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Foundations of Social Work Practice (S.W.K. 301) follows an experiential education model combining classroom and community experiences. The course is designed to develop essential skills, increase practice knowledge and clarify values of the profession, in preparation for the senior internship experience. It provides students the opportunity to explore the application of generalist social work skills to various populations and to gain a real-life understanding of agency, client and worker issues relevant to practice.

Community practice is a course requirement of S.W.K. 301 in which students are assigned to work in an agency setting for ten weeks, 6 hours per week (60 hours). The learning goals are to increase skill levels in the areas of engagement, exploration, information processing, communication and assessing the influence of personal values in practice. In addition, it supports students in their development of identifying as a professional social worker.

Course Design

  • Classes are held twice a week.
  • The first two weeks of the course are spent in class preparing students for entry into a community practice setting.
  • The following 10 weeks, students will participate in a weekly classroom session and 6 hours/weekly (60 hours) in a community practice setting.
  • The course instructor in concert with the Office of Field Instruction will be the liaison for the school, student and agency.

Placement Process

In the semester prior to the delivery of S.W.K. 301, students receive an email regarding an information session, in addition to a request to complete a community practice placement application. Students are required to complete and submit the application prior to the information session. At the information session that students receive their community practice assignments and context for their community practice experience. Attendance at the information session contributes to the overall participation grade points earned.

The field office will make every effort to provide opportunities for a meaningful community practice experience. However, please be aware that there are limited options available for students who need evening and/or weekend hours. Agencies are less able to provide appropriate supervision outside of regular business hours. Therefore, it will be important for you to explore all options that might be available to you for flexibility in your schedule.

The Office of Field Instruction will:

  • Develop agency partnerships.
  • Provide the course instructor with contact information through the agency information forms.
  • Maintain electronic records of student community practice placement information.

The course instructor will assign students to agencies. There is not an interviewing process due to the time restriction of the academic semester. After a student is assigned to an agency, it will be the student’s responsibility to contact the agency to get started with their community practice. The initial contact with the agency is an important step in the development of professionalism.  The student is expected to demonstrate initiative, follow through, professional communication and presenting themselves as a social work student.  

Agency Expectations

  • To provide student with opportunities for direct contact with client population.
  • To provide direct observation of a student’s activities by designated staff.
  • To provide direction, support and mentoring.
  • Provide oversight may be provided by a designated staff member.
  • Provide ongoing feedback of student’s performance/behavior through the use of the student weekly journal/reflection form.
  • Verify completion of hours on the student journal form.

Student Expectations

  • Complete 60 hours of community practice in an assigned agency (6 hours a week for 10 weeks).
  • Manage the logistics of their community practice experience.
  • Conduct oneself in a manner appropriate to professional expectations.
  • Demonstrate self-motivation and initiative.
  • Complete student journal/reflection form as per syllabus.
  • Have designated staff complete feedback form and obtain a signature confirming number of hours completed.
  • To meet all the expectations outlined in the course syllabus.

Course Instructor Expectations

  • To provide support and be a resource to the agency, designated staff and student.
  • To assist student in problem-solving if necessary.
  • To integrate classroom content and field experiences.
  • To maintain documentation of student efforts in meeting course requirements.

Professional Social Worker Behavior

The student, with the support of the course instructor and the agency supervisor has major responsibility for his/her own learning and is expected to actively participate in the success of the community practice experience. Responsibilities center on professional social work behavior, initiative and a position of curiosity. 

When students begin their community practice they are expected to adhere and abide by the Social Work Code of Ethics as required by the profession, state law, and/or licensing regulations. Students assume responsibility for reading the Social Work Code of Ethics prior to entering the field. Students assume the liability risks that are inherent in their role as a practicing social work student.

The student social worker should not allow their personal issues such as psychosocial distress, substance abuse history, or mental difficulties to interfere with professional judgment or performance. The student is responsible for communicating with the Office of Field Instruction (O.F.I.) if any personal issues are affecting their ability to practice as a student social worker. If personal issues are not resolved, the student’s community practice will be terminated.  The student social worker should be aware that while in field placement s/he may be subject to unannounced drug screening, similar to that of an employee. Should the student refuse or fail the drug screening, s/he may be subject to termination.


