Abstract: A Qualitative Study of Master of Social Work Students' Experiences of Ethical Difficulties in Field Placements in China (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

280P A Qualitative Study of Master of Social Work Students' Experiences of Ethical Difficulties in Field Placements in China

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Lei Wu, PhD, Associate Professor, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China
Yunong Huang, PhD, Faculty, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
Qiang Chen, PhD, Assistant Professor, Missouri State university, Springfield, MO
Yu Shi, MSW, Senior Staff Member, Government of Yuncheng Municipality, Shanxi Province, Yuncheng, China
Background and Purpose: Field placement is a key component of social work education. It connects social work knowledge and theories with practice and prepares students to follow social work values and ethics to work with both persons and environments. Given that social workers practice among conflicting interests and ethical dilemmas are common in social work practice, one important element of social work field placements is to help students learn to deal with ethical difficulties in a professional manner. However, research on social work students’ ethical difficulties in field placements was rare in China where social work education was restored as an academic discipline in universities in the late 1980s and is still to explore the paths of integrating knowledge and practice in China’s contextual needs.

Methods: Given the limited knowledge about this topic and its exploratory nature, this research adopted a qualitative research method. Twenty-four Master of Social Work (MSW) students in a university in Beijing were interviewed from 2016 to 2017 after they completed their field placements. The in-depth interviews were conducted and recorded after participants’ oral consent was obtained. Among the 24 students, 21 were interviewed fact-to-face. Three were interviewed by telephone. Each interview lasted around one hour. The transcripts of interviews were read and analyzed in Chinese to avoid losing any meaning of the dialogue. Quotes representing the major themes were selected from the transcripts and then translated from Chinese to English.

Results: The findings demonstrated that MSW students reported ethical difficulties with clients, supervisors and agency managers, agencies, and colleagues. The ethical difficulties led to negative emotions among students, made students feel confused, unjust, and self-doubted, and contributed to students’ tardiness and avoidance of working with clients and others. Although students attempted to seek support from classmates, faculty supervisors in the university, agency supervisors or managers, and agency colleagues, there was limited support available for them. They tried to handle the ethical difficulties according to ethical principles and standards introduced in textbooks, but they had to tolerate and adapt to unfriendly situations, confront conflicts, and propose solutions.

Conclusions and Implications: Social work students faced a variety of ethical difficulties in their placements. However, little support was available to help them deal with the difficulties in a professional way. The findings had implications for social work education, practice, and research in China. Social work profession associations, such as China Association of Social Workers may need to develop a comprehensive code of ethics to provide social work students with ethical guidance and consulting during their placements. The Departments of Social Work in universities may need to recruit experienced field staff to supervise students’ filed placements and work more closely with social work agencies to create more supportive environments for social work students to do their fieldwork. Social work academia may need to conduct more research on social work students’ field placements, develop a better understanding about students’ difficulties in field placements, and make efforts to provide students with professional support.