Abstract: Human Rights and Social Work Field Education: A Mixed Methods Exploration of Student Perceptions (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Human Rights and Social Work Field Education: A Mixed Methods Exploration of Student Perceptions

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Marcus Crawford, PHD, Assistant Professor, California State University, Fresno, Fresno, CA
Kizzy Lopez, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, CA
Jose Mundo, BSW, Student, California State University, Fresno, CA
Cynthia Reyes, MSW, Student, California State University, Fresno, CA
Andrea Carlin, MSW, Field Coordinator, California State University, Fresno, CA
Background and Purpose: Social workers and social work education have been historically committed to addressing social justice as a core component of social work practice. The concept of human rights as a broader framework for social justice has been a recent focus in social work education in the United States. This focus has included a renewed examination of the preparation of social work students for human rights practice, particularly in field education. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered to be the most important document involving human rights in the world. These rights are typically organized into three groups: 1) civil and political rights 2) socio-economic rights, and 3) collective rights. Increasingly, social work programs have tried to infuse human rights into the curriculum but have sometimes faced push back within their departments. This study sought to understand the perception of human rights among social work students, how they feel their social work education has prepared them for human rights work, and the opportunities that they identify in field to practice from a human rights perspective.

Methods: This study used an explanatory mixed methods design. A quantitative survey was first sent to students (n=272) which was followed by individual interviews with selected students (n=12) to follow up on questions asked in the survey. Surveys asked students for their perceptions about a range of topics related to human rights in their field placements and in their social work education. Students were also asked about human rights practices in their field placements and about their interest in and understanding of human rights. Finally, students were asked for their beliefs on statements of human rights pulled from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Students who agreed to an interview follow up participated in an hour long session. Interview transcripts were read by multiple research team members to develop codes from the data. The codes were used to extract quotes from participants that were then used to develop the themes in the results.

Results: Quantitative results revealed that students had high regard for human rights. Overwhelmingly, students identified each right from the UDHR as being an important aspect of human rights in social work practice. Categories where larger numbers of students disagreed with statements on human rights included freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and access to abortion; however, even in these instances, more students agreed than disagreed. Qualitative analysis resulted in three themes emerging that indicate students report a loss of agency in their placements and an uncertainty about the human rights education they have received. Students reported being treated like their experiences and knowledge were not important because they were “only interns” and that they did not feel empowered to speak out when they saw things that should not occur.

Conclusion and Implications: Preparing social work students for practice in human rights imperative for field education. Implications for social work education and field are discussed along with ways to address concerns raised in this study.