Students must provide their own transportation to and from their field placement. As part of their field placement duties students may be required to use their personal automobiles for home visits and agency visits. Students who drive in a vehicle in performance of their field responsibilities – whether transporting clients or not – should be aware that they are not covered for this activity under the university’s insurance. Students are responsible for incurred costs related to parking and driving to and from the field placement agency

Some transportation services are available through the Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public & Community Service.

Social Media & Professional Communication

Social work students should consider that they will be representing professional social work practice as well as the Syracuse University School of Social Work program while in the classroom, the university community, and the broader area communities. Students participating in field placement are expected to practice in an ethical manner, in accordance with the N.A.S.W. Code of Ethics, the N.A.S.W./A.S.W.B. Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice, University policies and New York State laws while working within their placement.

Students need to be aware that public social networks are not private. Even when open only to approved or invited members, users cannot be certain that privacy will exist among the general membership of sites. If social work students choose to participate in such forums, please assume that anything posted can be seen, read, and critiqued. What is said, posted, linked to, commented on, uploaded, subscribed to, etc., can be accessed and archived, posing potential harm to professional reputations and prospective careers.

Student Safety

The Office of Field Instruction (O.F.I.) recognizes that there are potential risks for professional social workers and students engaged in the study of the profession. The social work program will provide students with information and skills to address potentially harmful situations. Ultimately, the student must accept personal responsibility for choosing a profession that carries some risk and recognize that issues of safety are relevant in all communities and settings.

Office of Field Instruction Responsibilities

  • Provide all field students with general written information about safety in field placement;
  • Provide basic safety information at the student field orientation and during their seminar class.

Agency Responsibilities

  • Orient student interns to the agency specific safety policies and procedures. Such orientation should include, but not be limited to, discussion of safety issues in the community, within the agency building(s), with particular clients prone to violent behavior, or regarding clients who may be sharing living quarters with persons prone to violent behavior, to the extent that such information is known. Security of personal belongings of the student intern while at the agency should be also covered and procedures for the student(s) to follow in the event of a safety or security problem;
  • Provide accommodations to ensure students’ safety such as is provided for agency staff. In some situations, the agency may need to make even greater accommodation for a student, such as partnering with another staff member for home visits;
  • Contact the field liaison if an incident occurs in which a student is personally threatened or hurt.

Social Worker Safety Tips

Work Arrival

  • Organize before leaving home.
  • Visually check parking lot when you arrive.
  • Are suspicious vehicles or persons in the lot?
    • Obtain plate number if possible.
  • Vary your parking.
  • Do not park next to van or truck.
  • Do not accept unsolicited offers of assistance.
  • Do not unlock the door to admit stranger.
  • Sound your horn if menacing stranger remains around your vehicle.
  • Cellular phone – call 911 assistance.
  • Be alert and aware of surroundings.
  • Visually check building when arrive.
  • Have key or swipe card ready.
  • Do not converse with strangers.

Plan for the Visit

  • Notify office of destination with the name, address, phone number, time of visit, and reason for the visit.
  • Notify client you’re are coming and purpose of the visit / meeting.
  • Obtain specific directions.
  • Have a street guide / map in car.
  • Bring cellular phone if available.
  • Call office before entering home.
  • Establish office procedure if you do not call in.
  • Try to conduct home visit in pairs, if possible.
  • Wear clothes and shoes that provide freedom of movement.

Traveling to Site

  • Do not keep things out in open in car.
  • Lock purse / valuables in car prior to leaving for visit.
  • Keep car in working order with at least ½ tank of gas.
  • Drive with doors locked.
  • Park in well-lit, visible area and lock the car doors (do not park in the driveway or directly in front of the house).
  • Observe the premises for suspicious activity; listen for threatening sounds.
  • Listen to your body language, if you feel unsafe at any time, leave.
  • Do not slam car doors.
  • Do not walk on lawns.
  • Knock and use doorbell.
  • Give eyes a chance to adjust to light (before entering).
  • Carry as little as possible into home.
  • Return to car with key ready, check front and back seat and floor before getting in.
  • If you are being followed, do not drive home; drive to nearest police or fire station and honk your horn or drive to open gas station or business where you can safely call the police.
    • Do not leave the car unless you can walk into the building safely.
  • If possible, have a cellular phone in your car for emergencies; it may save your life!
  • Always carry small flashlight with you (in purse or car).

