The experiences of social workers as supervisors of social work students field placements.
Universities in South Africa endure the challenge on an annual basis to secure field placements for the growing number of social work students. Field practice together with the required supervision is a critical component of the social work curriculum, since it provides students with opportunities to practice the skills taught in their theoretical courses. Whilst securing field placement is an extension of the social work curriculum, it is also essential to understand the plight of the supervisors and agencies that provide this service. The literature available in South Africa on this aspect is very limited, yet the dependency on agencies and supervisors is immense. This the study aimed at exploring and describing the experiences of social workers who supervise social work students’ field placement within Durban and the surrounding areas in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. A qualitative explorative study was conducted through the use of an in-depth interview schedule and a total of 18 supervisors from a range of organizations formed the sample for this study. Supervisors were interviewed individually with the aim of exploring their experiences, perceptions, needs and challenges with regards to field practice placements and they were invited to make suggestions for a best practice model. The main conclusions drawn from this study were that agency supervisors acknowledge their critical role in this process. However, training and supporting them is minimised which impacts in various ways on their ability to function optimally. In addition, supervisors feel that students are not thoroughly screened for the profession; they are underprepared for the field and lack the basic skills essential for practice. Supervisors are often forced to function in isolation in the absence of models and theories on field practice placement and the lack of collaboration with the universities. The different universities in the province have different requirements and expectations of supervisors. The recent strategy to address the retention of social workers through the awarding of bursaries has resulted in enormous challenges, particularly related to students’ commitment, dedication to the profession and the impact on the NGO sector. The time spent in field practice is regarded as insufficient for students’ exposure to the dynamics of all types of services and the introduction of a policy, model and framework for student supervision by the professional counsel is long outstanding and impacts on the status of the profession. Emanating from the findings, recommendations have been made with regards to optimising the learning opportunity for students and to enhance the experience of supervisors in student supervision.
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