Social work department mission and vision statements are replete with commitments to human rights as central to social work aims. However, a gap exists in the literature regarding field students’ transfer of human rights comprehension into human rights practice in field practicum. This paper takes conversations about human rights from the peripheral and brings them into focus by providing clarity to the implementation of human rights theories, concepts, and competencies in field education. Authors outline an eight-module curriculum that assists field supervisors, field educators, and field students to sustainably integrate social work practice and human rights practice into field education.

Keywords: field education; field practicum; human rights; seminars


Tenets centering human rights in social work education and practice are well established. Social work department mission and vision statements are replete with commitments to human rights as central to social work aims. However, a gap exists in the literature regarding field students’ transfer of human rights comprehension into human rights practice in field practicum.

Field practicum is recognized globally as offering students significant professional learning and growth (Cleak & Zuchowski, 2019). National and international social work organizations have embraced human rights ideology in social work practice (Healy, 2008; Reichert, 2011; Shyman, 2015; Wronka, 2008) and for decades have integrated human rights doctrines into ethical principles and practice guidelines (International Association of Schools of Social Work [IAASW], n.d.; International Federation of Social Workers, 2018; United Nations Centre for Human Rights, 1994). In 1948, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights proclaimed, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” (United Nations, 1948). The United Nations defines human rights as:

Rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination. (United Nations, n.d.)

Human rights–based student preparation receives limited attention in social work literature (Fulton et al., 2019), despite field education’s integral role in translating and applying concepts from the classroom to the field setting. McPherson and Libal (2019) suggested that while the social work profession is meaningfully engaged with human rights education and practice, there remains room for deepening student engagement in field education. Social work students benefit from formalized human rights preparation (Kanno & Koeske, 2010; Katz et al., 2014) as an antecedent to actual field placement in addition to concentrated learning in field seminars. Responsibility for preparing students for field practicum rests primarily with social work programs. The 2015 Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Educational Policies and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) states the purpose of the social work profession is to

promote human and community well-being. Guided by a person-in-environment framework, a global perspective, respect for human diversity, and knowledge based on scientific inquiry, the purpose of social work is actualized through its quest for social and economic justice, the prevention of conditions that limit human rights, the elimination of poverty, and the enhancement of the quality of life for all persons, locally and globally. (CSWE, 2015, p. 5)

CSWE charges schools of social work and social welfare to “describe how [their] field education program provides orientation, field instruction training, and continuing dialog with field education settings and field instructors” (CSWE, 2015, p. 13). The authors of this article believe social work programs can strengthen students’ cognition, performance, and ethical paradigm by integrating human rights content into existing field orientation and ongoing field seminar modules.

Onboarding is the acclimation of students to their duties and responsibilities as field students. In addition to including human rights content in onboarding, field seminar instructors should center it in field seminars because of its central focus on marginalized populations, like those often served by social workers. This paper takes conversations about human rights from the peripheral and brings them into focus by providing clarity to the implementation of human rights theories, concepts, and competencies in field education. A systems-oriented approach is used to outline an eight-module curriculum that assists field supervisors, field educators, and field students in the integration of social work practice and human rights practice into field education.

Challenges and Opportunities for Integrating Human Rights Concepts into Field Education


Hare (2004) declared integration of human rights into the definition of social work allows students the opportunity to develop practices that realize human rights advances in the daily lives of people. Field instruction textbooks provide generalist content about eclectic knowledge (Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2018); time management, self-care, interprofessional collaboration, advancing human rights and social justice, and engaging in policy and research (Polin et al., 2019); social work curriculum, partnership, roles, social work context, recipients, needed skills, and legal, ethical, and pragmatic concerns (Royse et al., 2018); integrating class (Birkenmaier & Berg-Wager, 2018); managing stress (Glassman, 2015); developing a learning plan, school, agency, and student expectations, personal safety, communication, and diversity and cultural competency (Garthwait, 2014).

