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Fieldwork education


Fieldwork is perhaps the most eagerly and anxiously anticipated part of social work education programmes.

  • Students can experience a range of conflicting emotions prior to placement ranging from excitement to self-doubt.
  • Once fieldwork begins it can be exhilarating, exhausting, affirming, and challenging.
  • It is in practice that knowledge begins to be tested and skills are applied and further developed.
  • Prior to fieldwork placement students have many questions so we trust this site will answer some of these.

Goals of fieldwork

The primary goal of fieldwork education is for students to experience the ‘real world’ of social work practice by working in a variety of social service settings with a diverse range of people. Students begin to work with theory, apply methods and models and experiment with the skills they have learned in the classroom. Learning is achieved by working alongside experienced and knowledgeable social workers in a wide variety of social service settings.

The fieldwork programme is offered by the Social and Community Work Programme in collaboration with the social work profession, agencies, and the community.

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Aims of fieldwork

The broad aims of fieldwork are:

  • To provide students with genuine learning opportunities in the field of social services and community work;
  • To offer a variety of settings and experiences as a learning base;
  • To engender self-development and a striving for competence, by establishing clear learning goals, and through ongoing evaluation and assessment processes;
  • To provide an environment where student limitations may be worked upon and strengths maximised;
  • To help students develop bicultural practise.

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Structure of our programmes

At Otago there are two full year field papers, SOWK 392 Fieldwork Practice 1 and SOWK 492 Fieldwork Practice 2. Together the placements total 120 days of supervised practice experience.

The Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is our professional programme where fieldwork is central to the curriculum. It is taught on-campus and through distance education. There are structural and delivery differences in on-campus and distance taught programmes and each caters to different student groups.

Distance taught options

The distance options of the BSW is specially designed for mature and experienced social workers from throughout New Zealand who are normally in social service practice but do not have a social work qualification. These students can undertake study on a part-time basis to accommodate their employment.

Placements occur in the third and fourth years of the BSW.

On-campus taught options

On-campus students are generally younger (though not exclusively) and less experienced in the social services. Most of this student group studies full time and is majoring in social work.

Students on these programmes must have completed prior academic study and a skills paper before undertaking fieldwork.

Placements occur at fixed times throughout the year and normally take place within the Otago region due to on-campus study commitments. There is, however, a lot more flexibility for Fieldwork Practice 2 as most study has been completed by the time the placement begins, so increasingly students are electing to move to other locations around the country.

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Further information

If you have further enquires please contact a member of the fieldwork staff.

Liz McCafferty, telephone (03) 479 4128, email

Susan Wason, telephone (03) 479 7952, email

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Q. What is the process for organising field placements?

The first stage is the completion of the Placement Preference Form (the form can be downloaded from Blackboard or can be found in the workbook) and a copy should be forwarded to the academic co-ordinator of fieldwork by the due date. This information will then form the basis of your placement negotiation.

Each student has an individual meeting with the fieldwork co-ordinator to negotiate a suitable placement.

Q. Should I look for my own fieldwork placement?

No. We have fieldwork staff whose primary responsibility is to manage all aspects of the fieldwork programme. You will have a member of the fieldwork team who will work with you in the selection of an appropriate agency. It is the staff member’s task to arrange a placement for you with one of the many agencies with which we work, based on agency needs, your interests, and the goals of the programme. You must not look for a placement on your own unless prior agreement is arranged with the fieldwork co-ordinator.

Q. How much choice do I have in the selection of a fieldwork setting?

Your fieldwork co-ordinator will discuss with you your interests and learning goals and clarify the objectives of the paper. The co-ordinator will then negotiate a placement with you taking into consideration your interests, skill level, and their knowledge of what each setting offers. Every effort is made to accommodate your learning needs, however, some compromise is often required due to placement availability.

Students are required to attend a pre-placement interview with a prospective agency to determine suitability and an opportunity to decide if the placement is likely to meet your learning needs. You will need to bring to the interview an up to date curriculum vitae. The agency will have the final say on your suitability.

Q. How many days of the week will I be on placement?

The regulations for fieldwork require a minimum of two consecutive days a week, or more, up to a block placement of five days a week. You will be required to work the same hours as other staff in the agency where you are placed. The minimum hours per day for a placement are six and that excludes a lunch break.

Q. Can I do my field placement in the agency where I am employed?

Fieldwork placements are designed to offer new learning opportunities in new practice settings. Some agencies may be large enough to provide such opportunities for current employees. In order for a placement in your current place of employment to be approved it must involve new learning and a fieldwork educator who is not your current supervisor. Your agency must agree to keep your fieldwork distinct from your regular work and not to change your fieldwork role without discussion with the fieldwork co-ordinator. Regulations allow students to do only one of their two placements in their place of employment as the standards for fieldwork education state that placements must occur in “diverse settings”. If you would like to be considered for an employment-based placement you must fill in the Employment-based Placement Proposal Form (this form can be downloaded from Blackboard or can be found in the workbook). Your placement cannot be approved until you have sent this form into the department and approval is granted.

