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COVID-19 social work study FAQs

COVID-19 pandemic response to the Australian Social Work Education and Accreditation Standards (ASWEAS)

Update May 2020 – AASW-approved parameters for Field Education during COVID-19

The AASW has approved some variations and modification to AASW Accredited Social Work Programs. We have provided our support to 10 proposed parameters in relation to Field Education. These parameters are to be used where it is not otherwise possible to meet the standard due to Covid-19 and not as a blanket rule. These variations would in ‘normal times’ be non-compliant with the Australian Social Work Education and Accreditation Standards (ASWEAS). However, during the upheaval caused by COVID-19 we are supportive of the following parameters:

  1. Student learning, wellbeing and financial wellbeing is at the forefront of decisions, recognising that HEPs require flexibility in adapting to a dynamic and challenging context.
  2. Students who have had placements disrupted as a result of the COVID-19 crisis can have total placement hours reduced by up to 20% (800 hours overall), so long as:
  • placements continue to be provided over at least two distinct placements/ units of study; and
  • all learning outcomes are achieved.
  1. Where a direct practice placement for a student’s final placement would normally be required, it is acceptable to complete a second indirect practice placement if the placements occur in diverse practice contexts and all learning outcomes are met.
  2. Requirements for work-based placements can be modified to the extent that students can complete their placement in a current social work-related role, where tasks have changed due to the COVID-19 crisis (eg new modes of service delivery/ advocacy). In these circumstances, the same supervisor can continue to supervise the student, if social work supervision requirements and learning outcomes are met.
  3. Non-traditional placements need to be recognised during the crisis, including but not limited to, opportunities arising from the surge workforce or student projects undertaken for agencies through for example a student hub, or multiple placement settings, if adequate social work supervision can be provided and individual learning outcomes can be met.
  4. Students may undertake some, or all, of their placement working remotely (e.g. from home), as approved by agency task supervisors, if social work supervision, support and liaison requirements are met, wherever possible face to face support via video conferencing.
  5. Students can complete two placements in one year where this is deemed necessary by the HEP.
  6. Students may be supervised by an external supervisor for more than one placement where this is deemed necessary by the HEP
  7. HEPs may choose to deliver up to 20 hours per placement via supervised simulations, where this is needed to meet identified gaps in student placement learning outcomes.
  8. That for indirect placements in which students are working in small groups on a shared project, that 1.5 hours of formal group supervision per 35 hours of placement will be considered adequate, provided the HEP can demonstrate that all of the objectives of supervision (including those that are normally achieved through supervision provided on a one-to-one basis), have been met.

It is important to emphasise that the obligation for the Higher Education Providers remains which is to ensure students upon completion of their degree meet all the required learning outcomes.

Our priority is that students have access to a wide range of learning opportunities and experiences, that enable them to graduate with the required skills and attributes. This ensures as newly graduated social workers they are confident, ethically competent, skilled and effective practitioners with professional integrity as defined in the Code of Ethics. This is essential for the social work profession and the Australian individuals and communities who utilise the services of qualified social workers.

At this stage these exemptions apply to 2020 only. We are committed to continually reviewing the situation.

The AASW will mirror the advice from TEQSA and work collaboratively and offer a pragmatic and sensible approach to the challenges faced by all Higher Education Providers (HEPs) / Universities and students. The AASW, similar to TEQSA, acknowledge that due to COVID-19 providers may not be in a position to fully comply with the Australian Social Work Education and Accreditation Standards (ASWEWAS) requirements.

The ASWEAS outline that regardless of the mode of delivery all programs must provide a minimum of 20 days face-to-face teaching and learning in which all students must participate irrespective of the mode of program delivery. With social distancing now in force, how are we supposed to comply?

The AASW envisage and fully expect to see modified programs and variations that include a reduction of face-to-face and attendance requirements. For distance education providers, the AASW understands and approves that some residential schools will be cancelled and delivered online. We will also expect that on-campus programs will now deliver their programs online. HEPs will be required to report any modification and variations in their 2020 AASW Annual Reports.

I am currently doing my placement and my agency has asked staff to work from home. What impact does this have on my placement?

ASWEAS Guideline 1.2: “Students must successfully complete a minimum of 1,000 hours in at least two field education subjects. These hours must be completed within the normal working hours/days of the organisation hosting the placement. No leave of any kind may be included in this requirement; that is, the full 1,000 hours must be completed”.

If students are unable to attend their placement due to office/service closure, it is envisaged that these students can continue their placement from home and fulfil the requirements (including the required hours) of the placement. The AASW will approve this and it is expected that students make arrangements which will be managed by the HEP, the field education department including the field educator (agency or external), task supervisor and field education liaison staff. Supplementary projects relating to the placement, simulation or other pedagogies might be used to complement the placement. This may require some adjustment of the students learning goals. The AASW understands that in these circumstances, direct practice (SW practice where the student engages directly with individuals, groups, families, communities) is not possible. In consultation with the Field Educator (agency or external based) and the HEP Field Education Liaison Officer, the student might continue the placement working remotely and focus on achieving new/additional learning outcomes.

Alternatively, the HEP, student and placement provider can decide to postpone the placement until the COVID-19 has passed if all parties are willing to accommodate this and if this fits around coursework.

For students who have not commenced their placement or are due to commence their placements in the next few weeks, placements might be postponed/cancelled by the Higher Education Providers.

At least one placement has to be in direct practice - what if I haven't done that yet, and now I can't, due to social distancing?

If the above situation arises in the student's final/last placement and the student has already conducted an indirect placement, the student must consult with the HEP and the AASW to discuss options.

Social work field educators must be able to provide a minimum of 1.5 hours formal supervision per student for each 35 hours of placement. At a minimum, half of this supervision must be provided on a one-to-one basis.

During the unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic, flexible supervision arrangements can be negotiated. The use of technology (zoom/skype) can replace face-to-face supervision arrangements.

FELO Visits: ASWEAS states that the responsibilities of the field education liaison staff include maintaining regular contact with the student with a minimum of three contact, including at least one face to face visit to clarify education issues, monitor the progress of the placement, mediate any difficulties and asses student progress.

During the unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic the AASW approve to waive the face to face visit requirement and substitute this requirement with an online meeting.

My placement will be cancelled, what will happen to the hours I have already completed?

Hours that have already been completed will be calculated towards completing a 1,000 hours of field education. The AASW will approve that students don’t lose completed hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have a query about my AASW Accredited Social Work program?

We would expect that the first port of call for students is to contact their Higher Education Provider or University. HEPs can in most cases manage these types of enquiries.

If a HEP would like to discuss a particular situation with the AASW they can contact the Program Manager Quality Accreditation on education@aasw.asn.au or on 03 9320 1000 ext 4 and discuss the particular situation and seek an approval/exemption to a particular area of the Australian Social Work Education and Accreditation Standards.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers