Field Policies and Procedures

The School of Social Work at Western Michigan University provides the following policies and procedures.

Field policies and procedures

NASW Code of Ethics

All students and Field Instructors in the social work program have the responsibility to be familiar with the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics. It is expected that all students, Field Instructors, and faculty will abide by the Code. A copy of the current Code can be found in appendix B or downloaded from the NASW website. Discussion about ethical standards should be a stated activity of each student’s Learning Contract and incorporated into supervision sessions. Students are to learn the principles and responsibilities of the Code and have opportunities to apply these them to practice in their field placement. Part of professional social work training includes commitment to the NASW Code of Ethics, which states in part that social workers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems. 

Liability insurance and field course fees

The University provides general professional liability insurance for all students who are officially registered for the field education courses. Students pay for this coverage in their fees when they register for field education courses, currently $185 for each field course. Agencies/organizations shall maintain adequate general liability and professional liability insurance as well. Students may also purchase additional liability insurance as members of NASW; premiums are reasonable for considerable coverage.

Students are covered through the end of semester/academic session for which they are enrolled. Field placements extended beyond this time must receive prior approval by the field coordinator and field instructor. To initiate the process, the student, in concert with the Field Instructor, must initiate this request in writing by sending the field coordinator a letter on the organization’s letterhead detailing the request for extension of the field placement, the reasons for the extension, and the date when the student will be finished. Extensions will only be granted for the purposes of meeting the student’s educational requirements (not for the convenience or desire of the student or organization). This request will be forwarded to the Business Services Office of the University for review and approval and, because this can take some time to process, it is recommended that anticipatory planning occur by the student. 

If you need time beyond the end of the semester to complete your field hours for any reason you must request an extension from the Office of Field Education. To file an extension your field instructor must send a letter to the field office with the following exact phrase included somewhere in the letter: “We are requesting an extension of the field placement until (date) to meet the academic requirements for the field course.” In addition the letter must be in actual letter-form (no emails), addressed to the Western Michigan University School of Social Work Coordinator of Field Education, on Agency letterhead, and signed by your field instructor. These letters are required in order to extend the University’s malpractice insurance that covers you as a student intern and protects you from any legal action (i.e. being sued). Please see a sample of an extension request below that can be pasted onto agency letterhead.

Each student signs a liability statement in their field application and a copy is forwarded to the prospective internship organization when the student is interviewed for placement. This statement indicates that students are not covered by workman’s compensation in the State of Michigan for any accident/injury that may occur during the field placement.  Any health costs incurred in preparation for or during the field placement are the responsibility of the student and the student’s health insurance. The University and the School of Social Work assume no responsibility or liability for any injury that may be sustained during field placement. In some organizations, students may be required to use their personally owned vehicle for transportation purposes. All students are required to have a valid driver’s license, indicate that they can operate a motor vehicle without restriction (unless indicated on the application), carry current vehicle insurance and agree to be in compliance with the laws of the State of Michigan. 

If the student is involved in an automobile accident while at their field placement, the student’s personal vehicle insurance is the first tier for a claim and the University’s policy is secondary, subject to the terms of the coverage in the University’s contract. If a student is to utilize their personally owned vehicle for field placement activities (including the transportation of clients), it is the Internship Organization’s responsibility to inform the student of these expectations prior to acceptance into the placement and also to evaluate the student’s ability to perform the required tasks. This includes, but is not limited to, ensuring that the student’s vehicle is in good, safe, working condition.

Field organizations and Western Michigan University's College of Health and Human Services both sign Agency Agreements related to field placement.  These agreements hold the University and Field Organization harmless should suits, claims, or damages result directly from the student placement. Internship Organizations can also request that the University sign their individual Affiliation Agreements, which take about four to six weeks to process, and are reviewed by the University attorneys and the Business Office for approval.

If involved in an accident or injury, please complete the WMU accident or injury report.

Background checks and drug testing 

Many Organizations require that students complete a criminal history check which may involve a state or national-level clearance. Some Organizations  require a Central Registry check through the Department of Health and Human Services to determine if the student has ever been adjudicated in a civil court for abuse and neglect of a child or a vulnerable adult. Organizations may also require a student to take and pass a drug test. All of these may be conditions of acceptance or continuation for a field placement.  Some Organizations may cover the cost of background checks and drug testing while others may require the student to pay these costs. Western Michigan University does not cover these costs.

Mandated reporting and duty to warn

State and federal laws cover the mandatory reporting of the suspected abuse or neglect of children or vulnerable adults and the duty to warn if a client is considered harmful to him/herself or others. Field instructors are responsible for educating all students with regard to these laws. Students should not be required to be the primary mandated reporter while functioning as an intern in an agency. This role is reserved for the organization-based Field Instructor who is responsible for ensuring that all of the organization’s policies, regulations, laws, and ethical obligations are followed. The student can assist and should have exposure to situations that involve mandatory reporting and duty to warn.

Accommodation for disabilities/special needs

Any student with a documented disability (e.g., physical, learning, psychiatric, vision, hearing, etc.) who needs to arrange reasonable accommodations must contact Disability Services for Students at (269) 387-2116 at the beginning of the semester.  A disability determination must be made by this office before any accommodations are provided by the classroom instructor. 

