Dr Mim Fox is an early career researcher and Lecturer in social work at the University of Wollongong. Dr Mim Fox graduated with her PhD from UNSW Australia in 2015. Mim explored the relationship between international field placements and the development of a professional international social work identity. Mim’s research interests, post-PhD, are focussed on the development of professional identity, the practice of international social work, social work education and the learning process. Mim maintains a professional and research interest in health social work. Contact Mim at her email firstname.lastname@example.org
International field placements have become increasingly popular, in line with globalisation (Panos, 2005), and global interdependance (Pettys et al., 2005). Key areas of learning for social work students undertaking an international field placement include international comparison (Healy, 2008), cross-cultural skills and anti-colonialist practice (Gray, 2005), and the development of cultural sensitivity and ethnorelativism (Engstrom and Jones, 2007).
Despite some universities establishing an environment conducive to international partnerships and universities recognising the benefits to including international field placements in social work curriculum, support for international field placements by social work programs can be variable and subjective in nature, with the inclusion of international field placements being social work program specific across the country. Each social work program is in a position to determine whether or not they choose to include international field placements in their curriculum, and when doing so the nature of the model they include. Hosting agencies are even less likely to have an international mandate, it is often a decision made by an individual social worker as to whether they supervise an international field placement. Given these factors, it is timely that an argument is made for social work programs to implement a planned approach to international field placement provision.
As part of my PhD, I surveyed 28 social work programs in Australia. Of those surveyed, 15 indicated that they either accepted students internationally for international field placements in Australia, or sent Australian students overseas for placements. Fifteen social work programs were then interviewed about these placements and the results showed that although there is no consensus as to how to organise an international field placement, there are 4 models that academic and professional staff use when doing so. In addition, many programs discussed using a combination of these models at different times, dependent on the capacity of the social work program to support the international field placement, and dependent on the capacity and previous skills of the student involved. Ethics approval was gained from the University of New South Wales Human Research Ethics Committee for this study initially in 2009 and data analysis was complete in 2012.
The table below provides a snapshot comparison of the various models operating. By defining the relevant variables involved in the organisational context of the international field placement, university staff and hosting agencies are able to compare and contrast the models in order to plan in advance for their involvement. Whilst some universities have an overt internationalised agenda, this is not the case for all. Similarly, while some social work programs are willing and able to invest the time and resources in supporting the international field placement, others are not. For some hosting agencies, they are not able to shoulder the total delegation of risk management or supervision that some models require. For others this is possible. By considering these variables in advance the final success of an international field placement is maximised for both the student, the hosting agency and for the home university.