Academic journal article Field Educator

A Field Practicum Experience in Designing and Developing a Wellness Initiative: An Agency and University Partnership

Academic journal article Field Educator

A Field Practicum Experience in Designing and Developing a Wellness Initiative: An Agency and University Partnership

Article excerpt

Social work education has an increasing emphasis on competencies; likewise, social work education emphasizes that field is signature pedagogy (Council on Social Work Education [CSWE], 2015). Concomitantly, directors of field education and others engaged in this curriculum area report the lack of viable field placements and the need for innovative models in doing field practica (Bogo, Raskin, & Wayne, 2002; CSWE, 2014; Fisher, 2016). Meanwhile, in social work practice and professional helping, in general, mounting evidence compels social service organizations to pay attention to employee wellness (Cox & Steiner, 2013; Miller et al., 2016; National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 2009; Whitaker, Weismiller, & Clark, 2006). However, these organizations lack the resources to develop wellness initiatives (Miller et al., 2016).

We, the authors, decided to address these dual needs/"crises" as an opportunity to pilot a creative field placement experience that contributes significantly to the organization. The authors of this article consist of faculty from two universities along with Master of Social Work (MSW) student interns and their field supervisor. We describe our agency and university partnership in conceptualizing, planning, implementing, and evaluating a Wellness Initiative (WI) in a multi-state social service organization. Through the lens of competencies we critique this field placement model and make suggestions for future development. The article offers a portable template for other social work education programs and social service organizations to adapt.

This model is one of many examples of a creative, project-based field placement. In an increasingly competitive and challenging environment for viable practica, these kinds of models are needed. To be most successful these efforts require the active commitment of the larger program. Schools must provide sufficient resources for field offices to develop these kinds of practica. Further, in order to build a knowledge base, these models need to be shared in a teaching-learning commons through Scholarship of Teaching-Learning (SoTL).

Background and Context

In this section, we provide a brief background to the agency and university partnership. Established in 1896, Volunteers of America--Mid-States (VOA-Mid-States) is one of the oldest and largest human service organizations in the United States. Providing services across five states, the agency has programs for veterans, individuals with disabilities, and individuals experiencing homelessness and addiction, as well as an HIV/AIDS program. For fiscal year 2015, the agency provided services to over 22,000 individuals. Seventy percent of the approximately 750 staff are direct service professionals (DSPs).

This university-agency partnership germinated from a local school of social work faculty member offering self-care "well-shops" for agency staff. These "well-shops" focused on training employees about the importance of self-care and wellness. Simultaneously, the organization's newly appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and key staff members expressed investment in an organizational culture change toward emphasizing wellness. Faculty members at a local university presented a proposal to the agency leadership to partner in designing an organizational wellness initiative. In 2015, this agency made initiating a wellness initiative part of their three-year organizational strategic plan. To that end, the agency partnered with two universities to collaborate in establishing this wellness initiative. One of the universities had a long-standing relationship with the agency. Likewise, this university's MSW program had a well-established emphasis on teaching self-care as a professional practice skill, as part of the curriculum. As an extension of that work, the faculty had been invested in promoting organizational wellness. Through collegial connections, a second university joined the project, bringing a faculty member with particular expertise in research methods and program evaluation. …

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