What is noticeably missing in field instruction textbooks is content centering human rights and social justice practice, and specifically the professional identity of social workers as human rights ambassadors. Field education programs carry a heavy burden in operationalizing and implementing human rights frameworks and social justice theories, such as antioppressive and critical social work, in practicum placements. Collins et al. (2021) suggested social work in the US has a longer history of grappling with concepts of diversity than with concepts related to human rights. In their study assessing student competency in diversity and social justice, the researchers found that stakeholders, comprising faculty, field educators, advisors, students, and members of the equity and inclusion committee, valued human rights but struggled with articulating human rights concepts.

Bhuyan et al. (2017) explored the extent to which Canadian MSW students’ classroom and practicum learning addressed social justice and antioppressive practice. Their findings identified a disconnect between social justice theory and field education. Additional research examining barriers to integration of human rights into social work education identified faculty and field educators’ lack of familiarity with human rights concepts and approaches to practice, and limited field-based human rights content, such as the lack of rights-based field education strategies (Chiarelli-Helminiak et al., 2018).

McPherson and Libal (2019) surveyed 158 field educators in Florida about their human rights knowledge and practices and interviewed university staff members who coordinate student internships. Their results suggested a patchwork integration of human rights concepts in field education. In schools with mission statements, departmental goals, and faculty or committed field staff familiar with human rights, integration of such content into field education was more likely to occur. Conversely, other schools expressed challenges in integrating CSWE-mandated human rights content into field education. Their findings noted strides in applying human rights understanding in field education, and submitted that sustained support is still needed, especially because students lack exposure to human rights pedagogy before and during field practicum.


Reynaert et al. (2018) stated that social work can benefit from implementing a human rights approach in social work education. Steen et al. (2016) suggested that field placement is perhaps the most important aspect of social work education, as field is the setting in which social work students directly witness human rights violations and demonstrate human rights advocacy while applying social justice practice approaches. In field settings, field supervisors can help students elucidate awareness about how systems of oppression produce exploitative, unjust, and dehumanizing human service systems. This is important because, historically, social work’s alignment with dominant social and political ideologies has entangled the profession in oppressive practices (Bhuyan et al., 2017). To improve students’ engagement with human rights in the field, McPherson and Libal (2019) recommended field educators integrate human rights practice concepts into field, introducing students to human rights as core social work practice and providing frameworks to utilize in field-based experiential learning environments. As a result, students engage in concrete moral and ethical decisions, concurrently initiating discussions regarding human rights violations they witness in practice.

Field education represents an opportunity in which social work students embody and engage in human rights practice and social justice. Social work programs can promote students’ critical reflexivity and consciousness, and equip them, as an aspect of their professional identity, with the knowledge, values, and skills necessary for dismantling structural racism, oppression, and human rights violations.

Few studies have examined the integration of human rights content into field practicum seminars as an aid to students’ application of a human rights approach to their field experience. In this article, the authors outline the theoretical framework guiding a human rights–based curriculum for social work field programs, to assist field students in applying human rights in field settings throughout their practicum experience.

Theoretical Framework for Curricular Module Development 

Britton et al. (2002) suggested human rights concepts be integrated into theoretical models and field training. Systems-oriented approaches acknowledge the impact oppression has on one’s lived experience, and Wronka (2008) contended using a systems-oriented approach is an essential element of human rights practice. Systems-oriented approaches are examples of perspectives centering the reciprocal influence between humans, human relationships, and their environments. Von Bertalanffy’s (1972) General Systems Theory and Bronfenbrenner’s (1984) Ecological Perspective are two germane philosophical groundings that share many concepts and dimensions and are foundational to social work education and practice. Employing a systems-oriented approach to human rights in field practice prepares social work students for holistic social work practice by providing them a window for observing the world and their place in it.

