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  • NASW-IL Staff

NASW-IL Policy Position Statement on Compensated Practicum Education

National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter


Introduction

The National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter (NASW-IL), advocates for a transformative shift towards compensated practicum experiences in social work education. This change is propelled by the ethical imperative to align educational practices with the core values of social justice and equity inherent in our profession.


Rationale

The call for compensated practicum experiences stems from a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted challenges social work students face including the economic barriers that disproportionately affect students without financial stability, with family responsibilities, or who lack strong support systems. Unpaid practicums place a significant financial strain on students, compelling many to juggle educational commitments while also seeking paid full-time work which can detract from their learning experience and lead to students failing to complete their education. Moreover, compensation for practicum work is not merely a financial issue but a recognition of the valuable contributions students make to the agencies they serve. Providing stipends or salaries to practicum students acknowledges their work’s worth, elevates the professional standing of social work education, and aligns with the profession's ethical commitment to labor rights. Compensated practicums can also enhance the quality of social work services as students are better able to focus on their professional development and application of social work principles without the stress of financial insecurity.


It is important to note that field placements in social work education have transitioned from observational educational roles to assigning students substantive responsibilities that contribute significantly to the operational strength of their placement sites. This shift genuinely enriches the educational experience by immersing students in practical, hands-on work, thereby underscoring the value of these placements in professional skill development. However, this evolution also brings to light an increased reliance on unpaid student labor, raising concerns about equity and fairness from a social work perspective. If field placements in social work were categorized similarly to traditional internships, federal law regarding fair labor practices would necessitate compensation for the students. This is because the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) stipulates certain conditions under which internships in the private sector must be paid, especially when the intern contributes significantly to the operational output of the organization rather than just learning from the experience. Given the evolving nature of field placements within agencies, continuing to classify these roles solely as educational experiences becomes increasingly untenable. Consequently, NASW-IL advocates for a critical reassessment of unpaid field practices, urging an alignment with the core values and ethics of social work.


Call to Action and Implementation

The NASW-Illinois Chapter calls on social work education programs, community agencies, policymakers, and stakeholders to engage in a concerted effort to reform practicum education through the inclusion of compensation. This initiative requires:


  • Collaborative Policy Development: To work with educational institutions, agencies, and legislative bodies in creating supportive frameworks for compensated practicums.

  • Resource Identification and Allocation: To identify sustainable funding sources to support this transformation, ensuring that social work education becomes more equitable and accessible.


State of Illinois: The state of Illinois should offer stipends for students who cannot secure paid field placements, recognizing the importance of supporting future social work professionals. The state should also provide additional financial assistance, such as childcare, travel subsidies, and other support programs, directly addressing barriers that students face and ensuring equitable access to field education.


Placements: Not all agencies have the resources to provide immediate paid field placements; however, agencies that have the financial capacity to offer stipends for field placements hold a responsibility to budget immediately for them as it directly supports ethical practice and social justice—core principles of the social work profession. Providing stipends acknowledges the valuable contributions of students to their agencies, promotes equity by making field placements accessible to all students regardless of their financial background, and fosters a more diverse and competent future workforce.


Universities: Universities should reevaluate tuition policies for students in field placements. They should explore innovative financial support models such as expanding work-study options to cover field placements, reducing tuition rates for field placement hours, and increasing financial assistance. This approach acknowledges the educational value of fieldwork, promotes equitable access, and supports students' commitment to their professional development in real-world environments.


Conclusion

The time has come for Illinois to transition from the unfair practice of unpaid labor to a model that justly compensates social work students for their contributions and work. The NASW-Illinois Chapter is dedicated to leading the charge for this vital change, engaging with stakeholders to create a more equitable system that acknowledges and rewards the valuable input of students in their field placements.


Take Action

The NASW-Illinois Chapter is actively collaborating with legislators and key stakeholders to support and advance SB2222 SA1. This legislative effort aims to establish a state-funded grant program benefiting social work students in field placements. While acknowledging the grants might not extend to every student, this initiative represents a crucial stride toward achieving comprehensive compensation for field placements. Your involvement is crucial. We urge you to reach out to your state legislators and Governor Pritzker, advocating for their support of SB2222 SA1 and its inclusion in this year's budget funding.

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