The social work field education provides students with the opportunity to apply knowledge, received at their universities in practice. Besides, it is a chance to check, whether you are suitable for social work or made a wrong decision because field education is like real work with genuine clients, supervisors and colleagues. In addition, this kind of experience can motivate some students because education process stops being artificial like at the university, where you usually work only with theory. Moreover, many employers plan to employ students for a job after finishing the practicum. Therefore, young people can demonstrate themselves from the best side and use field education as a start for their career. However, field education has its own stages as all other learning experiences. Moreover, termination is one of the major stages because it includes many steps that should be executed.
To begin with, termination of social work field education can be of two types:
- the first type is when field education finishes earlier than it was agreed at the beginning;
- the second type occurs when a person ends the education according to the initial agreement.
The first type of termination happens when the student, the field instructor, or the Faculty Liaison terminate the student's practicum due to such reasons as level of student preparation for the practicum, failure to comply with the Code of Ethics, agency breach of Affiliation Agreement, unexpected events and mismatch.
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Reasons of Education Termination
- Low level of student preparation for the practicum is one the major reasons of experience termination. For example, it is expected that the student is able to fulfill such work obligations as arriving on time, managing the schedule, following dress code, etc. Besides, it is assumed that the student has the necessary knowledge for entry level of professional practice. However, it sometimes occurs that the student does not know even such basic things as rules of giving services to clients or what procedures should be performed during the clients' assistance (George Mason University, 2012).
- Another reason is not following the standards of Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). This code identifies the core values of social workers. For instance, according to the Code of Ethics the primary goal of the social worker is to help people who are in need. In addition, the social worker must challenge social injustice and respect the inherent dignity and worth of the person. Besides, the social worker must recognize the central importance of human relationships and behave in a trustworthy manner. Lastly, the social worker must practice within the area of the competence and develop the professional skills. Clearly, it is not the whole list of standards. Nevertheless, it demonstrates the main principles of the Code of Ethics.
- However, termination of the student's practicum also happens when the agency fails to execute its obligations, breaching Affiliation Agreement between the agency and the university. For instance, according to this agreement, the agency is required to provide the learning experience and certain supervision of the student's field education. When the quality of this experience is lower than it is indicated in the Agreement, collaboration between two sides stops.
- In addition, there may be unexpected events (e.g. personal trauma or agency's re-organization etc.) that can affect the quality of the learning experience and lead to the termination of the students' practicum.
- The last reason of the education termination is mismatch. It is rare, but it causes a change of the practicum arrangements. Such necessity of changes emerges when the student and field instructor or agency have differences in learning and interpersonal styles. As a result, the learning process becomes less productive than it is supposed to be.
- When the following circumstances emerge, the student, field instructor, Faculty Liaison, and Academic Advisor primary try to solve the difficulties. However, when the parts cannot find the solution to the issue, there are certain procedures to initiate the termination of the student's practicum.
- One of the parts that can initiate the termination is the field instructor. However, the field instructor should start this process only after trying all other ways. For example, instructor primary must talk to the student and try to solve the issue. If this measure does not help, the Faculty Liaison informs the Director of Field Education or Field Coordinator about the necessity of the completion. Then he/she instructs the student to follow the procedures, described in the field manual and advises to meet his/her Academic Advisor. Besides, the liaison asks the field instructor to complete a Statement of Practicum Termination form. If the field instructor refuses to do this, the liaison should complete the form instead of him/her. In addition, the liaison is supposed to ensure that the student has the opportunity to complete the form that indicates the terms of termination. The Faculty Liaison is also required to add a summary of the termination decision, where he/she should explain the reasons for the termination. Additionally, the liaison should recommend further measures that can be applied to the student. Besides, the liaison must sign the form, submit it to the Field Education Office and provide the student, Academic Advisor, Faculty Liaison and field instructor a copy of the termination form.
- Apart from the field instructor, one more part is able to initiate the termination of the education. This part is the student, who can change either the agency or withdrawal from the program at all. If the student wishes to start the termination procedure, he/she primary need to discuss any concerns with the field instructor and the Faculty Liaison. They should together think of all possibilities that can help to save the current placement. If the field instructor and Faculty Liaison agree that termination is the only option, the parts develop termination procedures and time when transfer is possible. Finally, the student submits to the Director of Field Education or the appropriate Field Coordinator a Petition to Terminate a Field Placement signed by the Academic Advisor, Faculty Liaison, and the field instructor. This form must include a written explanation from the student's liaison noting the reasons for change and the steps that were conducted and a termination plan.
Overall, practicum termination is a complicated process. Therefore, it has serious consequences, but not limited to:
- loss of hours, which can lead to delay of graduation;
- failing grade that may cause repeating the course;
- academic review to discuss different options for the student;
- an incomplete grade which may require more efforts in a new placement;
- assignment to a new agency that may be more suitable for the student.
