Addressing professional suitability in social work education
The purpose of this research is to better understand the experience and approach of field education coordinators/directors in addressing student professional suitability in social work education so their insights can inform ongoing conversations within professional education programs on how to exercise „gatekeeping‟ responsibilities. The study begins with a critical reflection of my five year experience as a coordinator, which leads into a comprehensive review of the literature, followed by an analysis and discussion of information collected from a focus group with eight coordinators from across Canada, and an extensive web-based survey questionnaire administered to all current, and some former social work field education coordinators in Canada.
In brief, the results of this study reinforce the perception found in social work literature that gatekeeping predominantly falls to the field component of social work education. Field education coordinators report regularly encountering cases in which student‟ behaviours call into question their suitability for the profession. They perceive the field to hold the highest expectation of them to assess and address student professional suitability, followed by faculty, administration, the accreditation body, and students, and they assign a high level of importance to having an approach to addressing such concerns within their practice. They report employing a number of pre- and post-placement measures to addressing suitability concerns. However, current perceptions of gatekeeping as potentially oppressive and contrary to social work values creates tension in their experience that is exacerbated by workload pressures, and by the lack of clear criteria for determining suitability within school policies and accreditation standards. Respondents emphasized that more opportunities for dialogue between coordinators, faculty, administration, and field educators is needed. Also, although the majority reported relative satisfaction with their skills and knowledge, they suggested that further training and education would be beneficial, and strongly recommended that faculty, field, and administration participate in this education. Finally, a number of respondents also expressed the need for more support for their role and the field program in general within their school, and expressed concern for an apparent lack of institutional support for addressing professional suitability.