Best Practices for Social Work Internships
We roughly outline how to run a robust internship program.
At the Family Support Center, we’ve used “scaffolded mentoring” to increase the number of undergraduate internships we can support. In turn, our interns have improved our shelter’s early childhood to teenage educational offerings.
This post focuses on the mechanics of a high-impact internship program running with limited administrative capacity.
HOWTO: Run a robust internship program.
- Maintain online internship postings.
- should be first hit for search “[name of organization] internship”
- post on your own site, then send elsewhere
- Standardize the application
- for example, require 2 free responses
- statement of interest
- strengths and experience
- allow rolling applications, but review with funding in mind
- volunteer positions
- for example, require 2 free responses
- Passively schedule interviews.
- Provide an outline of responsibilities.
- typically pay is not negotiated
- but time commitment should flex
- minimum 1:4 in collaboration and 1:20 in direct supervision
- Perform a mid- and end-of-service review.
- For recommendation letters: know your audience and put examples first!
- Maintain a webpage of current/former interns.
- Schedule interns for a colloquium-style talk hosted by the organization.
- Make a list of suggested reading (beyond the policy manual).
Core Competencies for Social Work Practicum
Adapted from the Saint Martin’s University BSW Field Education Contract.
Interns should be assigned to micro, mezzo, and macro activities:
- micro activities
- client interviews
- case management
- assessments & intervention with individuals and families
- mezzo activities
- plan, organize and lead a support, educational or therapy group
- serve on agency committee
- work on a task or multidisciplinary team
- macro activities
- participate in program planning and/or evaluation
- policy analysis
- legislative advocacy
- community organizing
- coalition building
- grant writing/fund development
To demonstrate ethical and professional behavior, we recommend interns:
- Advocate for client access to the services of social work.
- Practice personal reflection and self-correction to assure continual professional development.
- Attend to professional roles and boundaries.
- Demonstrate professional demeanor in behavior, appearance, and communication.
- Engage in career-long learning.
- Use supervision and consultation.
- Initiate actions to achieve organizational goals.
- Recognize and manage personal values in a way that allows professional values to guide practice.
- Make ethical decisions by applying standards of the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics.
- Tolerate ambiguity in resolving ethical conflicts.
- Apply strategies of ethical reasoning to arrive at principled decision.
Save the intern’s application and notes from their initial interview to refer back to for continuing supervision. Better, share these notes with the intern via an synchronous file-sharing service, e.g., GitHub, Dropbox, or Google Drive.
Evergreen recommends making a “strategic plan for student internships” (adapted from Evergreen’s Guidelines for Field Supervisors of Student Interns). Accordingly, the role of a supervisor is to
- support the intern’s learning,
- provide training and oversight as needed,
- keep track of the intern’s progress throughout the service-term, and
- submit an evaluation.
Do schedule both mid- and end-of-service reviews. Evergreen suggests evaluating
- Since the beginning of the term, has the intern progressed as expected in their ability to
- work effectively with decreasing amounts of direct supervision,
- accept responsibility for tasks of increasing complexity, difficulty, or scope, and
- exercise initiative when appropriate (and refrain from exercising initiative when it’s not appropriate)?
- Based on your observations of the intern’s performance to date, how would you describe their potential for success in a career in the field in which the internship has been conducted?
Note: If appropriate, schedule the intern to give an end-of-service colloquium-style talk for the larger organization.
What is the best experiential option for your organization?
From BRIDGE’s Employer Guide to Structuring a Successful Internship Program,
Experiential Learning provides students with direct experience through which they can use analytical skills and reflection to apply new ideas gained from the experience to their classroom learning. Experiential learning includes internships, service learning, and various practicum opportunities. Determine what the best fit for the organization is by considering the following definitions:
See also Andrew Furco’s Service-Learning: A Balanced Approach to Experiential Education.
- A volunteer is a person who performs a service willingly, without pay or credit in order to support a cause.
- Service Learning is curriculum‐based emphasizing hands‐on learning while addressing real world concerns. The service experience provides a context for translating discipline based theories into practice.
- Civic Engagement offers a broad concept of community involvement and awareness that can include service, advocacy, service learning, volunteerism and political participation, with the goal of helping to develop community based knowledge, values and skills.
- Capstone/Project Based Learning courses are the culmination of learning in the major. A student generally works on a single large project‐‐such as a thesis paper or large research project‐‐for the entire semester.
- Externships (Job Shadow) provide an initial exposure to a career for a brief period of time (such as one day a week or a couple hours per week) by having students “shadow” an experienced employee or professional. Externships may include academic credit when connected to a course.
- Internships are defined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) as: “a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.” In addition, an internship is a semester (fall, spring, summer) in duration, may or may not carry credit, may be paid or unpaid based on the Department of Labor criteria.
- A Student Employee is a person who is hired to provide services to an organization on a regular basis in exchange for compensation, not for academic credit.