As described in Schriver (2020), von Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory includes the concepts of holon, focal system, subsystems, suprasystem, energy, entropy, organization, boundary, and open system. As detailed in Kirst-Ashman and Hull (2018), it includes the concepts of interaction, input, output, homeostasis, and equifinality. General Systems Theory is rooted in the ideological understanding that individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities depend on each other in an orderly way (Birkenmaier & Berg-Weger, 2018, p. 259). Other textbooks (Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2018; Schriver, 2020; Walsh, 2009; Zastrow, 2007) add that Systems Theory views human behavior as the result of reciprocal interactions between people and their micro, mezzo, and macro social systems, containing multiple intersecting components that relate to one other and are also part of larger systems.

Concepts from Bronfenbrenner’s (1984) Ecological Model include microsystem, mesosytem, exosytem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. While integrating these concepts into field practice, students examine ways that bidirectional relationships in these five nested levels constrain or compel human rights. For example, ecological perspectives teach students how to engage human rights practice and understand the responsibilities of family and friends (microsytem) and community members within community systems (mesosystem) to protect, secure, and support one another in efforts to realize human rights (Ife & Fiske, 2006). Donnelly (1985) added that a systems-oriented approach, like an ecological perspective, can help students identify and critically examine duties and responsibilities of government exosystems (e.g., schools, law enforcement, mental health systems, etc.) to protect human rights and provide conditions in which human rights can be realized. Reflection of personal and cultural attitudes, assumptions, and ideologies offers opportunities for students to evaluate how the macrosytem can restrict and advance human rights and social justice. The systems-oriented approach to human rights practice offers a model for understanding how sociopolitical influences directly and indirectly affect human behavior and human rights, and how forms of oppression and discrimination operate within and across systems.

Integrating Systems-Oriented Approaches and Human Rights Concepts into Field Education

Birk and Suntinger (2019) outlined nine strategies for applying a systems-oriented approach to human rights–infused social work practice. These strategies are useful for social work field students in their assessments, interventions, and evaluations with client systems. The characteristics are mapped to the curriculum learning objectives, theoretical underpinnings, and CSWE EPAS (CSWE, 2015). See Table 1 for a summary of the curricular mapping.

Strategy 1: Looking at the Big Picture

This strategy involves examining gaps between human rights frameworks and the reality of clients’ lived experiences, reframing needs as entitlements and/or rights. Students analyze ways micro, mezzo, and macro actors and institutions compel and constrain human rights, and assess system entry points and levers. In this way, social work interns help clients realize and live out their unalienable rights. This strategy helps students understand their clients’ concerns in a larger sociopolitical context and assess political issues beyond the standard social or psychiatric ones (McPherson, 2020). Students look within and across all five nested levels of influence in the client’s ecosystem. It is important social work students understand how their problem assessment directly affects the way goals and interventions are articulated and resolved (Mapp et al., 2019).

Strategy 2: Integrating Multiple Perspectives

This strategy concentrates on justice-focused human-centric change, in which social workers engage clients, communities, and political leaders (McPherson, 2020) and other professionals so multiple voices can be used to explain and help understand complex social problems. When students value various perspectives and ideologies within subsystems, they are more prepared to address needs and evaluate rights, responsibilities, and sustainable solutions. Students appreciate the benefits of multiplicity, including collective action, to achieving mutual goals across systems.

Strategy 3: Seeing Connections, Not Events; Circles, Not Straight Lines

This strategy focuses on the interactive and interdependent nature of systems, and challenges students to move beyond linear cause-and-effect thinking and engage in critical thinking about how multiple actors, beliefs, policies, practices, situations, and structures mutually influence a person’s ability to maximize their human rights. Students, as a result, engage in critical reflection to identify ways they can distance themselves from perpetuating oppression, marginalization, and discrimination.

Strategy 4: Looking at the Bottom of the Iceberg

This strategy provides social work field students with opportunities to identify root causes of human rights violations and other social injustices. Students examine systemic (micro, mezzo, exo, and macro) effects of suppressing clients’ human rights, and include social, political, and economic causes. Students are challenged to dig deeper and look for things not easily seen upon initial inspection.

