Opportunities for students to engage in policy practice within field are minimal and often limited to those students who choose policy or community organizing as a concentration. Dickinson (2007) found that only 33% of the 171 BSW programs had policy practice placements. Similarly, Pritzker and Lane (2014) found that 11% of BSW students, 8% of MSW foundation students, and 16% of MSW advanced standing students were enrolled in macro-oriented placements that included a policy and political social work focus.
The Policy Practice Academy (PPA) model was developed with funding from Fund for Social Policy in Field to expand policy practice opportunities for both BSW and MSW students. The PPA provides additional support and guidance to students in policy practice placements through a four tier model, including: 1) recruiting and engaging placement sites; 2) off-site supervision; 3) supplemental trainings; and 4) leadership development.
This study examines levels of engagement in specific policy practice competencies as well as the development of confidence in policy practice among students who have completed the PPA. The study is guided by the following research questions:
- Do social work students increase in their policy practice competence after participating in the PPA?
- Do social work students experience an increase in their confidence to engage in policy practice after participating in the PPA?
A total of 71 students participated in the Policy Practice Academy (PPA) over the course of three years. Students completed an assessment prior to and upon the conclusion of their nine-month involvement in the PPA. Assessments included civic competencies derived from the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. Students rated both their confidence and frequency of engagement on the 40 assessment items using a five-point Likert-type scale. Specifically, students were asked to rate how often they engaged in the identified competency or skill as well as how confident they were in their abilities related to each competency or skill. Reponses were entered into SPSS for analysis.
Prior to participation in the PPA, students reported little confidence in their understanding of the following: federal, state and local budgets, electoral processes, and regulatory processes. Furthermore, students reported little confidence in engaging in: forging coalitions; community mapping; using electoral processes; using strategic networks; analyzing policy; writing policy briefs; writing bill drafts; influencing implementation; and providing testimony.
Upon conclusion of their involvement with the PPA, students rated their confidence as being “very” or “somewhat” high on all but five of the 40 items. A one-way MANOVA revealed significant differences in reported engagement and confidence on the majority of items between pre and post assessments.
Despite the importance of policy practice to competent social work practice, social work students from this sample report a lack of opportunity to engage in specific policy skills as well as low confidence in their ability to understand or influence policy. Programs such as the PPA can remediate these deficits by providing structured support and advanced training to students at both the bachelor and masters levels.