The Great Re-Investment Into Social Work

By Devon Jones

Social work students entering the profession often expect low pay for valuable hard work. This trend has been a part of the experience of social workers for quite some time. A symptom of this problem is seen in the phenomenon of unpaid field practicums.

Field Practicum is a field education program designed to integrate classroom study with practice in a social work setting. Students spend time in an agency while being supervised by a field instructor. Through the practicum, students translate knowledge from all areas of the curriculum into practical skills and competencies.

This process requires students to fulfill a certain number of hours in order to obtain the degree. Students are tasked with attending school and working with an agency. This component is key to making effective social workers, but is it fair that they gain this experience without fair compensation?

Why does this matter?

It matters to the social work students who are the next generation of frontline workers dealing with the challenges gripping our society. On average, field practicums for undergraduate studies require at least 150 hours, and 300 hours for graduate students. The rising cost of tuition and living expenses have become more subject to scrutiny. These issues disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, creating entry barriers to the profession. In addition, it creates a culture of undervaluing the work of future professionals in the field. The current model requires students to pay in order to work and receive the experience required to graduate. This model is no longer sustainable.

The National Association of Social Workers has developed a project to raise awareness and address this issue. This project aims to advocate for a Great Investment into social work by seeking to develop and sustain paid field practicum opportunities. This would be a multi-pronged solution with schools, agencies, the government, and other stakeholders finding ways to work together.

If you currently attend or have graduated from a social work program, here are a few ways for you to get involved:

  1.  Make a 1–2 minute video answering these questions:
    • What specialty or population do you work with or want to work with?
    • What is/was your field practicum?
    • What was the impact of not being paid?
    • What is one thing you would like to see changed?
  1. Fill out a survey aimed at gauging how current and future social workers feel about this. 
  2. Reach out to your field placement faculty member and field placement agency and begin a dialogue about this issue. 

Link to the survey: