Transforming the Field Education Landscape
Intersections of Research and Practice in Canadian Social Work Field Education
Transforming the Field Education Landscape (TFEL) is a partnership project that aims to better prepare the next generation of social workers in Canada by creating training and mentoring opportunities for students, developing and mobilizing innovative and promising field education practices, and improving the integration of research and practice in field education.
With funding from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Partnership Grant, the TFEL partnership (2019-2024) is focused on creating new training and mentorship opportunities for social work students.
What is social work?
Social work is a profession dedicated to the enhancement of the lives of individuals, families, groups, and communities through the delivery of social services. Today, this mission is achieved in Canada by approximately 50,000 social workers. But did you know that to build competency and quality of services, many social workers in training in field education, practical experiences gained outside the classroom that enable deep reflection grounded in experience while initiating powerful feedback loops to serve our communities better each day.
The importance of field education
Beyond service delivery at point-of-care, stakeholders in field education include professional bodies, post-secondary institutions, government employers and social work practitioners. The social work profession and the accrediting and regulatory bodies for social work education recognize the critical importance of practicum in preparing the future social service workforce. The Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE) Standards for Accreditation require students to complete a minimum of 450 hours (MSW graduate students) and 700 hours (BSW undergraduate students) in the field; the same standards also require student research competence.
The TFEL project was created to solve the current challenges in field education and integrate research into practice through a large-scale educational and practice collaboration that explores new ways of bringing together field education and research efforts.
A growing demand
Social work education programs have been experiencing significant multi-layered challenges with delivering practicum experiences to social work students and with integrating research and practice in field education.
- Field education coordinators and directors have faced increasing challenges associated with unprecedented growth in social work education programs and rising student demand for placements.
- Field instructor recruitment and retention has emerged as a top concern over the past decade and increased annual turnover rates of practica sites are growing, creating a vicious cycle whereby field programs are continuously undertaking efforts to procure new practicum opportunities. This situation has culminated in field education coordinators and directors from across Canada releasing a joint statement calling for educational institutions and the profession to find new ways of addressing this growing and significant problem.
There is an urgent need for social work education programs to re-vision how field education is conceptualized, structured and delivered, and ultimately how the profession prepares the next generation of social workers. New practices, insights and approaches to teaching and learning are urgently needed in order for social work education to thrive in evolving and increasingly demanding social contexts, educational landscapes and labour markets. In particular, there is a need for more sustainable practicum models to be developed and implemented.
To address these challenges, this partnership will contribute to the development of talent through partnered research training initiatives that integrate research in social work field education. The partnership is expected to directly benefit every accredited social work education program in the country (N=43) with new training resources. Field education resources will be developed through the student training and mentorship activities organized in three streams of the project.