June 25, 2020 – In the context of the financial uncertainty and instability of postsecondary institutions and Schools of Social Work in Canada as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the CASWE-ACFTS Board of Directors (BOD) is issuing the following statement:
The CASWE-ACFTS BOD acknowledges the significant impact of COVID-19 on field education, and affirms the critical role, particularly in this moment, played by field education professional staff towards maintaining the integrity, rigour, and success of social work education in Canada, preparing competent social work practitioners.
Postsecondary institutions and Schools of Social Work in Canada are facing unprecedented financial stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic facing possible cuts in university budgets. Loss of revenue may be associated with the potential loss of student admissions, influenced by higher unemployment rates, health vulnerabilities, and caregiving responsibilities for students, among others. In this financial context concern about the security of field education staff has been raised.
Field education has changed in response to COVID-19, with students temporarily engaged in fewer placement hours and remote/alternative learning plans as per the guidelines issued by the CASWE-ACFTS Working Group in March 2020. As well, field education faculty and professional staff are supporting community partners who may be less certain about their capacity to support social work students. These changes mean that field education staff are contending with increased workloads in developing remote/alternate learning plans and related policies and guidelines as well as building and sustaining supportive relationships with community partners to enhance their capacity for supervision.
Since March, we have come to understand that temporary measures put in place could mean a more longstanding change in field education and thus emphasize the critical importance of Standards for Accreditation that serve to encourage a full complement of field education faculty and professional staff, particularly during periods of crisis such as this one.
The CASWE-ACFTS BOD re-affirms that field education is a central component of social work education and that the overall quality of the program is fundamentally dependent upon the quality of the faculty and professional staff: They must be fully qualified to fulfill their duties, represent a range of experience and perspectives and have recognized competence and/or expertise in their respective areas. In addition, the Standards for Accreditation state that “The academic unit has sufficient numbers of qualified tenured/tenure track, permanent faculty, professional staff and field instructors to plan, administer and deliver its programs” (SB/M 2.3.1). In addition:
Field education is considered a central component of social work education because the integration of knowledge, values and skills in the context of field education is a critical and distinctive aspect of social work education. The purpose of field education is to connect the theoretical/conceptual contributions of the academic setting with the practice setting, enabling the student to acquire practice skills that reflect the learning objectives for students identified in the Standards. Each program may vary its delivery of the field education component according to the nature and objectives of program and the influences of its university and local context. (SB/M 3.2)
As part of this commitment, the CASWE-ACFTS BOD will take a leadership role in the coordination and participation on an Ad Hoc Working Group which will consist of representatives from the Field Education Committee, the Commission on Accreditation (COA), the Education Policy Committee (EPC), Thunderbird Circle – Indigenous Social Work Educators’ Network (TC-ISWEN), and the Canadian Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work (CADDSSW) to explore the need for interim Standards for Accreditation for field education, and next steps.
Through the statement and the coordination and participation in a working group, the CASWE-ACFTS Board of Directors offers Schools of Social Work necessary advocacy support with respect to maintaining or achieving the complement of field education professional staff and the provision of criteria to establish high quality placements in the context of COVID- 19.
Dr. Stéphane Grenier