Academic journal article Field Educator

Integrating Social Justice in Field Education

Academic journal article Field Educator

Integrating Social Justice in Field Education

Article excerpt


Historically, social work practice has occurred within the confines of what can be described as a bidirectional flow of social justice. Along with great strides forward, setbacks occur. Nevertheless, the unrelenting call for social workers to fight for social justice and to educate others for this fight remains the same. A deeply rooted commitment within the Grand Challenges of Social Work stems directly from the profession’s fundamental principle of promoting social justice and equal opportunity for all (Uehara et al., 2013). Schools of social work strive to not only educate students to understand the ways in which privilege, oppression, marginalization, and powerlessness contribute to systematic inequalities, but also to fulfill the profession’s mission by equipping students with the knowledge and skills needed to promote social justice (Finn, 2016; Reisch & Garvin, 2016). Whereas classroom instruction can successfully teach the concepts of social justice, translating this theoretical knowledge to practice in real-world settings is an essential component of social work field education (Battle & Hill, 2016). Given the experiential, hands-on nature of the field practicum, field education programs are uniquely positioned to shape students’ self-identities as social work professionals and enhance students’ understanding of social justice work in action. During the field practicum, students gain firsthand experience in applying a social justice lens to their practice of social work through direct interactions with field instructors, client systems, field advisors, and other social work students.

Social work educators recognize that students often gain the bulk of their learning from their field education experience (Wayne, Bogo, & Raskin, 2010). While acknowledging this central role of field education in students’ educational experience, social work educators must also accept responsibility for ensuring that field programs maintain a strong commitment to social justice education. Some critics have argued that without explicit training on anti-oppressive practices, current models of field education run the risk of training social workers to maintain the status quo rather than advancing social justice (Dominelli, 1996; George, Silver, & Preston, 2013; Preston, George, & Silver, 2014). Therefore, using the field placement as a means of strengthening students’ critical thinking skills and capacity for integrating classroom concepts in real-world practice is an essential element in fostering commitment to social justice.

Although most social work field education programs readily agree with the essential nature of a focus on social justice, fewer have taken actionable steps toward achieving that outcome. Such steps involve conducting an in-depth critical self-evaluation of the field program’s efforts in promoting social justice in practice settings. To carry out this evaluation effectively, field education programs must identify both the challenges to making social justice a priority in the field placement and the strategies for overcoming those challenges. To explore this dual-pronged evaluation, the authors conducted a review of current literature on social justice in field education and engaged in a dialogue with field educators across the country. The authors aimed to better understand both the challenges and successes that field education programs have experienced in integrating social justice practice in their student practicums. The authors believe the results of this exploration will help inform and advance field educators’ understanding and effectiveness in integrating social justice in social work field education programs.

Common Challenges Faced by Field Education Programs

Although field education programs might acknowledge the importance of social justice in students’ educational experience, several challenges can emerge posing barriers to achieving a field education experience in which social justice plays a central role. …

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