Best Practices for Social Work Internships

created: 2018-02-13; tagged: activities

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.

Further Suggestions

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:

To demonstrate ethical and professional behavior, we recommend interns:

  1. Advocate for client access to the services of social work.
  2. Practice personal reflection and self-correction to assure continual professional development.
  3. Attend to professional roles and boundaries.
  4. Demonstrate professional demeanor in behavior, appearance, and communication.
  5. Engage in career-long learning.
  6. Use supervision and consultation.
  7. Initiate actions to achieve organizational goals.
  8. Recognize and manage personal values in a way that allows professional values to guide practice.
  9. Make ethical decisions by applying standards of the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics.
  10. Tolerate ambiguity in resolving ethical conflicts.
  11. 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


Do schedule both mid- and end-of-service reviews. Evergreen suggests evaluating

  1. 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)?
  1. 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.