Student placements in Child Protection

This advice provides information regarding student placements in child protection.

Document ID number 4302, version 2, 3 January 2019.

Introduction

The Department of Health and Human Services (the department) offers student placements within the Child Protection program to provide students with the opportunity to gain broad knowledge of the child protection industry while applying theory to practice. Placements are high quality, supervised and professionally challenging across the department. The students are placed in divisional child protection teams with a CPP supervisor who sets and assesses the tasks the students observe, participate in and undertake during their placement.

Opportunities to undertake field placements in divisional offices should be provided to students of Bachelor of Social Work, Diploma of Community Welfare Work and potentially other qualifications appropriate to employment in the Child Protection program.

Supporting and supervising student placements provides departmental employees with an opportunity to develop skills in supervision and reflective practice which contributes to their ongoing personal and professional development.

Students on placement should be provided with a safe and supportive learning environment, where clear expectations are set, and learning opportunities are provided in line with the student’s capability and experience.

Providing a safe learning experience

The department is required to take reasonably practicable steps to provide a safe working environment. A safe working environment includes the physical environment, provision of safe systems of work and information, instruction, training and supervision to enable students to perform work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

Students should be allocated selected tasks and experiences that will provide learning opportunities appropriate to their developing skills, knowledge and competency. However, many procedural factors linked to legislation and issues regarding safety, client confidentiality and privacy exist and need to be considered before a student is allocated tasks and duties whilst on placement.

Students must not:

  • undertake unsupervised tasks off site, that includes the transportation of clients and supervision of contact (Senior Council of Vocational Education and Training Providers)
  • supervise access unaccompanied by a supervisor either off site or within the office environment
  • attend client visits unaccompanied
  • act as a substitute for a qualified practitioner as they are not qualified or able to carry Secretary delegations
  • make telephone calls where a specific delegation is required
  • take a report
  • investigate a report or take a primary role at a first home visit
  • take a primary or secondary role in a first home visit involving physical or sexual abuse where criminal charges are a possible outcome
  • transfer a child on an interim accommodation order
  • be the applicant in presenting matters to the Children's Court
  • be the allocated worker for any child protection case.

Where opportunities are identified for students to further their knowledge and experience by undertaking new tasks with an increased level of independence, appropriate prior exposure to the task and/or prior introduction the client should occur before the student takes on a lead role.

Safety procedures should also be undertaken, including risk assessments and appropriate training and support. Students should be supervised while undertaking any client related tasks, including when they are supported to undertake a leading role in the activity.

Responsibilities of field education roles of supervisor

Program employees can nominate to support and supervise a student on placement.This is an opportunity for the practitioner to extend their own skills and experience while guiding a student on placement.

The student's supervisor should:

  • Explain the department's expectations to the student and the tertiary institutions with respect to conduct, practice protocols, hours or work, and any other professional issues.
  • Ensure the student completes the orientation program, including completion of the Student Placement Child Protection Orientation Program online training modules within the first week of the placement.
  • Evaluate and assess the student's level of competence at the beginning and during the placement, including reviewing the educational institutions student learning plan.
  • Negotiate the learning plan with the student that specifies areas of change and skills that the student needs to develop.
  • Select tasks and experiences which will provide learning opportunities appropriate to the student’s developing skills, knowledge and competency.
  • Allocate casework tasks to the student, such as reading case notes, court reports and paper files; attendance at relevant meetings; acting as a secondary practitioner (except in cases involving physical/sexual abuse where criminal charges are a possible outcome); shadowing the transporting clients and supervision of contact; client visits; completion of case notes and assessments.
  • Supervise student interactions with clients on-site.
  • Be available on a regular basis for formal supervision where the student's progress and any problems can be discussed.
  • Consult with the liaison person when concerns arise about the student's performance on placement.
  • Enlist the cooperation and support of work colleagues in fostering an optimal learning environment for the student.
  • Assess student capability through observation to undertake allocated activities.
  • Develop risk assessment and complete a contact referral form for activities such as attending with the supervisor during the transporting of clients and supervision of contact.
  • Take reasonable care for the student’s health and safety and for that of others in the workplace by working in accordance with legislative requirements and the department's occupational health and safety (OHS) policies and procedures.
  • Take care in considering the type of visits and client interviews students should attend and should not rely on them to be a secondary worker in sexual abuse investigations where they may need to exercise delegations (such as giving court evidence). If it is known the interview may concern sexual abuse, consider if the student has sufficient maturity and experience to receive this information without being distressed or it impacting the client’s needs. Debriefing by the supervisor should be provided to the student following these activities.

