The social work internship, also known as field education, is a key component of any Master of Social Work program. Internships provide students with the opportunity to connect and integrate social work theory and practice in real-world settings.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the primary accrediting body for social work programs, has defined the social work field education practicum as an integral part of social work education.
The CSWE gives equal weight to classroom and field experience in the social work curriculum, each being recognized as contributing to the development of the competencies required for professional practice.
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Social Work Internship Opportunities
MSW programs require students to complete their social work internship within their local community, and MSW programs work to place students with suitable agencies. For distance learners pursuing their degree, accredited online MSW programs work to place students with local agencies.
Typical internship settings include social service organizations, government agencies, hospitals, schools and businesses that focus on human services. Working under the guidance of professional social workers, interns gain hands-on experience in case management, assessment, evaluation and treatment of clients. Students may also be given the opportunity to develop and evaluate services that address the needs of the community.
Field education placements are tailored to students’ career goals and professional aspirations, and take into account factors such as geographic location, professional interests and goals, and previous volunteer and work experience.
Social Work Field Education Duration and Support
In order to fulfill CSWE field education requirements, MSW students must complete several hundred hours of field education under the supervision of a professional social worker who holds an MSW. Following an orientation period, a social work student should become engaged in direct service work with clients.
MSW programs may provide two types of field education experiences: in the first year, students complete an internship that provides general orientation to the profession; during the second year, students complete an experience that focuses on a subject matter or audience specific to their interest and study. In addition to placing students in field education positions, MSW programs provide ongoing support, maintain field liaison contacts with agencies, and evaluate the student’s learning.
If you’re considering earning an MSW, remember that social work field education is a required component for accredited master’s programs, and MSW programs are responsible for placing students in internships. Only choose an MSW program that fully supports field education as a keystone of the curriculum and recognizes field education as an important tool for preparing you to become an advanced professional social worker.