Staying current with scholarship enriches the work of field educators: it teaches us innovative ways to solve perennial field problems, suggests new readings for field seminars, keeps us abreast of current debates in social work education, and even inspires us in our own writing on theory and research. “What We’re Reading” presents our brief summaries of the findings of recent publications in field education. Our emphasis is on implications for practice. Readers are encouraged to suggest articles or books for future review.

Gray, M., Agllias, K., Mupedziswa, R., & Mugumbate, J. (2017). The role of social work field education programmes in the transmission of developmental social work knowledge in Southern and East Africa. Social Work Education, 36(6), 623-635. doi:10.1080/02615479.2017.1310833

This article focused on defining developmental social work as a practice that is relevant and applicable to social workers working in Southern and East Africa. It posed the research question, “Do the fieldwork placements on offer provide practical experience of a developmental approach to social work practice?” (p. 626). Finally, it discussed the successes as well as the current hurdles faced by social work field education programs, in Southern and East Africa, around implementing this useful model in their education programs.

Fifty-four social work schools/programs located in seventeen different countries in Southern and East Africa were invited to participate in the study. Eighteen participants from 11 different countries (South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi, Reunion Island, Rwanda, and Zambia) and 15 different institutions responded and were interviewed for the study.

Findings indicated that students were, indeed, gaining experience utilizing developmental social work, but that these experiences were not solely transpiring through supervisor to supervisee interactions. For instance, social work institutions were finding creative ways to impart this knowledge to students through many activities including the use of simulations and guest speakers (p. 629).

Schools were also noting potential gaps in field placements’ knowledge of developmental social work and were attempting to improve opportunities for students in a variety of ways. For instance, some schools were offering CPD (Continuing Professional Development) opportunities where they provided information about developmental social work to agencies. Other schools, noting limited placements, were advocating for new placement opportunities for students where they might be able to gain valuable experience (p. 629).

However, one interesting finding was that many students appeared to be important liaisons for bringing knowledge of developmental social work to their agencies (p. 630). These roles, coupled with efforts by their schools/programs, were creating rich learning experiences among students, agencies, and the surrounding communities (p.632).

Hylton, M. E., Manit, J., & Messick-Svare, G. (2017). Gatekeeping and competency-based education: Developing behaviorally specific remediation policies. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 37(3),
249-259. doi:10.1080/08841233.2017.1313359

Gatekeeping for the social work profession has long been considered a component of social work education, however, there are few agreed on approaches for enacting this essential function. This article examined the role of social work educators in gatekeeping and proposed a rubric using the CSWE core competencies as objective and behaviorally-specific standards to guide this important work. The authors started by questioning the premise on which many social work educators and programs rely to frame their role as gatekeepers. Rather than embracing an overarching and overly vague notion of gatekeeping as the protection of the public good from unsuitable students, as the authors suggest is often implied in the understanding of gatekeeping, educators should clarify their purpose and role. That is, social work educators can better perform gatekeeping when they shift from the concept of suitability to that of competence. The authors stated, “[…]the question for social work educators concerned with gatekeeping should be, to what extent are graduates of the program able to demonstrate practice behaviors indicative of professional competence?” (p. 249).

Furthermore, the authors argued, making this conceptual shift may assist educators to reduce role conflict as well as move from decision-making processes that are open to personal biases to those that use measurable outcomes and behaviors. Educators often find themselves having to “counsel out” students who are failing to meet standards. Alternatively, focusing on whether and how closely students are performing competency-based practice behaviors as outlined in the CSWE EPAS allows educators to attend to “remediation” of identified concerns through a process of education and evaluation, which is more consistent with their role.

Having established the rationale for use of the CSWE competency standards as the basis of a remediation program, the second part of the article provided detailed information on how programs can develop policies and practices to meet this end. They proposed a four-step process including: assessment of existing policies and standards; outlining a remediation process that focuses on performance rather than causes of problems; addressing due process; and implementation. The authors concluded that gatekeeping and remediation that adheres closely to competency standards provides clarity and consistency in an arena where it has often been lacking.

Knight, C. (2017). Social work students’ experiences with group work in the field practicum. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 37(2), 138-155. doi: 10.1080/08841233.2017.1294130

In this article, the author explored the dilemma of the lack of group experience for social work interns in their field placements, and identifies the necessity of increasing opportunities for both MSW and BSW interns to practice group work in their internships. Despite the clinical value and ubiquity of group work available in many agencies for clients, studies reveal that social work students and their field instructors are not being adequately trained in this modality. Further, many students reported that either they had little to no exposure to group work practice or that their co-leadership experience, when they did have the opportunity, was unsatisfying.

This article explored a study of MSW and BSW students who were enrolled in a field practicum. The findings noted that roughly one-third of students studied had no opportunity to practice group work skills in their placement. Furthermore, despite their interest in learning, many students reported they only had very limited opportunities to lead or co-lead sessions. Of those who reported having group work experience, most did not utilize more than three of the 10 core group work skills. Students also reported dissatisfaction with the co-leadership experience, including not clearly understanding their role and not having time to process their experience with their co-leader or supervisor.

While group work is a well-known and valuable modality that requires practice for skill development, this study found that the number of agencies providing that experience to students are limited. Knowledgeable supervision around group work was similarly limited, even at those agencies offering this learning opportunity. This article indicates that a closer look at academic partnerships in collaboration with agencies may better enhance both the students’ learning opportunity for group work, as well as the field instructors’/supervisors’ training opportunities. These kinds of collaborative efforts could better support this modality of treatment for students and clients alike.

Long, D., & Rosen, I. (2017). Social work and optometry: Interprofessional practice revisited. Health & Social Work, 42(2), 117-120. doi:10.1093/hsw/hlx002

The authors revisit a 1984 article by Seymour and Marston that described an urban vision care clinic which partnered social work students with optometry health professionals. At the time, this affiliation was considered especially innovative as it fostered a whole-person orientation rather than one focused exclusively on an optical ailment. Since then, the whole-person orientation, or holistic approach, has amplified the significance of interprofessional practice (IPP). Although research examining interprofessional practice between social work and health care providers is evident in the literature, specific work highlighting social work and optometry partnerships has been limited.

The authors outline a contemporary example of interprofessional partnership between social work and optometry at the University Eye Center at State University of New York (SUNY). Here the clinical social workers and social work interns are embedded into the College of Optometry and fulfill a myriad of social work roles. The positive outcomes from this optometry/social work partnership remind us that opportunities exist for social workers to expand beyond traditional health care settings and engage in interprofessional practice with disciplines such as dentistry, podiatry, audiology, and others.