Q. What if I want to be placed in a setting that the department has not approved for placement?

The fieldwork programme chooses agencies carefully and works to maintain ongoing relationships with the people in placement settings. Criteria for placements include the availability of a qualified fieldwork educator; availability of appropriate learning opportunities for students; and a clear commitment by the agency to ongoing student education. There is, however, some flexibility in the above requirements. We are always open to new ideas for placement settings.

Q. Are there placements that are only suitable for Fieldwork Practice 2 students?

The Ministry for Children, Oranga Tamariki, is primarily targeted toward actual or potentially abused or neglected at-risk children and their families. Because of the high level of skill and knowledge necessary, and the complexity of the work, this statutory agency generally accepts students for their Fieldwork Practice 2 placement. The only exception for Fieldwork Practice 1 students would be those with substantial experience in the social services.

Community Mental Health provides services to people with mental health disorders including in-patient and outpatient facilities, residential treatment and day treatment programmes. These agencies may be focused on seriously and chronically mentally ill children, adolescents, and adults. These placements are generally not suitable for Fieldwork Practice 1 students.

Community Probation Service prefer Fieldwork Practice 2 students but in some circumstances will consider Fieldwork Practice 1 placements.

Q. Can I be paid for fieldwork?

We are fully aware of the economic realities of being a student, however, it is not usual for students to be paid while on placement unless undertaking an employment-based placement. There is nothing, from the point of view of the university, to preclude being paid, should payment be offered. Nonetheless, it is important that the ‘student’ status on placement not be compromised so that learning opportunities can be maximised.

Q. Do any agencies require police checks?

Most of our placement agencies require police checks and students must comply with this procedure.

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Placements involve a wide variety and large network of organisations and settings: statutory; voluntary; church-based; hospitals; residential institutions; and community groups, all providing social welfare services of one kind or another. Without the support, co-operation, and generosity of these agencies fieldwork placements would not be possible. It is with enormous gratitude we thank all the wonderful social workers who give their time to the education of social work students.

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Feedback from Agencies

"Social workers are largely realistic, down to earth and would move mountains to help people make positive changes, but it is the personal skills, motivation and training that makes the difference in good social work delivery.

Statutory social work is always challenging with the opportunity to work alongside families to utilise what they know and empower them to move forwards.

If I could set up an admiration society or advocacy group for social workers I would do it but there are too many complex cases that require the time and energy of trained social workers. It is an honourable profession that requires the respect of and for those for whom we work with.

For many years now Otago Child, Youth and Family Services supervisors and senior practioners have embraced the opportunity to have social work students on their field placements. It's an opportunity for students to experience statutory work and discuss theory and practice. Reality is a great moderator of what we learn in theory and how and when it can be applied so a placement with CYF would provide solid experience and skills transferable into other areas of social work."

Mere Montgomery Child, Youth and Family Services, Dunedin

"Catholic Social Services has provided social work field placements for Otago students for many years.
We have found Students working alongside experienced social workers quickly immerse themselves in our social work and parenting support groups. It is great to witness students gaining in confidence as they progress through their placement.

Fieldwork placements are a positive two way experience for our agency.

Students bring an enthusiasm and passion for social work, new ideas and an enquiring mind. We have found most don't hesitate to ask questions which is good for us as it causes us to keep looking at the relevancy of how and why we do things. In short they bring a vibrancy to the agency which we value.

In return we believe we provide a positive and enjoyable learning experience for students in a supportive, accepting team setting. The support from the university through the placement is the other essential element in making it all work."

Ian Donnelly, Catholic Social Services, Dunedin

...And From Students

What is it like being on placement?

"I came into my role as a social work student on placement without any idea of what to expect. I did not really know what my role was going to be, nor did I know what was to be expected of me. I must admit I was somewhat scared and anxious leading up to the commencement of my placement. I was going into the unknown. However, at the same time I was excited. I was looking forward to undertaking some real work, and after three years of study I was ready to see some of what I learnt in action.

On my very first day my anxieties were overcome. Placement is not scary, in fact it is the complete opposite. I was made to feel very welcome and I was glad to be there. Any questions I have were promptly answered and I felt that I was encouraged to ask questions so I can learn more. I was not afraid to express my own views as I know that my opinions are listened to and acknowledged.

One of the biggest things that I learnt on placement was the importance of networking. Making contact with, and building relationships with other organisations is a must. It is important that you have good relationships with other services and by doing so you can help each other to develop and improve services. I thoroughly enjoyed getting out there and meeting people from other organisations. It is great to see how much wonderful work is being done.

I also found that people were really receptive to me as a social work student. They wanted to know all about me, what my plans were, and seemed to want me to do well as they wished me well for my future. People were nothing but kind in regards to me being a social work student on placement, and that is something I did not think I was expecting. Other people’s warm reactions towards me made me want to do well. I wanted to succeed and it is nice to feel that people believe in not only what I was doing, but me as well."

Kristy MacDonald BSCW student 2008

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