MSW Foundation Year Practicum Placement Information

Students are required to complete two separate internship placements for their Practicum Education requirements, one in the Foundation (core) year and the other in their Advanced year. The Foundation year internship is designed to introduce fundamentals of social work practice as they relate to individuals, families, small groups, organizations, and communities. The focus is on developing a framework of social work practice and skill development that would be transferable across populations, and practice areas. This differs from the Advanced year internship, which is designed to build on the knowledge, values, and skills gained in the foundation curriculum, to increase students' competence to deal with greater complexities of social work practice.

Why practicum is important

Practicum is the student's ability to learn in a real-life atmosphere. Per the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), Practicum Education is the signature pedagogy of the social work education curriculum. Practicum Education is considered the primary teaching tool used for socializing students to begin performing in the role of a social work practitioner. In this way, both the classroom and internship experience equally contribute to developing the necessary competencies to prepare students for their new role within the social work professional practice. The internship allows the opportunity to put classroom knowledge into community action at an organization geared toward your field of practice.  

Tips for tackling the Foundation year internship placement process

There are multiple ways to approach the Foundation year! Some students may use their foundation year as an opportunity to “try anything”, or get out of their comfort zone, while others may want to determine if they want to work with this population in their Advanced year placement or when they graduate. Students may have entered the program with the Interpersonal Practice (IP) concentration in mind but may be interested in a “macro-focused” internship in their Foundation year to get a different perspective and build new skills that transfer across practice areas. The same could be true for a student considering the I-CPL (macro) concentration. *When deciding, please note that students will only be placed at an agency that accommodates their curricular level. This means, some agencies may only accommodate an Advanced year student. It is also common for students to worry about not having the necessary skills or prior experience for a particular placement site of interest, keep in mind that if the placement site can host a Foundation level student, the assignments, tasks, and expectations will match the curricular level competencies.

Considering a macro-based agency placement for your first-year internship

For students curious about the macro side of social work, the Foundation year internship is a good opportunity for gaining exposure and new skills, regardless of whether their Advanced year concentration will be Interpersonal Practice (IP).  Interpersonal and macro social work are interrelated. While some social workers feel drawn to using clinical skills, it is just as important to realize that social workers can facilitate change within broader environments and systems. A clinical social worker may provide therapy services to a caseload of 50 clients, while a macro social worker may develop or implement a program that will provide resources to a whole community or neighborhood.

What does a macro setting placement look like? It could include the following examples:  research, grant writing, working with communities to fight issues like environmental injustice and racism, building collaborations and coalitions to advocate for change, leadership roles within an organization, or even within an elected official’s office, dealing with policies and advocating for constituents. Keep in mind, students will still be developing and applying micro (interpersonal) skills in a macro placement, and in many circumstances, will be having one-on-one interactions with the population being served.

Helpful tips for narrowing down your placement site setting

If students are unsure of where to begin it might be helpful to start by considering a particular population of interest, such as adults, children, families, or seniors. Students should also consider an agency’s setting by the level of intensity of services or interventions it provides. Students should keep in mind that while the internship needs to reflect appropriate skills and tasks for the Foundation curricular level, this doesn’t always dictate the level of intensity a student can gain exposure to. Students should consider whether they are open to experiencing a higher-intensity setting or seeking something more low-intensity. An example of a higher-intensity setting could be a long-term residential treatment center or going out into the community to meet with clients and conduct home visits, while a lower-intensity setting may be in an office that provides outpatient services for individuals with few barriers to access treatment. Intensity can also be considered by the intensity of the population, such as an agency that focuses on providing specialized services to a specific population, like a domestic violence shelter or child advocacy center for victims of abuse, where ALL the individuals receiving services have met certain criteria.

Beginning the placement process

With the launch of Practicum Education, students will begin the process of identifying their internship placement. Students will receive an email with login access to create their profile in the Intern Placement Tracking (IPT) system, as well as instructions for how to schedule an appointment with their Placement Assistant. Students are required to come prepared for their placement meeting by fully completing their IPT profile ahead of time. This includes uploading their resume and selecting their three (potential) agency preferences. When looking through the agency List in the IPT system, students can narrow down, organize, and categorize the agency list using a “SORT” or “SEARCH” function. Many students like to research agencies by “primary classification” and “county” to explore the different specialty areas of social work practice or identify agencies that are close to their residence. Please note that students can visit our website for a tutorial on how to navigate the IPT system.

Examples of levels of intensity and Interventions at a placement setting

 Low Intensity: Outpatient mental health treatment

  • Individual 1-hour weekly therapy sessions (note: Only for Advanced year students in IP concentration).
  • Mental health symptoms may be mild to moderate and there are little to no barriers to treatment. The clinic setting may or may not offer therapy groups.
  • Individuals may need to be referred out if the clinic doesn’t have a psychiatrist to prescribe medication.

  Medium Intensity: Outpatient mental health treatment center and outreach or case management services

  •  Individuals with higher levels of needs and facing more barriers to treatment. Examples may include more severe mental health symptoms, frequent crises, danger in their environment, or housing and food scarcity.
  • Interventions may include assessment skills to identify the hierarchy of needs and providing coordination services to connect individuals to resources in their community, such as housing, shelter, or food benefits. This level of care could include home visits or meetings with individuals in the community.
  • Drop-in centers that support homeless individuals or families.

  Medium to High Intensity: Residential or long-term placement programs

  • Commonly focused on a “specialty” population, such as youth or young adults that meet a specific criterion. Examples could include a residential program for court-ordered individuals, such as those transitioning from incarceration, or youth aging out of the foster-care system that is [AND3] struggling with housing stability.
  • Inpatient substance use treatment could fall into this category, such as a typical 30, 60, or 90-day treatment center program.
  •  Adult foster care homes, Semi-independent Living (SIL), or group homes.
  • Nursing homes
  • Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams, a model of intervention sometimes found at a community mental health (CMH) agency setting.

  High Intensity: Inpatient and locked facilities

  •  Inpatient Psychiatric hospitals
  •  Jails, prisons, juvenile detention centers