Student placements

This advice provides information regarding student placements in child protection.

Introduction

Opportunities to undertake field placements in divisional offices should be provided to students of Bachelor of Social Work, Diploma of Community Welfare Work and potentially other qualifications appropriate to employment in the child protection program.

Supporting and supervising student placements provides departmental staff with an opportunity to develop skills in supervision and reflective practice which contributes to their ongoing personal and professional development.

Successful student placements frequently lead to opportunities for recruitment, improved retention and a more positive perception of the child protection service generally.

Divisional staff should adopt a coordinated and well planned approach to the needs of students whilst maintaining rigorous standards and procedures in relation to students' interface with clients and their families, ensuring that legislative requirements are met.

An effective and dynamic student placement program provides the child protection program with opportunities to:

  • demonstrate leadership in the field of community services
  • engage meaningfully and productively with the education sector
  • contribute positively to the development of an appropriately knowledgeable and skilled workforce
  • develop and foster interest in child protection as a career destination of choice.

At a more immediate level, field placements provide both students and supervisors with the opportunity to informally gauge the students' aptitude and suitability to work in child protection. Students also gain a broad knowledge of the program and may have the opportunity to experience work across different program units.

Restrictions on students

Students should be allocated selected tasks and experiences that will provide learning opportunities appropriate to their developing skills, knowledge and competency. However, many procedural factors linked to the legislation and issues regarding client confidentiality and privacy exist and need to be considered before a student is allocated tasks and duties whilst on placement.

Students must not:

  • take a report
  • investigate a report or take a primary role at a first home visit
  • take a primary or secondary role in a first home visit involving physical or sexual abuse where criminal charges are a possible outcome
  • be the applicant for a protection application
  • physically apprehend a child or take a child in need of protection into emergency care
  • transfer a child on an interim accommodation order
  • be the applicant in presenting matters to the children's court
  • be the allocated worker for any child protection case.

Responsibilities of field education - role of supervisor

The student's supervisor should:

  • explain the department's expectations to the student and the tertiary institutions with respect to conduct, practice protocols, hours or work, and any other professional issues
  • evaluate the student's level of competence at the beginning of the placement
  • negotiate the learning plan with the student that specifies areas of change and skills that the student needs to develop
  • select tasks and experiences which will provide learning opportunities appropriate to the student’s developing skills, knowledge and competency
  • allocate casework tasks to the student, such as reading case notes, court reports and paper files; attendance at relevant meetings; acting as a secondary practitioner (except in cases involving physical/sexual abuse where criminal charges are a possible outcome); transporting clients; supervision of contact; client visits; completion of case notes and assessments
  • be available on a regular basis for formal supervision where the student's progress and any problems can be discussed
  • consult with the liaison person when concerns arise about the student's performance on placement
  • enlist the cooperation and support of work colleagues in fostering an optimal learning environment for the student.

Divisional considerations

Placement requests

An agreement exists between Department of Health and Human Services, child protection and education providers that the department will not accept direct inquiries regarding placements from students. Student placement requests are to be arranged between the relevant education provider placement coordinators and the divisional child protection student placement coordinators.

Where a request is made for a placement in relation to administration or project work, the division should assess the request on its merits and against the division's capacity to offer an appropriate and worthwhile placement experience.

Where a request is made for a research placement the division should assess the request against the capacity of the division to offer suitable and appropriate research activity, the capacity of the division to provide suitable supervision and support of a research focused placement and issues such as ethics and privacy, of both the department and the relevant educational institution, that would be required to be met.

Year levels accepted on placement

Divisions should give consideration to accepting students at second and subsequent year levels for placement.

Remembering that student placements offer important opportunities other than recruitment, where possible, divisions are encouraged to provide placements across these levels. However, in acknowledging that student placements often result in successful recruitment, improved retention and a more positive perception of the child protection program generally, final year placements are considered a priority.

