Field Frequently Asked Questions: COVID-19

Below you will find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. The FIeld Education Office is adding new information as it becomes available. For information about fall 2020 field internships, please select Field FAQ July 2020 below.

Q: Why did SSW end all in-person field internships early with a final date no later than April 3? 

A: Our primary responsibility is the health and safety of our students. Due to the spread of COVID-19, and since we anticipate this crisis and its aftermath will persist for at least a month, we determined it was in the best interest of our community to end all internships early. Social workers are first responders to crises, and risks are almost always involved. However, since students are generally not paid and are not covered by worker’s compensation and other protective benefits, we do not believe students should engage in this high-risk situation.

Students whose agencies are approved to provide telehealth from home, and whose agencies are committed to continuing remote supervision, have been approved to continue remote work through April 3 to terminate with clients. Smith College School for Social work is committed to “flattening the curve” and in our view, this public health goal supersedes what is normally recommended as it relates to termination of services. We understand that this will prevent in-person termination and transfer of services.

Q: Are there any exceptions to this policy? Can I opt to assume the risk?

A: There are no exceptions to this policy and we are not allowing any waivers--even for students who understand the risks and are willing to assume them. While we absolutely understand that this causes disruption, the risks posed by infection are, in our opinion, greater and more severe.

Q: What about remote (telehealth) service provision options?

A: Social work practice is governed by our code of ethics and by laws that regulate professional practice in agency contexts. Most agency contexts must ensure client privacy and confidentiality, and your cell phone and/or computer may not meet the agency or regulatory standards. In addition, any service that you offer needs to be appropriately supervised by your field supervisor who takes legal responsibility for your work. Agencies need to make certain that you can be properly and appropriately supervised so that their standard of care is maintained. Finally, some of you will not have access to the client’s electronic health record or paper charts without going into the agency. These rules are intended to protect clients and you from inadvertently engaging in negligence or malfeasance. 

For the handful of students who are in agencies that have established policies and procedures for telehealth, we understand that it is most upsetting to have to end three weeks early. Early on in the crisis, we tried developing individual policies. There were so many permutations that we could not make clear guidelines and ensure adequate follow up. We could not be sure that students were getting the kind of supervision that is required to do telehealth effectively in the absence of previous training. Therefore, we decided to make a difficult decision that put equity, training, and smooth operational functioning before individual preference or capacity. 

Q: Will I have enough hours to meet the requirements for the Field Education in Social Work course and CSWE?

A: Yes. The 960 hours of field education required by SSW are more than double CSWE’s requirement for M.S.W. programs. Students have enough hours to meet the requirements of both CSWE and their Field Education in Social Work course.

Q: Does this mean there are no more field assignments or papers?

A: The schedule for completing field assignments has not changed. All students are expected to complete March (due 4/1) and April (due 5/1) narratives as planned. We are encouraging students to use these final narratives as opportunities to reflect on termination, managing crises and the psychosocial aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Second year students will continue to complete the anti-racism assignment reflection paper. Faculty Field Advisers will continue to provide feedback, grading, mentoring and support.

Q: Will there be changes to the field seminars?

A: Seminars will continue as planned through the month of April.

Q: Will I get my final field evaluation?

A: We have amended the Sonia database so that students and supervisors can go in at any time to begin their evaluations. We anticipate that it will take longer to collect all completed supervisor evaluations because of the unusual end of the term. Every student will receive a grade for their final field evaluation and final grade for the course over the next several weeks.

Q: How do students terminate with clients when/if they can’t say goodbye in person?

A: Unplanned terminations can be extremely difficult to navigate. Please view the webinar by Annemarie Gockel, Ph.D., and Peggy O’Neill, Ph.D., titled Transitions & Endings in a Time of Crisis. How you communicate this termination to your clients is important and deserves a full conversation between student and supervisor. In some cases, telephone or email communication may be possible. When this is not possible, you may be able (depending on agency context and practice guidelines provided by your field supervisor) to: 

  • identify a staff proxy to inform the client 
  • write a letter or email 
  • record a video message

Do not provide your clients with your personal contact information. Many agencies are figuring this out in real time as you are. Your faculty field adviser remains available for consultation and support through April. 

Q: What if students left personal property at their placement site, need to return agency property such as badges, keys, agency phones and/or laptops, or need to pick up communication devices related to remote access?

A: Given that there are “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders in many states across the country, students must comply with those orders. These mandatory orders generally prohibit transportation for any activity not deemed essential. For property that is non-essential, students may return or retrieve property after the shelter in place orders are lifted. If students have vital client information to record, they should immediately communicate it in a de-identified manner to their on-site field instructor or other agency personnel by phone and/or email, so that it can be entered into the clinical record by proxy without necessitating travel. When property exchange is truly critical to the student’s life or education (i.e. medication, personal laptop etc.) or to sustain agency operations (for remote access or protected communications), the agency and student may arrange an exchange as long as the relevant shelter in place orders are complied with and all health precautions are taken. 

Q: As a third summer student, will I still have the hours and credits necessary to apply for a provisional license after I graduate?

A: Every SSW student has more than the minimum hours and credits. However, each state has different requirements for State Licensure. Students should check with their state licensing board regarding requirements for more details. 

Q: How should rising second year students who are in the midst of placement processes handle interviews going forward?

