wished to remain anonymous due to potential disadvantages before entering the job market. “We tried appropriate channels, but nothing happened, and we felt like we were shut down.”
Most of the complaints that have been brought up are not necessarily problems related directly to SP2, but rather to the agencies where students work, according to Day.
“It’s not to say that they are bad agencies,” Day said. “But there are problems that are indicative of social work, or low-funded and understaffed programs. It’s just the nature of being a social worker.”
The anonymous student disagrees. The student believes that SP2’s Field Office is not doing enough to help students find new placements if previous ones did not pan out.
With ongoing discussions, SP2 Dean Richard Gelles explained, the school will maintain its current measures to handle students’ issues regarding field placements.
“We [will] continue to use the existing avenues to listen and respond to student concerns about the field component of the curriculum,” he wrote in an email.
Day added that the program continues to value student input.
“The clients we deal with are the most underprivileged, vulnerable people in the city, and they should be our top priority,” Day said. “But that doesn’t mean that students are [falling] by the wayside.”