Strategy 5: Looking at Patterns

This strategy acknowledges living systems form patterns of actions, behaviors, and thinking to maintain homeostasis. The focus is to identify and understand how these complex patterns and structures operate within and across systems.

Strategy 6: Looking at System Failures, Not at Persons

This strategy challenges students to move beyond naming and shaming individual microlevel actors who intentionally or unintentionally suppress human rights, and to critically examine other systemic factors, including community, organizational, and cultural issues, to identify the conditions that enable human violations to occur.

Strategy 7: Looking at Resources, Not Only Deficits

A systems-oriented approach identifies strengths and resources within the system. This strategy helps students comprehend ways they can tap into the reservoir of clients, community members and leaders, and political legislators’ assets to identify human rights supporters, champions, bystanders, and challengers. It is important to map a matrix of allies and opposition in order to plan and implement micro-, mezzo-, and macro-level interventions.

Strategy 8: Recognizing the Limits of Interventions, and Looking for Entry Points

Human rights practice can be applied at each ecological level, but a true, rights-based approach to social work practice requires intervention at multiple levels (Mapp et. al, 2019). This strategy recognizes living systems have boundaries, and encourages students to identify entry points for interventions, points that consider social capital, limited resources, power, and influence. Capacity building, helping client systems develop skills to change situations, interprofessional collaboration, advocacy, and provision of direct services are entry points social work students can target in their field agencies.

Strategy 9: Looking at Oneself

Social workers can privilege and exclude client systems by gatekeeping social services to modify client behavior (Mapp et. al, 2019). Ife (2012) suggested this power has been used to further oppress. Social work field students are encouraged to engage in critical self-reflection by looking at their assumptions, biases, and practices, and by acknowledging their contributions to compelling or constraining clients’ human rights and their personal responsibility to protect, secure, and support clients to realize human rights in practice.

Modules for a Systems-Oriented Approach to Human Rights

The curriculum presented in this article serves as a companion to that detailed in Banks et al. (2021), which focuses on the significant role of the field supervisor in emphasizing human rights in field education. It focuses on the role of field educators in preparing field students for human rights–infused learning before and during field placement. The curriculum modules can be used during the onboarding process or integrated into field seminars. Table 1 maps the module number of the curriculum (column 1) to the module objective (column 2), and integrates systems-oriented components and CSWE (2015) EPAS competencies into each segment (column 3). Systems-oriented components are identified by name, and the CSWE competencies are identified by number.