During the Visit

  • Visually check others present during visit.
  • Assess person’s emotional state.
  • Avoid sitting in the kitchen (many possible weapons; boiling water, knives).
  • Always wait to be invited to sit.
  • Sit in straight-backed chair (easier to rise from chair in a hurry).
  • Be aware of all possible exits in the house.
  • If there are dogs in house, ask client to remove them due to your allergies.
  • Ask to turn the TV off, as “I” have trouble hearing.
  • Restate the goal of the visit.
  • Maintain a respectful and courteous attitude.
  • Respect the individual’s personal space (maintain an appropriate distance).
  • Keep a clear path to the door.
  • Avoid positioning self so that you become trapped if needed to make quick exit.
  • If situation escalates, leave.
  • Avoid giving out personal information, such as address or phone number.
  • Visually check the surrounding area or parking area when leaving.
  • Always carry car keys in same place where they are readily accessible.

Office Visits

  • Plan an emergency escape route.
  • Be aware of how to gain help and to call law enforcement.
  • Know if 911 can be called directly or if other numbers must be called first.
  • Arrange furniture in office to prevent entrapment (sit where you have quickest access to the doorway).
  • Avoid working alone in office after regular working hours; notify someone you are working late and keep all exterior doors locked.
  • Avoid seeing clients alone after hours.
  • Have co-worker attend meeting when interviewing possibly threatening clients or if you feel your personal safety might be threatened.
  • Keep desk and office clear of objects that could be used as a weapon (store letter opener in desk drawer).
  • Avoid giving personal information during interview.
  • Keep your automobile locked at all times.

Defusing Techniques

  • Keep it from escalating; try to stay calm and listen attentively.
  • Avoid sudden movements.
  • Avoid confrontation.
  • Maintain eye contact and personal space.
  • Keep situation in your control.
  • Use calm tone when speaking.
  • Do not argue with person.
  • Signal a co-worker or supervisor that you need help (try not to let angry client see this, as it may escalate situation).

Information collected from:

Joe McNally, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services;

A.M.R.I.C. Associates Limited, Investigation and Security Consulting;

De-Escalating Volatile Situations Seminar presented by Carolyn Miller

Sexual Harassment Policy

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title VII. The E.E.O.C. Guidelines, 29 C.F.R. Section 1604.11, provide the following definition of sexual harassment:

“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.” 

These guidelines only apply to employment.  However, any possible sexual harassment is a comparable concern of the institution and the courts.  Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which is intended to eliminate discrimination based on sex in educational programs and activities, had been held to apply in such cases. 

If any student has a complaint, he/she is strongly encouraged to take the complaint to the faculty liaison, faculty advisor, the Director of Field or the Director of the School of Social Work. 

Students are encouraged to also review their internship sites sexual harassment policies.

Problem Solving in Community Practice

  • Student and/or Agency Supervisor identify a problem or concern.
  • Student and Agency Supervisor discuss issue.
    • Issue resolved or plan is made to address the problem.
    • Issues not resolved.
      • Student and/or Agency Supervisor consult with Course Instructor who will coach student and/or Agency Supervisor regarding potential solutions.
      • Student and Agency Supervisor again meet and discuss the issue.
        • Issue resolved or plan is made to address the problem.
        • Issues not resolved.
          • Student or Agency Supervisor notifies the Course Instructor who schedules a joint meeting.
          • Course instructor facilitates meeting with Agency Supervisor and student.
            • Issue resolved or plan is made to address the problem
            • Course Instructor’s effort to facilitate a resolution is unsuccessful
              • Course Instructor notifies student and Agency Supervisor of the following possibilities to remediate the situation:
                • Student is reassigned to a different agency;
                • Placement is disrupted and student is not permitted to re-enter field until certain conditions have been met;
                • Student requests an “Incomplete” for the course and a plan for completion is put into place.
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