Diversity

The School of Social Work, as part of the WMU College of Health and Human Services, is an inclusive community of learners that embraces, respects, and advocates for human diversity. The College has a sustained commitment to eliminating disparities in health care and other human services by using dynamic methods to infuse this perspective into curricula, clinical practice, and research. It is expected that students also demonstrate a respect for diversity, consistent with the NASW Code of Ethics, in their academic performance.

FERPA guidelines

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level. Students to whom the rights have transferred are eligible students.

HIPAA guidelines 

All social workers are required to adhere to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, Public Law 104-191) regulations regarding the privacy of client information outside of the agency setting. Unless you have the client’s written permission, confidentiality must be strictly maintained when discussing or writing about clients in the classroom, in assignments, and in process recording.

Student academic conduct

Students are responsible for making themselves aware of and understanding the policies and procedures in the Undergraduate and Graduate Catalogs that pertain to Academic Honesty. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity and computer misuse. If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s). If you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with your instructor if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test. The Code of Honor addresses additional policies on issues such as diversity, religious observance, student disabilities, etc.,

Sexual harassment and assault

Western Michigan University is committed to an environment which encourages fair, humane, and beneficial treatment of all faculty, staff, and students. In accordance with that fundamental objective, the University has a continuing commitment to assure equal opportunity and to oppose discrimination because of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, handicap, height, weight, or marital status.

Therefore, in that same perspective, sexual harassment will not be tolerated behavior at Western Michigan University. It is expected that each member of the University community will consider himself/herself responsible for the proper observance of this policy.

Time and attendance

Attendance in field placement is a indicator of professional behavior. Students are expected to  respect the organization’s policies and procedures as if they were an employee.  If a student is not going to be in field at the agreed upon schedule due to illness or unexpected barriers, the Field placement, the Field Instructor should be notified immediately. Field Instructors are encouraged to notify the Faculty Liaison immediately if there are questions or concerns surrounding the attendance or overall participation  of the student in the field placement.

Meal and break times and commuting to and from field placement are not counted towards hours logged in field. 

The University has an established calendar of holidays and break periods and students are not required to be in field placement during these periods.

Students should address scheduling with their potential field instructors during the interview process in consideration of client and organization needs.  Official University holidays and breaks such as Thanksgiving, winter break, spirit day, spring break, legal holidays or those officially observed by the organization are granted to the student. Students may not count holidays, snow/weather days, sick days, or other days they are not in field as field time.  Students and the field instructor must negotiate a plan to make up field hours due to the student’s sick time, family illness, holidays or snow/weather days.

Addressing problems in the field

Problem prevention strategies:

  • Plan ahead.
  • Make the Learning Contract reflect interests and needs.
  • Review the Learning Contract/evaluation weekly, and during supervision.
  • Schedule frequent and regular supervision (i.e., minimum weekly) with the field instructor.
  • If students have life events which may impact the schedule or tasks in field, these issues are expected be discussed with the Faculty Liaison and Field Instructor early in the semester/session or at the time the event occurs
  • Provide field liaison and field instructor with documentation from the Office of Student Disability regarding any disabilities at the beginning of the semester so that appropriate accommodations can be discussed and made.
  • Discuss with Field Instructor and agree to a schedule in writing at the beginning of the semester.
  • Students are expected prepare an agenda for each supervisory conference and seek input from the field instructor  regularly and as needed. In the absence of the FI, student’s will seek guidance from the FI’s designee.
  • Students are required to read all communication from the field instructor and the Faculty Liaison carefully, and are encouraged to keep a record of all such communications.
  • Students are expected to  confirm their understanding of directions, instructions, and requirements (e.g., organization policies, guidelines, expectations, requirements) with field instructors, field liaisons and, if necessary, with the Field Coordinator, and are encouraged to ask for assistance.        

Procedures for students to follow if problems arise

  • The student first talks to the primary field instructor about concerns and problems concerning the placement. A student may choose to obtain advice from the faculty liaison before talking to the field instructor. Corrective action plans to remediate the situation should be developed, written, signed, and dated by all parties.
  • If problems persist, the student should request a problem solving meeting with their Faculty Liaison, and the Field Instructor.
  • If the field placement ends prematurely due to concerns about the student’s performance, the student, Aacademic advisor, faculty liaison, field coordinator, and field instructor(s) if possible, will participate in a Professional Review Committee meeting. Following the PRC, recommendations will be made to the Associate Director or his/her designee. Recommendations may include remediation recommendations, other Internship options and/or dismissal from the BSW or MSW program.

Incomplete or broken placements

A student whose placement ends prematurely may be referred to the Professional Review Committee, as described in the undergraduate or graduate student handbook. All students who need to be re-placed into a second field placement organization must complete up to an additional 50 clock hours of time in the new organization to allow for training and orientation at the new placement.  These additional hours are completed to reduce the possibility that the student’s education will be compromised and to ensure that sufficient time for learning social work skills and practice will be available.