Table 1

Curricular Mapping

Module SessionModule ObjectivesHuman Rights Integrated with Systems-Oriented Approaches and CSWE Competency-Based Components
1Identify core social work and human rights and advocacy principlesLooking at the big picture—Students can articulate how clients’ lived experiences are inclusive of those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised by historic and contemporary institutional subjugation. They express their understanding of their advocacy role and synthesize how terms like systems, subsystems, suprasystems, and organizations correlate to human rights definitions and documents. Students may declare a commitment to uncovering and ameliorating injustice when they witness it in field, which is in alignment with CSWE competency #2.
2List and describe the roles and responsibilities of essential field education team membersLooking at oneself and Integrating multiple perspectives—New field students will likely know the organizational entities with whom to collaborate and interact. However, learning focuses on those whose voices need to be lifted and centered in discussion about sustained sociopolitical change. This includes genuinely and intentionally inviting into the decision-making process clients, their families where appropriate, and children when they are of age and maturity. Students may compare and contrast ways input and output impact the collaboration process. They will begin to understand the impact of equifinality on the problem-solving process, and understand reasons for maintaining or disrupting homeostasis. Field students may not naturally see themselves as advocates, so identification and engagement with local, state, and national legislators who share similar human service principles, as evidenced by their voting history, will help students meet CSWE competencies #1 and #5.
3Value the Graduated Field Education Model (GFEM), a stage-based onboarding processLooking at patterns and Seeing connections not events, circles not straight lines—The GFEM is a graduated approach to learning in which students transition from a hands-off observation–only approach to an autonomous, fully engaged approach to learning about human rights violations in field. They grapple with strategies to increase synergy among partners, while addressing egregious acts perpetrated against vulnerable people. Students may be challenged with keeping collaborators motivated to avoid entropy when dealing with situations where organizational solutions may not be readily available. They can articulate healthy open organizations from those with closed boundaries. Students can apply CSWE competency #9 before, during, and after engagement with client and client systems.
4Create, review, and revise learning plan goalsLooking at oneself—Field students participate in the creation and revision of their learning goals, and identify assignments, activities, and tasks that will allow them to engage with interprofessional stakeholders within and across system levels to aid them in developing human rights competence. Students identify tasks that can be conducted as they engage with each ecological system, and reflect on their own biases, assumptions, ideologies, and shifts throughout their field experience. Students meet CSWE #1 by writing professional goals, and devote their learning in practice to CSWE competencies # 2 and #3.
5Generate student-centric activities that focus on human rights violations and advocacy solutionsLooking at the bottom of the iceberg and Identifying root causes—Core social work strategies include engagement, assessment, and intervention. Getting to the heart of a social issue requires students to access micro, mezzo, and macro systems to identify exclusionary programming and policies. Students use critical analysis to gauge the responsibilities of focal systems, subsystems, and suprasystems in maintaining homeostasis, particularly if that balance or equilibrium maintains irregularity or unjust distribution in the provision of care and services. Students will evaluate the organizational throughputs that assist in harnessing personnel energy and synergy to solve complex social issues, and barriers that lead to entropy or decline. Students apply CSWE competencies # 6, #7, and #8.
6Translate professional strengths, needs, and abilities, and discuss them with supervisorLooking at system failures, not at persons—Students meet with their field supervisors and designated organization officials to identity people, programming, and policies that violate human rights. They discuss strategies whereby professional input and output plans will disrupt maintenance of unjust systems. Students may evaluate organizations’ openness or closed boundaries related to organizations’ expressed advocacy as stated in their mission and vision statements. They commit to a strategic proposal that employs a change in beliefs, attitudes, and practices in focal systems, subsystems, and suprasystems. CSWE competencies #2 and #3 are applied.
7Establish a network of allied professionals who can galvanize social and political allies to mediate human rights violations and oppose social injusticeLooking at resources, not only deficits—Students often enter social work programs with little interest or experience in mezzo- and macro-level social work. However, this seminar focuses on the essential tenet of building on collaborative human relationships to address the myriad human and civil rights violations in field practice. Groups of people within the field agency, and those outside the field agency—community, governmental, and legislative partners—work in partnership on an existing problem that crosses boundaries and organizations, and that impacts a considerable number of people. Advocates invoke the help of the faith community, city councils, mayors, boards of supervisors, state legislators, federal legislators, etc. to create programming and policy, or change existing policy that does not serve communities. Students apply CSWE competencies #5 and #9.,
8Complete Kirkpatrick’s Level 2 evaluationRecognizing the limits of interventions and Looking for entry points—Students complete an evaluation that assesses their skills in capacity building, interprofessional collaboration, and advocacy. Students are expected to provide-/* open-ended responses about how their professional interaction and input contributed to human rights advocacy. Students can identify at least three strategies for reaching equifinality while maintaining an eye towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lastly, students can evaluate how their practice is impacted by open or closed focal systems, subsystems, and suprasystems. Students can synthesize the impact of their practice by assessing the human rights successes they met and did not meet. This allows them to reflect upon all nine CSWE competencies.

Module One

This module can be offered during the onboarding process or delivered during field seminar. Students are encouraged to begin looking at the big picture by reflecting on the core professional tenets of the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) and the United Nations definition of human rights; both sources are longstanding human rights advocacy organizations. Students examine values, ethical principles, and ethical standards of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)Code of Ethics to identify and discuss ways the code of ethics explicitly and inexplicitly supports commitment to human rights. Through small “think, pair, share” discussion groups, field students discuss the relationship between the social work profession, the NASW Code of Ethics, their current understanding of human rights, and their learning expectations.