Apart from the premature termination with many unpleasant consequences, termination that is more common ends according to the agreement. On this stage, the student must demonstrate the ability to complete such duties as returning materials, developing closing summaries: moreover, transferring uncompleted work to colleagues and clearing his/her work area. Besides, the student should thank all the colleagues and other people, who assisted during the learning process. It is reasonable to start talking about termination with the field instructor and clients at least one month before leaving. In addition, it is better to ask the instructor for help in developing concluding activities. For instance, the student can discuss with the instructor and other staff what to say to clients. Moreover, all the activities should be discussed in order to avoid service delay or interruptions in administrative responsibilities. When the education ends, the supervisor is supposed to write the evaluation of the student's practicum. The evaluation includes different measures such as observation, role play, case/task summary, process recording, video/audio taping, forms, reports, written assignments, staff presentation, supervisory conference, feedback from others, student self-report, etc. The supervisor should evaluate objectively and fairly, therefore, he/she needs to use as many measures as possible. Moreover, it is important to analyze the student's performance only on the final stage, but also during the whole learning process. In addition, the supervisor should give final recommendations to the student that would help him/her to show better result in the next assignment.
All these data can be applied in the termination with not only agency field instructor, colleagues and the program, but also with clients. For example, the field instructor can terminate the student's practicum due to breaking ethical boundaries between the student and the client, indicated in the Code of Ethics or the client personally may ask for changing the social worker. As a result, if the student seriously violates the rules, the agency or university may terminate his/her program or change the current placement. For example, the student cannot give the client personal email, phone number or other personal contact details. Besides, they both cannot communicate through the agency's or the student's telephone. All physical contacts with the use of hands, shoulders etc. are also considered as a violation of ethical rules. In addition, the student has to follow the agency's dress code, working with the client. The student is not allowed to spend more time with one client that with the rest either. Moreover, it is forbidden for the student to spend even free time with the client, including visits to a restaurant, home, etc. Besides, sharing personal experience is prohibited either. Another example of violation is spending the personal savings on the client's needs. In addition, the student cannot consume drugs or alcohol with the client. Overall, these are not all the possible violations that can lead to termination of social work field education experience. However, they demonstrate the importance to save the distance between the client and the student. It means that the both parts cannot have any interpersonal relationships because the main obligation of the social worker is to help people who are in need. That is why the student should stay objective and fair in order to give the best service to the client. On the other hand, the student may think that the personal contact may help because it can make the client feel free and more relaxed. However, specialists believe that is not true due to several reasons. Firstly, when the social worker shares the experience, the client can feel that his/her problems expanded. Secondly, the personal relations between two sides may provoke the dependence of the client on the student's service. In addition, the client may accuse the student of sexual abuse or other similar crime and it will cause problems to the agency because such behavior is strictly prohibited at the workplace.
To sum up, the inappropriate behavior of all sides that are involved in the practicum can lead to the termination of the field education experience. Therefore, everybody should follow the rules, indicated in the Code of Ethics and Affiliation Agreement between the agency and the university. For example, the agency and the field instructor are supposed to provide qualitative education and learning experience. The client together with the student should keep ethnical boundaries between themselves. The student should understand that field education is a serious part of his/her learning process, which affects the whole further education and career. Therefore, he/she must be very responsible and follow all the rules that are required such as standards of the Code of Ethics and agency's rules such as dress code, arriving in time etc. However, there are situations when nobody is guilty. For instance, the student can get trauma or the agency can be re-organized. Besides, it sometimes happens that the agency or the field instructor and the student simply do not fit each other due to differences in learning and interpersonal styles. In addition, it is important to note that everybody, involved in the educational process may initiate the termination process. However, the termination of the program starts only if other ways of solution were applied. Besides, the field instructor is obliged to explain the student the reasons and consequences of the termination. Furthermore, the student should understand that completion of the practicum would affect his/her grades and reputation at the university.
On the other hand, there are many cases when the field education experience ends successfully for the student. If it happens, he/she obligatory gets an evaluation for the practicum. Apart from the grades, the student should also complete all this work or transfer it to the colleagues if it is not possible. In addition, it is important to prepare for the termination in advance and inform the field instructor about the expected date of leaving. Besides, it is necessary to make positive final impression because the agency may employ the student for a job in the future. It is also useful to keep friendly relationships with colleagues. Firstly, it helps to create positive working environment. Secondly, the student can learn something new from co-workers' experience. For instance, they can advise him/her how to behave with clients. Besides, colleagues may demonstrate the correct way of completing various forms that are necessary for the social work. Lastly, it is useful for any employee to learn how to work in the team and such experience will definitely help him/her in the future. However, the student should conduct such friendly behavior with co-workers during the whole social work field education experience, but not only on the termination stage.