Supervision of activities

Where a supervisor has assessed and gained agreement that a student is ready to participate in an activity or task involving a client, it is recommended that:

  • the student has observed the activities prior to participating
  • the student has previously met the client and has had an opportunity to build an understanding of the client’s background and any assessed and planned for risks associated with the task, including the completion of an employee safety plan
  • supervision is provided to the student following the activity to assess how the student managed the task; provide advice and support; and answer questions the student may have.

A risk assessment should be undertaken when the student will be working with a client and a copy of the assessment kept with the student placement documents and notes.

Students should be enabled during supervision to raise concerns or to decline to participate in an activity or task where they do not feel they can safely undertake. This is an opportunity to review the concerns and risks together with the supervisor, consider the risk mitigation strategies that may be undertaken to reasonably manage the risk, or determine if the activity should not occur. Refer to the Occupational violence risk management guide for child protection workers and complete an employee safety plan.

Managing placements

An agreement exists between the department, child protection and education providers that the department will not accept direct inquiries regarding placements from students. Student placement requests are to be arranged between the relevant education provider placement coordinators and the divisional child protection student placement coordinators.

Where a request is made for a placement in relation to administration or project work, the division should assess the request on its merits and against the division's capacity to offer an appropriate and worthwhile placement experience.

Where a request is made for a research placement the division should assess the request against the capacity of the division to offer suitable and appropriate research activity, the capacity of the division to provide suitable supervision and support of a research focused placement and issues such as ethics and privacy, of both the department and the relevant educational institution, that would be required to be met.

Year levels accepted on placement

Divisions should give consideration to accepting students at second and subsequent year levels for placement.

Remembering that student placements offer important opportunities other than recruitment, where possible, divisions are encouraged to provide placements across these levels. However, in acknowledging that student placements often result in successful recruitment, improved retention and a more positive perception of the child protection program generally, final year placements are considered a priority.

In line with the required qualifications for employment in case management positions in divisional child protection programs, only students from the following courses of study should be offered placements:

  • Bachelor or approved Diplomas of Social work or Degree level qualifications in Social Welfare.
  • Diploma of Welfare Studies or Diploma of Community Welfare Work.
  • Other qualifications appropriate to public welfare practice the expectation is that an applicant's course of study will be at Diploma level at a minimum and will have included applied units of study in working with individuals or families in a case management context, for example, case management, casework practice, counselling, and at least one supervised practice work placement in the public welfare field.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has advised that undergraduate psychology programs do not include clinical or practical skills training or supervised placements, and for this reason, they are not listed in the required qualifications above. These components are, however, evident in a number of fourth year psychology programs and may be evidenced in an applicant's transcript.

Responsibilities for organising student placements

Some divisions have a dedicated student unit and others have senior staff who coordinate this role. The student coordination role should provide direct communication links between child protection, education providers and divisions with regard to establishing practical field placements.

Orientation

All students on placement are required to complete the Online Student Placement/VAC Orientation Program within the first week of their placement.  Access to the online modules will be provided to students via an email from the local student placement coordinator. By agreement with the Schools of Social Work and Welfare, students are not eligible for the Child Protection Beginning Practice Orientation Program, but may utilise relevant procedures, advice and specialist practice resources located in the Child Protection Manual.

Suitable supervisors

Social work students need to be supervised by social work trained child protection practitioners with more than two years experience.

