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Social Work

A guide to social work placements

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Everything you need to know about social work field education placement before you embark on your course.

Social work is a rewarding career that empowers individuals, families and communities while facilitating social change. The role of a social worker is diverse, encompassing support, advisory and advocacy services across various settings such as healthcare, government agencies and community organisations.

If you’re compassionate and resilient and seeking a hands-on career with strong job prospects, social work could be the perfect career path for you.

To become a social worker in Australia, you can pursue a Bachelor of Social Work or Master of Social Work (Qualifying). Regardless of your chosen study route, a social work placement – also known as ‘field education’ or a ‘field placement’ – will be a mandatory part of your course, bridging the gap between theory and hands-on practice.

Social work field placements: Your questions answered

To better understand what’s involved in a social work placement, we spoke with Laura Luca, an experienced social worker and placement manager at Keypath Education. Here she answers common questions about social work field education placements.

What is a social work placement, and who needs to complete it?

Placements function as on-the-job training. Under supervision, you’ll work in different organisations, getting first-hand insight into what ‘best practice’ in social work entails.

”A placement is the crossroads between understanding the theories and seeing how they come to life in an organisation,” Luca explains. “It provides a platform for the student to apply what they’ve been learning and shows them the reality of what social work is like, drawing on theories and their emotional intelligence.”

All students undertaking a Bachelor of Social Work or Master of Social Work (Qualifying) must successfully complete 1,000 field placement hours. These hours allow you to explore different working environments while honing your social work skills.

Where can I complete my social work field placement?

Social work placement opportunities are as diverse as the role itself. You might complete your social work placement in a hospital, a community service organisation, or a range of other settings, including:

  • aged-care facilities
  • mental health services
  • schools
  • government agencies
  • refugee organisations
  • correctional institutions
  • private practice.

What are the requirements for completing a social work placement?

To be eligible for placement, you’ll need:

  • a current Working With Children Check (regardless of whether you’ll work with children)
  • a National Police Check
  • any organisation-specific requirements like vaccinations for hospital settings.

Your university and placement provider will guide you through the administration and explain what paperwork you need to organise before your placement.

In many cases, you’ll also go through an interview process before being matched with a field placement organisation.

How long is a social work field placement?

All students must successfully complete 1,000 hours of supervised social work placement to qualify for graduation and accreditation by the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). These hours are spread across multiple placements (depending on your university’s requirements), with no placement being less than 250 hours. In most cases, students will complete their hours through two 500-hour placements. 

Do I get paid for my placement?

Most placements are unpaid positions as they’re considered an essential learning opportunity. It can be challenging to balance financial, family and study commitments while completing an unpaid placement, so it’s important to consider and plan for them from the outset of your study.

 “Preparation for a social work field placement is probably just as important as the placement itself,” says Luca. “Ask yourself, what will my life look like during this time, how will I navigate my personal world, my work world and my study world to fit this in?”

Some organisations offer financial assistance to cover expenses like travelling or short-term relocation, and scholarships may be available through universities or state governments. 

How far in advance do I need to sort out my placement?

Ideally, as a social work student, you should be thinking about placement early on in your studies. This gives you enough time to identify opportunities that interest you, make sure you meet the requirements, undergo screening processes, attend interviews and handle administration. Procrastinating in arranging your placement can make it hard to find a suitable one in time, which can jeopardise your course progression.

Luca recommends thinking about potential opportunities and interest areas at the beginning of your course. “I suggest students think about placement from the very start and remain curious and open-minded about what they’re interested in. Stay curious if places or networks cross your path, do your own online research and be proactive.”

Do I need to find my own placement?

This depends on the university. Many universities have established industry partners offering placement vacancies for students. However, you may also be able to take the initiative and nominate your own preferred organisations if you have something specific in mind. Placements are subject to university approval, so make sure you discuss your options with your course coordinator early so arrangements can be made in time. 

How far will I need to travel for my placement?

Placement locations vary, but university placement coordinators aim to keep travel times reasonable, typically within 1.5 hours each way. Centrally based placements, Luca notes, are in high demand and can fill up quickly, so you may need to be flexible with travel times. 

Alternatively, some students from remote or regional areas choose to temporarily relocate closer to their placement organisation, while others lean on their existing networks to find opportunities closer to home. 

At what stage of my course will I need to complete my placement?

Timing varies between universities, but placement blocks generally occur twice during the course after some foundational studies have been completed. 

Can I complete my placement at my current workplace?

If you’re already working in a related field, it may be possible to complete one of your placements in your current workplace, but it must involve different work to what you’re usually employed to do so that you have the opportunity to learn new skills and work under a different supervisor. Talk to your course coordinator to see if your workplace meets the requirements.

It’s worth remembering that the purpose of placement is to gain new experiences, develop wider perspectives and translate your knowledge into practice across diverse contexts. When you complete your placement externally, you gain valuable insights you might miss out on if you stick to your familiar environment. 

Luca explains, “Placement is about diversifying your skills. If you only know what you know, you are limiting your scope.”

Can I qualify for recognition of prior learning (RPL) for placements?

If you have significant relevant professional experience, you may be eligible for RPL. Some universities may even allow RPL to count for one 500-hour placement.

Each university has its own criteria for recognising RPL, and every university requires substantial evidence before granting recognition, so it’s best to consult your course coordinator for their specific RPL policy.

Begin your transition to a rewarding social work career

Are you ready to take the next step with your postgraduate social work studies? A career in social work can be deeply rewarding, and field education placements are an integral and valuable part of the journey. The University of Canberra’s Master of Social Work (Qualifying) encompasses core theoretical units alongside practical placement to give students the skills and knowledge required to succeed as a social worker.

Contact GlobalHealth Education today and speak to one of our Student Enrolment Advisors for advice and guidance on choosing the right path for you.

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