The readiness of social workers to engage in policy practice as an integral component of their professional roles begins during their social work education. The Council on Social Work Education (2015) includes policy practice as one of nine core competencies expected of social work graduates. Unfortunately, opportunities for students to engage in applied policy practice within field are minimal. Dickinson (2007) found that only 33% of the 171 BSW programs surveyed had policy practice placements. Similarly, in a survey of field directors at 225 social work programs, 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, including policy and political social work placements. In a thorough review of the literature, Weiss-Gal (2016) found a continuing need for experiential learning in policy. As the signature pedagogy within social work education, field provides the ideal opportunity for this experiential learning through applied policy practice.
This presentation describes the outcomes of the Congressional Policy Practice Project (CPPP), launched at the onset of COVID-19 at three Schools of Social Work on the East and West coasts. CPPP provided social work students an applied policy practice experience in the classroom and field. Through this project, students were assigned bill topics on which to work and Congressional staff with whom to liaison. CPPP provided training, supervision, and guidance to students working on their legislation.
Data were collected from a pre-and post-test survey at the beginning and end of each academic year for 2021 and 2022. Twenty-six questions were created based on Competency 5 of the 2015 EPAS, which assessed attitudes, beliefs, and skill development. A total of 88 students participated in the project. The vast majority identified as female, enrolled in an MSW program and identified as white. Participants ranged in age from 22 to 69.
Independent sample t-tests were used to compare the means for each question. Of the 31 questions analyzed, 20 were found to have a significant change at p=.000. Some of the significant results included: “I understand the role of federal policy in promoting justice for populations represented in bill topic areas” t(109)= -4.341, p=.000; “I understand cultural influences on federal policymaking" t(111)= -3.207, p=.002; "Identifying the key components of Congressional bills” t(111)= -5.283, p=.000; and “Analyze Congressional bills” t(111)= -4.501, p=.000.
Conclusion and Implications
The findings suggest the social work student's ability to work within policy practice grew throughout their work with the project, developed skills to engage in policy development, and their ability to affect change within the federal system. Future studies could examine if planned changes translate into actual behavior changes and explore whether the training can be implemented at other social work programs. This presentation will describe how CPPP can be used to improve social work education and as a catalyst for systematic change.