Students list current examples of human rights violations in their city, county, or state regions, and examples of global violations. They use digital devices and/or the internet to locate international human rights declarations, conventions, or decrees, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Convention on the Rights of the Child; International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. In this module, students list diverse types of social injustice concerns they might encounter in field, discuss how/why the concern is a human rights issue, identify the specific rights being violated, and examine individuals and systems responsible for ensuring human rights are realized.

Module Two

The objective of this module is for field students to identify and understand the roles and responsibilities of various intra/interagency colleagues and leaders with whom they collaborate during their field placement, with particular attention to the roles and responsibilities of these actors in advancing human rights practice. Field students participate in an activity in which they use the human rights concerns listed in module one to identify specific services or resources in their respective and prospective field agencies and communities, or that their local or state legislature provides to mitigate human rights infringements. These may include targeted services for a specific demographic or population of people (e.g., uninsured individuals, people experiencing homelessness, teens who have been sexually exploited, undocumented individuals living in the country). Students hypothesize about the causes, correlations, barriers, and solutions to alleviating injustice. Students discuss the opportunities and limitations of working with advocates, and organizational parameters for sharing information within and across systems. Students also identify system entry, exit, and intervention points to alleviate human rights violations.

Module Three

The objective of this module is to introduce the Graduated Field Education Model (GFEM), a process for onboarding social work interns while centering the progression of human rights practice in the field setting. The GFEM is a graduated, stage-based prototype, grounded in professional competencies, evolving from a nonintervention, observation-only approach to autonomous experiential learning that involves three distinct rotations (Frimpong et al., 2018). Students’ knowledge, skills, and values increase over time during three distinct rotations. Students temper their expectations about the field experience by immersing themselves in the organization and learning about the role the organization plays in the broader sociopolitical ecosystem. They observe the progression of advocacy and intervention tasks of their prospective colleagues. Students may attend meetings or events to learn about other agencies and organizations in the system, or shadow other personnel with experience working with clients who demand justice through advocacy. They observe and reflect ways the agency mission, vision, and programming meet or do not meet clients’ needs. They correlate human rights frameworks with human rights practice interventions. This module can help relieve students’ anxiety by allowing them to frame their field experience as graduated experiential learning.

Rotation One: Introduction and Orientation

In this rotation, field students become acclimated to their new role as interns and the functions performed therein. Students learn what it means to have a field supervisor mentoring, coaching, and evaluating their work. They learn about their agency’s climate and culture, agency clientele, and the strategies agencies employ to fulfill agency goals, meet outcomes, evaluate outcome measures, and advance human rights. Students demonstrate professionalism in the workforce when observing how agency personnel engage with and resolve social injustice concerns.

Rotation one allows students a meet-and-greet period with the agency members responsible for agency operations, while including clients’ perspectives. Students are provided with core social work and human rights theories, and the clinical or practice models frequently used in resolving human rights violations. Students read articles about discrimination and oppression in society, mass incarceration, lack of affordable housing, human trafficking, inhuman and degrading punishment, and other social and human rights violations they may encounter in field. They also learn and discuss freedom of religion, right to liberty, and right to education in their country and other developing countries, and reasons these core issues are important in the US, in their state, and in the local region. Their appreciative inquiry leads them to discover the approaches their agencies employ to address such atrocities. Examples include advocacy to support homeless LGBTQ teens (Aguiniga & Bowers, 2018); police reform (Lane et al., 2017); social work within political campaigns (Lane et al., 2018); legislative advocacy (Derigne et al., 2014); case and cause advocacy (Wade Zorwick & Wade, 2016); constitutional rights (Jewell & Owens, 2017); environmental justice and food insecurity (Kaiser et al., 2015); employment challenges faced by new immigrants (Abdelkerim & Grace, 2012); community partnership (Bahng, 2015); difficult conversations and speaking up (Oliver et al., 2017); and fair wages for domestic workers (Shah, 2015). Students are not encouraged to have direct hands-on experience at this point.