A: All field education-related contact, including placement-related interviews, needs to be conducted remotely for the rest of the field year. Agencies, particularly hospitals and health services, may need to delay your interview as they respond to immediate community needs. We are staying in close communication with our agency partners and agencies are committed to getting students in confirmed placements for the fall as soon as possible.

Q: Where can I find resources and updates related to COVID-19?

Q: Will SSW students complete their internships in-person at a placement agency?
A: Yes, if the agency is open for their employees, and the agency has met the state guidelines for COVID-19 safety standards in workplaces (social distancing, PPE, etc.), students will be able to work onsite at the agency. While students are not considered employees, the same safety precautions apply to them.

Q: For those agencies where in-person service delivery can’t happen, can students provide remote/telehealth services?
A: Yes, SSW fully supports agencies providing virtual training so students can engage in their field learning via remote placements. The Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) has approved remote service delivery for field learning.

Q: What happens if a student does not want to participate in an in-person internship but the agency is open and needs the student to attend in-person?

A: If the student cannot be on premises for any reason, SSW and the agency will assess if alternative remote learning experiences are possible. If not, the student will be reassigned to the Smith Field Internship Lab (see below for description) to continue their field learning and stay on track for graduation.

Q: If an agency expects in-person activity, can students ask to conduct their placements remotely? Or conversely, ask to be in-person if the agency is working remotely?
A: Students can certainly ask. However, agencies have their own requirements for both service delivery and internship training and may not be able to make changes based on student preference. If a student does not feel that they can participate in the training plan set forth by the agency, their option is the Smith Field Internship Lab (see below for description).

If you are considering not moving forward with your confirmed internship FOR ANY REASON, please contact us right away so we can make a new plan with you.

Q: Can agencies offer a combination of in-person and remote learning experiences as they make adjustments to service delivery?
A: Yes, we anticipate that many students will participate in a hybrid model of in-person and remote experiences as agencies transition their service delivery and programming over the coming year.

Q: If students are participating in a remote internship, do they need to reside in the same state as their agency?
A: Yes, state regulations and agencies are requiring that students reside in the same state that their agency is located in to provide clinical services. Agencies are also reporting that students need to be in state to complete fingerprinting and other onboarding requirements, even if aspects of the placement are virtual.

Q: Can supervision be provided remotely?
A: Absolutely. The same SSW supervision requirement of two hours of clinical supervision/week remains in effect. The first hour must be individual supervision with an M.S.W.-level clinician with a minimum of 2 years post-M.S.W. experience.

The second hour can be individual with the same primary supervisor or secondary supervisor with an M.S.W. or similar degree, or group supervision. In a remote landscape, it is recommended that other check-in opportunities are available throughout the week to connect with your supervisor either by phone, email, Zoom, etc.

Q: Can agency documentation be completed remotely?
A: Yes. Agencies will direct students to work with their IT Depts and gain access to encrypted software or other means of providing documentation in line with agency requirements.

Q: Will students receive training in telehealth best practices and COVID-19 training materials before the start of the field year?
A: All students attended a telehealth basics training at the start of the summer academic session. Practice aspects of telehealth have been integrated into this summer’s academic curriculum. Prior to the start of the field year, 1st and 2nd year students will complete a more extensive telehealth best practices training and COVID-19 safety training as part of their required field orientations. The Field Education Department also has resources for students on different COVID-19 related topics including articles, free workshops, CDC guidelines and self-care materials.

Q: Is there a change to the number of internship hours given the COVID-19 crisis?
 A: Normally, SSW students complete 960 hours/field year for a total of 1920 field hours. While CSWE has allowed schools to approve an 85 percent completion rate of field hours during the pandemic, we are staying as close to our curricular requirements as possible. Therefore, 30 hrs/week, including all breaks, is considered the ceiling and we will flex, as needed, if agencies can only provide fewer hours.

Agencies are reporting that they anticipate being able to offer slightly less clinical hours to students as they adjust staffing, resources and service delivery due to the pandemic. Students and supervisors should discuss any changes to the 30 hrs/week schedule with their FFA. We can augment with other field activities from the Smith Field Internship Lab, when necessary.

If additional shelter-in-place orders occur, we can work within CSWE guidelines of 85% of their 960 required hours (816 hours) and adjust accordingly. We will continue to reassess as the pandemic requires us to do so.

Q: What do we mean by the Smith Field Internship Lab?
A: The Smith Field Internship Lab is an internship opportunity for students unable to undertake their internships with our field affiliates, either permanently or at certain times during their placements. Students who are unable to attend either an in-person or virtual internship may complete their field hours via the new Smith Field Internship Lab (SFIL). The SFIL provides an alternative field option to ensure continuity for students experiencing various types of disruptions during the field year.

The SFIL includes all the components of an agency-based internship: clients (via telehealth, whenever possible, and actor clients), clinical supervision, small group activities, didactic trainings, Grand Rounds speaker series, process recordings and clinical documentation. The SFIL also includes monthly teaching modules that reflect the typical arc of the field year starting with “new beginnings and engagement” and ending with “termination.” Students complete all field assignments, including the Learning Plan, and work with a faculty field adviser (FFA).

Design of the Smith Field Internship Lab:

Sept. 7 - April 30,  two weeks off in December
 

September October November December

First Sessions

Beginnings

Engagement

Assessment

Crisis

Psychosocial Support and
Capacity Building

Intervention

Case Management

 

January February March April

Intervention (continued)

Differential 

Use of Self

Trauma &

Substance Abuse

Families &

Couples

Termination