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Spotlight Series: In-Person Contact and Why It Matters for Social Work Students

A key component of acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to become a professional social worker is learning to engage with individuals, families, groups and communities in order to foster impact and positive change. A practicum is designed to play a pivotal role in providing students with direct client contact within these areas, in order to best prepare students to address a variety of challenges upon entering the workforce.

The foundation practicum may be the first opportunity a student has to apply what he or she learns in the classroom to the field. It may also be a student’s first experience interacting with the particular population(s) that the organization serves. Other students may have previous experience working with individual clients, but have not been exposed to working with communities. Regardless, social work students can always benefit from acquiring more skills and understanding of diverse clients and constituents, as well as the systems they interact with, through their practica. 

To ensure that all students gain in-person experience with clients, the Brown School requires that all foundation-level practica offer at least 50 hours of in-person client contact. The Brown School defines “in-person” as face-to-face contact with clients. Clients are defined based on each organization’s definitions to allow for experience across micro, mezzo and macro levels. Field instructors are instrumental in providing these opportunities for students' professional development. 

The foundation practicum also requires the essential component of supervision. Field instructors are crucial in modeling professional interactions, guiding students in skill development, answering questions as they arise and providing constructive feedback to students as they learn to apply social work competencies. A practicum provides opportunities for a student to learn and to receive critical feedback. Ultimately this experience will benefit not only the students as they become confident, competent professional social workers, but also the clients and constituents they serve in the future.

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