The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Ready for Trauma? Factors Contributing to an Effective Implementation of A Trauma-Informed Curriculum in Social Work Education

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 5:30 PM
Executive Center 2B (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Marciana Popescu, PhD, Associate Professor, Fordham University, Harrison, NY
Virginia Strand, DSW, Professor, Fordham University, West Harrison, NY
Purpose: The past 12 years marked an increase in trauma exposure, challenging traditional theoretical models and modes of practice. Social workers encounter trauma daily as mental health service providers, but social work (SW) education has yet to develop a trauma-informed curriculum promoting evidence-based trauma treatments (EBTT) to address the needs of populations served.

In 2009, Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service and Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College were funded to develop and implement an “upstream” model extending trauma knowledge and training in EBTT to MSW students and trauma practitioners. Model aims to provide (1) foundational competency through in-class instruction in Trauma Core Concepts; (2) functional competency through EBTT training; and (3) practice competency through supervised trauma field placements with EBTT trained supervisors.

This paper presents the findings of a pilot study measuring model’s effectiveness in preparing MSW students to address trauma and implement EBTT in practice.

Study uses a competency framework to measure effectiveness on three dimensions: knowledge readiness (increase in foundational competency); field readiness (increase in functional competency); and practice readiness (impact of training on emerging trauma-focused MSW practitioners).

Mixed Method:  Quasi-experimental design measures knowledge and field readiness as immediate outcomes; Qualitative (grounded theory) design explores factors contributing to project effectiveness. Sample: 52 students from three SW schools; and 52 trauma trained field supervisors matched with students for their second-year placement.

Knowledge readiness was measured by pre/post surveys administered before/after the trauma course; Field readiness was measured by mid-year/end-year student evaluation survey and a supplemental field evaluation. Mid/end year field instructors’ survey measured confidence with supervising trauma placements. Factors contributing to competency on all three dimensions were explored through 5 student (N=33) and 2 supervisors’ focus groups (N=14).

Survey data were analyzed in SPSS. Paired sample t-tests determined significant changes in participants’ trauma-related confidence and field readiness; Cronbach’s Alpha determined scale reliability.

Qualitative data were transcribed and coded by two independent coders using Atlas Ti. We identified code clusters and analyzed themes emerging from the qualitative analysis.

Results: Findings indicate the model was effective in establishing knowledge readiness as shown by significant increase in confidence with trauma knowledge/skills for students taking the trauma course (From M=4.04 to M = 7.42 on a 9-point scale). Scales scored high reliability (pretest Alpha = .955; posttest Alpha =  .928). Field instructors’ confidence in supervising the model ranged, depending on the EBTT model they worked with, between 3.67 and 4 (on a 5-point scale). Field readiness was linked to prior exposure to trauma work and supervisor’s training in the model. Core factors contributing to project effectiveness were prior knowledge and exposure to trauma work, professional support through consultation calls, and timeframe of course and training in relation to placement. Other identified factors were agency’s readiness for innovative trauma work, and pace.

Implications: The study results provide guidelines for implementing a trauma-informed curriculum in SW education. Researchers hope to stir further discussions on the place of trauma in the SW curriculum, and the place of social work among trauma-focused professions.