Social work field education is in a state of change and moving in new directions. What prompts this appraisal?

First, the new, less restrictive 2022 EPAS guidelines for employment-based field placements will allow more students to maintain employment, and thus their financial solvency, while seeking a social work degree. This is a game changer for many current and future students, who will now be able to take advantage of a more equitable path to a social work education. But, as field educators, let’s not underestimate how these guidelines will impact our work. Notably, field departments will have more responsibility in ensuring the integrity of learning in placements that will be fraught with conflicting demands on students, as they strive to meet both educational and employment responsibilities.

As we digest the implication of the new guidelines, other changes are in the wind. Many schools are encountering demands from movements such as the student Pay for Placement (P4P) group. These students are ardent in their pleas for changes to the profession’s legacy model of time-intensive, unpaid internships. Plain and simple: Activists are demanding that universities find a mechanism for paying students for time spent in field placements. This issue’s interview by Editor in Chief Amy Skeen with University of Michigan’s assistant dean of field education, Daniel Fisher, illuminates the complexity of responding to P4P student demands.

Taken together, both CSWE policy changes and student agitation reflect a long-recognized problem in social work education: The intensive placement model (along with soaring tuition costs) is a barrier to equitable degree access. Moreover, inclusion of self-care language in the amended 2021 NASW Code of Ethics underscores the ethical obligations of field educators to support a healthy culture among social work students. Clearly, efforts to create and sustain field placements that promote work/life balance are in keeping with the NASW mandate for self-care.

The context for changes in field education is also shaped by the new EPAS standards, which strengthen and affirm the centrality of antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion (ADEI) principles to social work education. Specific new requirements call for systemic assessment of the ADEI elements of the implicit curriculum. Many elements of the implicit curriculum are represented in aspects of field education, including advisement, agency recruitment, and field instructor preparation. These important functions provide rich opportunities for meaningful assessment, which can lead to consequential ADEI change initiatives in field education.

The changing landscape also provides many opportunities to further field education research and scholarship on innovative mechanisms for creating a more equitable path to a social work degree. Field Educator welcomes submissions to its Practice Digest and Field Scholar sections that seek to identify, describe, and better understand attempts to develop paid placements through community partnerships, training grants, and employer pipeline initiatives. Equally salient are submissions focused on elucidating effective, practice-based learning models in employment-based placements. Contact us with your ideas or with questions; as always, Field Educator is deeply committed to furthering knowledge exchange that will strengthen equity in social work education.

Also, we are delighted to welcome the return of our Field Finds section to the Fall 2022 issue. Authored by Katharine Dill, associate professor and field education director at Marist College, Field Finds offers concise reviews of current field education literature on topics selected for their saliency to field educators. Field Finds also includes discussion questions that can be used to enhance field instructor trainings.