In line with the required qualifications for employment in case management positions in divisional child protection programs, only students from the following courses of study should be offered placements:

  • Bachelor or approved Diplomas of Social work or Degree level qualifications in Social Welfare.  
  • Diploma of Welfare Studies or Diploma of Community Welfare Work.
  • Other qualifications appropriate to public welfare practice – the expectation is that an applicant's course of study will be at Diploma level at a minimum and will have included applied units of study in working with individuals or families in a case management context, for example, case management, casework practice, counselling, and at least one supervised practice work placement in the public welfare field.
  • The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has advised that undergraduate psychology programs do not include clinical or practical skills training or supervised placements, and for this reason, they are not listed in the required qualifications above. These components are, however, evident in a number of fourth year psychology programs and may be evidenced in an applicant's transcript.

Responsibilities for organising student placements

Some divisions have a dedicated student unit and others have senior staff who coordinate this role. The student coordination role should provide direct communication links between child protection, education providers and divisions with regard to establishing practical field placements.

Orientation

Student orientation can be linked to general divisional orientation or more specific divisional child protection orientation. By agreement with the Schools of Social Work and Welfare, students are not eligible for the Child Protection Beginning Practice Orientation Program, but may utilise relevant parts of the New Practitioner Learning Guide. Guides are not to be provided to students.

Supervision of students on placement

Social work students need to be supervised by social work trained child protection practitioners with more than two years experience.

Where an accredited supervisor is not available divisions may consider purchasing external supervision or co-working with students (that is, using an accredited supervisor for formal supervision but allocating another experienced supervisor or practitioner to undertake task focused work with the student).

Other students should be supervised by a child protection practitioner with social work, welfare or related qualifications, with more than two years experience in case management in the welfare field.

Individual supervision should be provided for one hour per week with other forms of supervision, for example, group or peer supervision.

Students are undertaking a professional placement for the purpose of experiencing the practical skills of their discipline. They should not be given administrative tasks that are not associated with their role on placement. Clear definition of tasks to be undertaken and the development of a learning agreement will ensure the placement is rewarding and provides a worthwhile experience for both the student and child protection.

Physical resources

Students should be provided with access to physical resources such as desks, chairs and computers. Ideally these resources should be arranged prior to the placement commencing.

Confidentiality

Confidentiality remains the most important ethical requirement of those working in social work and welfare work. Students are exposed to many personal details of clients while on placement and it is important that they are provided with the policies on Privacy, Confidentiality and Freedom of Information and understand how these impact on their work with clients. Any information provided should be subject to an active discussion between the placement supervisor and the student.

Considerations for good practice

Pre-placement planning

  • Interview prior to commencement of placement: the regional student supervisor or coordinator should interview potential students to determine their suitability for a child protection placement before agreeing to accept the placement.
  • Develop learning contracts and placement plans: including formal orientation; schedule of visits to other units, programs and agencies; and supervision schedule.

Placement planning

  • Provide clear and written information regarding the student's role within the agency and tasks in which the student is unable to participate.
  • Provide students with experience of a range of tasks, with a focus on learning outcomes.
  • Provide continuous feedback during scheduled and unscheduled meetings and clarity about channels of communication.
  • Create positive perception of the child protection program; maintain a high level of professionalism; model positive, respectful interactions with families and collaborative inter-agency relationships; provide a high standard of supervision.
  • Provide students with information and the opportunity to discuss policies on confidentiality, privacy and freedom of information.
  • Create opportunity for recruitment where students display the requisite skills and aptitude for the role. Ensure the student is provided with knowledge of departmental career structure and progression, ongoing career development, ongoing supervision and support.
  • Plan group tasks and group supervision.
  • Generate opportunities for self managed tasks and self assessment of them.

Supervision

There are minimum requirements of both the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) and Australian Institute of Welfare and Community Workers (AIWCW) in relation to supervision of students on placement.

For some students the daily task supervisor may not be the clinical supervisor. While it would be ideal for the workplace supervisor to provide both task and clinical supervision, issues such as lack of qualified staff, availability of staff, size of organisation, all impact on this.

Consequently it is important for supervisors, educational institutions and others involved to understand the role of those providing all aspects of supervision in an effort to ensure provision of a quality placement.

Where a placement is supervised by more than one practitioner it is important that each supervisor has an understanding of the other's role and responsibilities. Both should meet, preferably prior to the commencement of the placement and clarify each of their roles with the student particularly in regard to case related supervision.

Where someone other than the accredited supervisor is supervising or mentoring the student in casework tasks this should be done in regular consultation with the placement supervisor to determine the student's progress, ability and learning needs.

 

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