Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sign the petition: Reform Internship Requirements for Social Work Students

Deona Hooper, an MSW graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, created this petition on change.org, which seeks to reform the CSWE internship requirements for social work students:
Social Work Students are paying high tuition and are going in debt to work for free. Higher education use to mean a better life. A better shot at the American Dream. Agencies are benefiting, Schools of Social Work are benefiting, but what about the person assuming all the debt and cost? The purpose of the internship is to gain work experience. However, students are being turned away from jobs and not being considered for positions due to lack of experience. Students are being told that their internships don't count as experience. It suppose to be a learning experience, right?

Working Practitioners are having to leave jobs as Social Workers to work free as Social Workers if they want that coveted degree. Where is the lesson in that? We do not live in an era where leaving a job is feasible when it can be avoided. No other profession demands the amount of hours required by a social work degree for no pay and no guarantee of health insurance benefits for all students. The profession that does, if any, are not paying the salaries that social workers will make when entering the job market. Those folks are going to much higher paying jobs.


A culture is being created where only those with privilege or who can live with their parents can afford a social work degree. Don't keep out compassionate people without means from entering the profession.

For those who don't understand the petition, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) handles accreditation for bachelor's and master's social work programs. It sets and monitors the social work curriculum in the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards. Social work students must complete a minimum of 900 hours in field instruction with a licensed master social worker as their supervisor to become eligible for graduation. Yes, I said a minimum of 900 hours! Your current experience with an agency does not count if it is not listed under the social work program's approved list of field placement sites. Furthermore, some social work programs only accept students who can commit to full-time enrollment.

These strict requirements force social workers and prospective applicants to make tough decisions about whether this is the right career path for them. The MSW is preferred for administrative and research positions, yet it is very costly to earn this degree. While I was fortunate to have a paid social work field placement (and another paid campus job) in graduate school, I knew too many classmates who had unpaid internships AND applied for food stamps through the course of their study (4 semesters). I believe this is unacceptable because the social work profession doesn't attract affluent students (i.e., business, government, and law) who can afford to work for free with prestigious employers. However, most social work applicants come from working- and middle-class backgrounds who need the most financial assistance. The average entry-level master's social worker earns a salary of $37,000, but will owe more in student loan debt than they will earn in their entire first year on the job.

Social work has a proud social justice legacy, but the CSWE needs to revise its curricular standards so that it doesn't privilege one group of people (white, middle-class women) over historically marginalized populations (racial/ethnic minorities and the poor). According to NASW Workforce Center, the social work profession is currently 85% white women. Please spread the word about this petition to your classmates and colleagues. Continue this discussion because it will take all our voices to promote any real positive change to the internship requirements.

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