Social Work Internships

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Orientation at your Agency

Summer 2009 Orientation: Field Seminar, Interships and Practicum


Write down questions for your first meetings with the agency supervisor.

Do you have any questions about the agency services as a whole?

Have these questions ready for the supervisor.

• Think over what you really want to learn. Make a list of your goals, being as specific as possible.

• Have a copy of your resume to take to the office. Give your agency supervisor permission to share it with office colleagues.

• Collect course material—course outlines, your favorite handouts—to share with your office colleagues when they ask about the Tuskegee University Department of Social Work  program.

• Think over and list your ideas for getting introduced to the agency. Some ideas are:

– read typical files

– read policy manuals

– observe others (sit with the receptionist, sit in on intake interview, attend court presentation, go on a home visit with a worker, visit related services such as a foster home or juvenile facility.)

– meet each staff member individually and get to know his or her job.


First meeting with agency supervisor:

– find out what the plans are for your orientation/introduction and beginning work with agency; offer your ideas from your list

– take your questions with you

– discuss resume and share learning interests with supervisor

– establish supervision times

– establish work hours

– seek to learn supervisor’s and office’s most pressing service problems and service priorities

• List all staff and their jobs.

• Learn where policy manuals are.

• Find out what the office mores in dress, breaks for coffee and lunch, making and cleaning up coffee, socializing together are.

3B1R4185During the First Week

• Familiarize yourself with agency policies including those regarding health and safety, emergency procedures, harassment and discrimination, etc.

• Begin a file or notebook of questions, issues, etc. for your supervisor or faculty instructor.

• Learn office routines for obtaining files, using phone (long distance), advising receptionist of your schedule, use of government cars or mileage, keeping work/caseload statistics, giving work to office staff, getting office supplies such as forms.

• Find out from agency supervisor who is “back-up supervisor” when s/he isabsent.

• Seek time to talk to each staff member individually.

• Begin a list of resources used most frequently by the office.

• Plan your time using a daily diary. The first priority will be your supervisor’s orientation program, but anticipate “blank spots” by having ideas for your learning.

Check these ideas with your supervisor. Some ideas are:

– Review policy or other manuals.

– Read up on typical problems presented: the staff of your agency library will have such material, or call  the Director of Field Instruction

-propose to your supervisor that you visit the local resources (formal and informal), or develop your own listwith staff advice; begin your own resources file.

– Read “sample files” or review legislation related to the job and agency material.

– Ask other staff if you can observe their work.

– Attend relevant community meetings or activities—e.g. court hearings, union meetings, town council, school board.

• Plan some especially pleasurable and relaxing activity—this is going to feel like a tough week.

IMG_0514During the Second Week

• Is supervision time firmly set?

• Review Learning Agreement and firm it up.

• Keep your “questions/observations file” to share with supervisor.

• Possibly you have had concrete tasks assigned if not, seek the opportunity.

-Ask a worker to observe you so you can get early feedback.

• Hopefully work is assigned. Review any files, set up your own system for notes, etc.

• Check what’s happening in town that might interest you.

• Call your Director of Field Instruction—she is interested to know how you are doing

Making the Most of your Placement

What follows are other specific suggestions on how to get the most value from your placement/practicum.

• Get into a variety of areas of practice. Do not limit yourself. Stretch your boundaries now, to help you to discover the types of work that you enjoy. Through your placement you may learn what you don’t want to do as well as what you would like to do more of. Some students who initially want to“do counseling” exclusively, later find themselves in the role of an administrator, supervisor, or consultant.

• Let yourself fit into the agency, instead of trying to make it fit you. Learn as much as you can about the politics of the agency by talking with people who work there, by attending staff meetings, and by asking questions. All of your learning will not result merely from interacting with clients. You can learn a good deal about an agency by being attentive and by talking with co-workers.

• Be aware of the toll that your practicum might have on you, both emotionally and physically. Certain aspects of your life that you have not been willing to look at may be opened up as you get involved. Know that your increased awareness could lead to more anxiety in your life. Make use of your support networks.

• Recognize the limits of your training, practice only within these boundaries, and put yourself in situations where you will be able to obtain supervised experience. Regardless of your educational level, there is always more to learn. It is essential to learn the delicate balance between being overly confident and doubting yourself.

• Strive to be flexible in applying techniques to different work situations, but do so under supervision. Avoid falling into the trap of fitting your clients to one particular theory. Use theory as a means of helping you understand. Realize that diverse backgrounds necessitate diverse communication approaches. Although it is essential to learn therapeutic skills and techniques, they should be applied in appropriate ways.

• If you have a placement that you do not particularly like, don’t write it off as a waste of time. At least you are learning that working in a drug rehabilitation center, for example, is not what you want for a career. Beyond that, it is useful to determine what you don’t find productive about the placement and why. You can also think of ways to make your assignment more meaningful, rather than just telling yourself that you’ll put in your time and get your credit. There are no doubts at least a few avenues for creating learning opportunities.

• Make connections in the community. Learn how to use community resources and how to draw on support systems beyond your office. You can do this by talking to other professionals in the field, by asking fellow students about their connections in the community, and by developing a network of contacts.

• Keep a  PERSONAL journal, recording your observations, experiences, concerns, and personal reactions to your work. Your journal is an excellent way to stayfocused on yourself as well as to keep track of what you are doing.

• Be open to trying new things. If you have not worked with a family, for example, observe a family session or, if possible, work with a supervisor who is counseling a family. Avoid setting yourself up by thinking that if you do not succeed perfectly in a new endeavor, you are a dismal failure. Give yourself room to learn by doing, at the same time gaining supervised experience.

• Be prepared to adjust your expectations. Don’t expect an agency to give you responsibility for providing service before it has a chance to know you. You’ll probably start your fieldwork by being in an observing role.

Later you may sit in on a counseling group, for example, and function as a co-leader.

• Find ways to work cooperatively with other students and to combine your talents with theirs. Look for means of tapping into your own creativity. If you are talented musically, for example, look for a way that you might incorporate music into your field placement activities. If a fellow student has talents in the areas of dance and movement, perhaps you can combine forces in an innovative therapeutic intervention.

• Treat your field placement like a job. Approach fieldwork in much the same way as you would if you were employed by the agency. Demonstrate responsibility, be on time for your appointments and meetings, show up for all appointments, and strive to do your best. Although you may be in an unpaid placement, this does not mean you can be irresponsible on the job. Often an unpaid internship can turn into a paid position.

• Think and act in a self directed way. Don’t expect the staff to do everything for you and to take all the initiative. Be active and seek ways that you can involve yourself in a variety of activities. If you merely wait for a supervisor or other workers to give you meaningful assignments, you may be less than satisfied with your placement.


Written by tusksowk

June 4, 2009 at 9:55 am

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