Rotation Two: Skills Acquisition

Students transfer their learning from rotation one into rotation two. Rotation two is student-centric and focuses on exposure to human rights violation and advocacy. In this rotation, students shadow their field supervisors and other agency personnel who fulfill a myriad of advocacy and intervention tasks. Students may spend a minimal amount of time with staff, or up to one or more weeks closely observing them. Field supervisors may escort students to important community-based agencies (e.g., court hearing, school IEP meeting, family team meeting) to support and advocate for a client’s needs. Students are present merely to listen, observe, and learn.

Students begin to develop a practice paradigm, considering which human rights social work theories and clinical or advocacy practice models can be used to address complex barriers that enhance or impede social work intervention. In this rotation, students focus on the engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation knowledge and skills used in micro, mezzo, and macro practice.

As students shadow their field supervisor, they notice circles of causality and understand the complex situations and systems that mutually influence the social issues and problems addressed in their field agency. At this point, students are ready to start practicing, and may receive one or two cases in which they work with a client system to assess client needs using rights-based and nondiscriminatory approaches. Students may codevelop a multilevel intervention and evaluation plan to ensure human rights are realized. When working with client systems, students are encouraged to assess root causes and patterns of action and thinking to identify individual and systemic successes and failures. This leads to identification of existing strengths and resources within and across systems that can be leveraged to help clients realize their human rights. Students are challenged to reflect on their assumptions, biases, perspectives, and actions to examine how and why they react (or do not react) to certain abuses and harm. They explore how their emotions and use of self affect the ways they relate and engage with others.

Rotation Three: Skills Application

Students transfer their learning from rotations one and two into rotation three, which focuses specifically on human rights and advocacy. Students show more responsibility, and are more accountable for their work, through semiautonomous practice. Students are expected to complete their work with minimal instruction and correction. They no longer need to shadow or observe others’ work. Their field supervisors or other organizational designees observe students’ activities and provide feedback as they interact with various actors and stakeholders within and across systems. Students independently conduct assessments using ecomaps, biopsychosocial assessments, and other assessment tools that allow them to identify client needs. Students align identified needs with client rights and work with clients to codesign and implement innovative interventions using local, systemic, and community resources. Students collaborate with clients to evaluate if and how interventions enabled clients to realize their human rights in the resolution of identified needs.

Module Four

The learning plan documents and translates social work students’ learning goals and objectives into practice-oriented activities. Creation of the learning plan is a dynamic process in which students take an active role in cocreating their learning milestones with their field supervisors. Case plans are not static; therefore, periodic review and revising throughout the academic year is recommended. Students list on their learning plan the kinds and types of social work tasks and activities they want to complete, and describe how these tasks and activities can be used to promote human rights.

Steen (2018) outlined several human rights assignments and activities students can complete in class or field. Students are provided with these activities and encouraged to integrate them into their learning plan. During weekly supervision with their field supervisor, they are encouraged to discuss the human rights tasks and activities they have completed, and to share these activities in field seminar courses.

Module Five

The objective in this module is for students to review their performance criteria and identify methods for monitoring and evaluating human rights competence in field. Students use the draft learning agreement completed in module four and a blank template of the performance evaluation the field supervisors will complete to evaluate the students. The learning agreement is an outcome-based process for the evaluation of students’ performance in field. Students are provided with a copy of the GFEM rotations, and instructed to identify the GFEM rotation to which the practice behaviors from their learning agreements and/or evaluations belong. Students match tasks and activities (practice behaviors) to CSWE competencies as well. This activity helps students understand scaffolded learning in field placement.

