Measuring International Service Outcomes: Implications for International Social Work Field Placements

By Lough, Benjamin J.; McBride, Amanda Moore et al. | Journal of Social Work Education, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Measuring International Service Outcomes: Implications for International Social Work Field Placements


Lough, Benjamin J., McBride, Amanda Moore, Sherraden, Margaret S., Journal of Social Work Education


FIELD EDUCATION IS THE signature educational and training pedagogy of the social work profession. In recent years, approximately 20% to 30% of all schools of social work in the United States and 40% to 50% of all schools of social work in Canada reported situating students in field placements outside of their home country (Caragata & Sanchez, 2002; Panos, Pettys, Cox, & Jones, 2004). These rates are believed to be much higher than in previous decades and, given the increased focus on globalization in social work curricula, researchers expect the rates to increase (Dominelli & Bernard, 2003; Johnson, 2004; Lyons, 2006; Rowe, 2000).

International field placements have the potential to contextualize course content in the international arena and to provide a venue for students to develop the skills they need for practice in a globalized world (International Association of Schools of Social Work/ International Federation of Social Workers [IASSW/IFSW], 2005; Krajewski-Jaime, Brown, & Kaufman, 1996; Nagy & Falk, 2000; Reisch & Jarman-Rohde, 2000). As they serve in international placements, students are expected to increase their professional knowledge and cross-cultural competence, their understanding of how global issues affect local social issues, their open-mindedness about others, and their use of knowledge from other traditions to enrich domestic social work practice (Abram & Cruce, 2007; Healy, 1990; Webber, 2005).

International placements may be particularly effective in helping students meet core competencies consistent with the new accreditation standards established by the profession, which are to "recognize the global interconnections of oppression and ... the extent to which a culture's structures and values may oppress, marginalize, alienate, or create or enhance privilege and power" (Council on Social Work Education [CSWE], 2008, p. 5). With shifting demographic trends and increased cultural diversity in the United States and abroad, there is heightened concern about developing culturally competent practitioners (Sue & Sue, 1999). Schools of social work have responded by facilitating international field education, and by including international content in social work courses (Krajewski-Jaime et al., 1996; Lough, 2009; Reichert, 1998).

Despite the growing prevalence of international field placements, research on student outcomes is underdeveloped, and schools of social work have not made research on outcomes of international placements a priority (Caragata & Sanchez, 2002). Consequently, what specifically changes the student's experience--or if these changes are always beneficial--remains unclear (Wehbi, 2009). Although a handful of descriptive studies document students' experiences in international field placements--and the potential outcomes of these experiences, these studies are difficult to generalize to other placements (Abram, Slosar, & Walls, 2005; Barlow, 2007; Boyle, Nackerud, & Kilpatrick, 1999; Pawar, Hanna, & Sheridan, 2004).

During a recent roundtable discussion at CSWE's Annual Program Meeting (APM), scholars and field educators from multiple schools discussed central principles of effective practice in international field placements (Lough, 2009). These scholars emphasized the importance of understanding and empirically documenting effective principles and practices. Additional roundtables and papers at the APM were dedicated to the importance and growing relevance of this topic to social work education, including the need to measure the outcomes of international placements on students, host agencies, and communities.

To document and understand the outcomes of international field placements in social work, this study reports on a survey instrument that measures major outcomes of international service--the International Volunteering Impacts Survey (MS). Many of the items contained in the IVIS relate to competencies listed In CSWE's Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (2008). …

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