Where an accredited supervisor is not available divisions may consider purchasing external supervision or co-working with students (that is, using an accredited supervisor for formal supervision but allocating another experienced supervisor or practitioner to undertake task focused work with the student).

Other students should be supervised by a child protection practitioner with social work, welfare or related qualifications, with more than two years experience in case management in the welfare field.

Individual supervision should be provided for one hour per week with other forms of supervision, for example, group or peer supervision.

Providing meaningful learning experience

Students are undertaking a professional placement for the purpose of experiencing the practical skills of their discipline. They should not be given administrative tasks that are not associated with their role on placement. Clear definition of tasks to be undertaken and the development of a learning agreement will ensure the placement is rewarding and provides a worthwhile experience for both the student and child protection.

Supervisors need to ensure that students have had adequate opportunity to shadow and observe tasks and meet clients. Tasks allocated to students should be seen in relation to their learning opportunity and experience, and not a work that is integral to the function of the program. Shadowing the transporting of clients and supervised contact should not form more than 30 per cent of the student placement.

Planning for students safety and risk assessment process

As noted earlier, planning for student’s safety is required when considering allocating client related activities to:

  • assess student capability through observation to undertake tasks including participating in work with clients
  • develop occupational violence risk management plan for child protection workers and complete an employee safety plan for client related activities such as participating in the transport of clients and supervised contact.

Physical resources

Students should be provided with access to physical resources such as desks, chairs and computers. Ideally these resources should be arranged prior to the placement commencing.

Confidentiality

Confidentiality remains the most important ethical requirement of those working in social work and welfare work. Students are exposed to many personal details of clients while on placement and it is important that they are provided with the policies on Privacy, Confidentiality and Freedom of Information and understand how these impact on their work with clients. Any information provided should be subject to an active discussion between the placement supervisor and the student.

Pre-placement planning

  • Interview prior to commencement of placement: the regional student supervisor or coordinator should interview potential students to determine their suitability for a child protection placement before agreeing to accept the placement.
  • Develop learning contracts and placement plans: including formal orientation; schedule of visits to other units, programs and agencies; and supervision schedule.

Placement planning

  • Provide clear and written information regarding the student's role within the agency and tasks in which the student is unable to participate.
  • Provide students with experience of a range of tasks, with a focus on learning outcomes.
  • Provide continuous feedback during scheduled and unscheduled meetings and clarity about channels of communication.
  • Create positive perception of the child protection program; maintain a high level of professionalism; model positive, respectful interactions with families and colleagues and collaborative inter-agency relationships; provide a high standard of supervision.
  • Provide students with information and the opportunity to discuss policies on confidentiality, privacy and freedom of information.
  • Create opportunity for recruitment where students display the requisite skills and aptitude for the role. Ensure the student is provided with knowledge of departmental career structure and progression, ongoing career development, ongoing supervision and support.
  • Plan group tasks and group supervision.
  • Generate opportunities for self-managed tasks and self-assessment of them.

Regular formal supervision

There are minimum requirements of both the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) and Australian Institute of Welfare and Community Workers (AIWCW) in relation to supervision of students on placement.

For some students the daily task supervisor may not be the clinical supervisor. While it would be ideal for the workplace supervisor to provide both task and clinical supervision, issues such as lack of qualified staff, availability of staff, size of organisation, all impact on this.

Consequently it is important for supervisors, educational institutions and others involved to understand the role of those providing all aspects of supervision in an effort to ensure provision of a quality placement.

Where a placement is supervised by more than one practitioner it is important that each supervisor has an understanding of the other's role and responsibilities. Both should meet, preferably prior to the commencement of the placement and clarify each of their roles with the student particularly in regard to case related supervision.

Where someone other than the accredited supervisor is supervising or mentoring the student in casework tasks this should be done in regular consultation with the placement supervisor to determine the student's progress, ability and learning needs.

Where to get more information

The local divisional student placement unit and student coordinators can assist with queries regarding student placements.

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