COVID-19 Communication #4

June 25, 2020 – Since the issuing of the last guidelines by CASWE-ACFTS, many queries have been received from schools regarding ongoing concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for social work education. While the Board of Directors’ previous recommendations are to be in effect until April 2021, there has been a request for an updated communication regarding: 1) field placements; 2) site-visits; and 3) online courses.

Based on recommendations of a working group comprised of representatives from the Deans and Directors (Judy MacDonald, Daniel Côté & Jackie Sieppert), the Commission on Accreditation (Ginette Berteau, Louise Carignan, Grant Charles & Patricia MacKenzie), the Board of Directors (Stéphane Grenier), the Field Education Committee (Holly Bradley, Cyndi Hall & Vina Sandher) and staff (Alexandra Wright & Marie-Christine Bois), the  Board of Directors would like to provide additional guidance to CASWE-ACFTS members. These guidelines also reflect Public Health Agencies’ decisions and are cognizant of Universities’ policies and protocols, as well as the direction provided by social work regulatory bodies. In addition, the guidelines take into account a broader and evolving context, as some provinces are slowly allowing greater interaction in public spaces while at the same time Public Health advisories continue to be issued advising to limit all non-essential public interaction. Within this broader context, these guidelines and decisions are intended to safeguard the health and well-being of students, field educators, faculty, staff, volunteers, members, and the broader community.

These are intended to act as guidelines only, to be implemented at the discretion of the individual schools of social work, based on the school’s capacities including, human, technological, financial, physical, placement agencies and pedagogical resources available. Students should refer to their respective School for clarification about the requirements for completion of their programs in light of COVID-19.

Field Placements
First, the Board of Directors acknowledges that the institutions in which social work programs are based are unique, reflecting multiple approaches to the provision of social work education, within a range of available resources. These institutions are situated in regions that have been impacted to various degrees by the pandemic: in some areas COVID-19 has been particularly virulent, whereas less so in other areas. As a result, the Board of Directors emphasizes the need for social work schools to have discretion in the decision to suspend field placements and/or to implement remote learning plans. These decisions must be made based on the school’s capacities including, human, technological, financial, physical, placement agencies and pedagogical resources available. Discretion can also be applied to the option of re-structuring field placement hours over the social work program. For example a school could choose to decrease field placement hours required in one year of the program and increase them in another year or in the case of cohorts, modify the program to accommodate the cohort’s needs at the time.

The Board of Directors emphasizes that schools must ensure adequate and appropriate supervision is in place for all learning activities and that their programs ensure students meet the learning objectives of the CASWE-ACFTS Accreditation Standards. Should remote learning plans be unrealistic for some programs, the Board advises the suspension of field placements until such time that the necessary conditions for successful field education are met.

The Board of Directors also recommends, at the discretion of the school and until further notice, that student placements hours be reduced to no less than 75% of the required placement hours as per the Standards for Accreditation (resulting in 338 hours for the MSW and 525 hours for the BSW).

Site Visits
Based on the recommendations of the Commission on Accreditation, the Board of Directors is recommending that all site-visits that were planned to occur between March 2020 and April 2021 be postponed until fall 2021. For all programs impacted, the period of Accreditation will be extended accordingly. Any schools that have submitted or will submit their Self-Study Report during this period will not be required to submit further documents prior to their site-visit, though schools would have to report any major program changes. The Commission on Accreditation will deal with the implementation of these recommendations with flexibility in future accreditation processes. Further recommendations will be provided in 2021.

Online Courses
The Board of Directors also wants to emphasize that for some social work schools, the impact of moving from in-person teaching and learning to remote, alternative delivery and/or online courses has been extremely demanding. A critical challenge for many schools has been the requirement to quickly implement online teaching and learning with limited resources to support this shift. As well, university administrations continue to expect social work programs to be maintained as they were prior to COVID-19. Anecdotally, teaching faculty, field educators and staff have been hard-pressed to transition to online courses within short timelines, often with limited technical and pedagogical support and limited online teaching and learning resources, resulting in burnout and stress for many teaching faculty, field educators and staff.

Given the ongoing extraordinary context that social work schools across Canada are finding themselves, the Board of Directors would like to acknowledge its gratitude for all of the faculty, field educators and staff’s hard work and efforts to continue to provide high quality social work education during this time and students’ efforts to accommodate these changes. The Board of Directors also encourages the sharing of resources to continue for the benefit of social work education in Canada.

The Board of Directors hopes this communication provides further support to CASWE-ACFTS schools of social work.

If you have any questions related to the above, please email Stéphane Grenier, President of CASWE-ACFTS or Executive Director, Alexandra Wright.

Approved by the Board of Directors June 23, 2020.

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