Module Six

Module six is dedicated to showcasing an understanding of human rights practice in field. Strydom (2011) suggested students play an integral role in transferring and contributing relevant human rights knowledge from the field to the classroom and vice versa. The United Nations Centre for Human Rights (1994) recommends that students and field supervisors recognize, analyze, and respond to human rights violations in field practice in order to prepare students for human rights advocacy in the workforce. Field students share experiences in advancing human rights in diverse types of agencies (e.g., children and families; medical, mental, and behavioral health; juvenile/adult detention; adults and aging; etc.). Students, especially those who are immersed in human rights and antioppressive practice activities, share their experiences. Sample topics include access to health services, human trafficking, migration/refugee resettlement, mass incarceration, and voting rights.

In their presentations, students focus on the human rights knowledge, values, and skills they acquired in their field placements, and on intervention strategies they used to mitigate human rights violations. Students describe their own graduated approach to learning, and ways they applied human rights and social justice principles from classroom-based learning throughout their placement. They talk about the role of supervision in these experiences, the qualities of effective supervisors, and the methods for integrating feedback in field.

Module Seven

The objective of this module is to provide opportunities for field students to engage in strategic networking and to assess the existing social capital resources available to advance human rights and social justice at the macro level. Strategic networking involves interdisciplinary collaboration with allied professionals in order to galvanize social, political, and economic-driven field activities. Reyneart et al. (2019) reminded us that a commitment to human rights must be developed in networks and communities of practice. McPherson and Abell (2020) supported a collaborative approach, and charge social workers to engage clients, communities, and political leaders in justice-focused change efforts.

Students network with one another and brainstorm other disciplines they might engage, or those they have already engaged, to collectively respond to human rights violations and social injustice. Students identify peers, colleagues, family members, civic organizations, and other allies who function as collective impact partners in advocacy and social transformation activities. Examples of such activities include collective community mobilization, distributed fundraising efforts, and lobbying for rights-based legislation. Students discuss and list strategies by which to use their collective capital to fight for the well-being of marginalized and vulnerable clients and communities. They work together to develop a contact list of community and regional organizations they could engage to solicit, mobilize, and coordinate local resources. Students are encouraged to coordinate and implement human rights and social justice activities in their field placements, on campus, and in their communities.

Module Eight

The objective of this module is to collect summative data for the purpose of continuous quality improvement. Evaluation results should be used to improve future orientation and field seminar courses. The evaluation concept for this curriculum is informed by levels two and three of Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick’s (2016) evaluation model. Level two speaks to the degree to which participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitude, confidence, and commitment based on their participation in training (p. 9). Level three focuses on the degree to which participants apply what they learn during training when they are back on the job (p. 9), commonly referred to as transfer of learning (ToL). McPherson and Abell’s (2012) exposure and engagement instrument can also be used to measure students’ exposure to and engagement with human rights content. The aforementioned evaluation measures pair well with the curriculum content outlined in this paper. Field education departments interested in using these tools should contact the developers for additional information on validity and reliability.

Implications for Social Work Education and Practice

Field education is important in guiding students’ application of human rights concepts and practices in real-world practice (Steen et al., 2016). Grounding social work students’ field experience in human rights practice and advocacy facilitates critical reflection and conscientiousness about ways action or inaction by power players, including field students, impact the ability of clients and constituents to forge their own life paths and freedoms. The detailed theoretical approach outlined in this article equips students with competencies to dismantle structural and systemic racism, oppression, and human rights violations. A systems-oriented, human rights–based orientation to field practice exposes students to essential content throughout the academic year during field seminars. Such an approach to field education frames human rights practice as a core function of social work practice, and trains field students to respect their role as human rights ambassadors.

This curriculum provides tangible opportunities for field students to craft human rights–infused tasks and assignments. When field students report greater knowledge about and promotion of human rights advocacy, their practice behaviors and interventions benefit oppressed and disenfranchised people and communities. Inclusion of a human rights–based paradigm into field education moves the pendulum closer to full recognition of social work as a human rights–based profession. Curricular evaluation provides empirical data to improve competency-imbued field education experiences for field students, who can then transfer learning to their field practicum and ultimately the labor force.


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