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Agencies, students benefit from social work internships

Kristie Diehn and Becky Kessel, Buncombe County Department of Social Services

Field placements provide students with personal exposure to the social work profession and an opportunity to apply classroom theory to real world problems. At the UNC School of Social Work, field placements are a required component of the MSW curriculum. While these experiences provide a wealth of knowledge and insight for students, the benefit gained by field agencies is also important.

Choosing to serve as a field placement site may initially appear to be burdensome for an agency; however, agencies that choose to serve as field placement sites are attesting to the benefits. In particular, county social services departments have benefited greatly due to their role as field placement agencies.

Both Watagua and Buncombe County Departments of Social Services (DSS) have gained valuable agency advancements through having UNC Winston-Salem Distance Education MSW Program student interns. December ’09 graduates Kristie Diehn and Tiffany Bodo were N.C. Child Welfare Collaborative Scholars and are now DSS employees. Both have a passion for child welfare. 

“This work affects children and families, which has an overall impact on the entire community,” said Diehn.

Diehn’s presence as an intern at Buncombe County DSS resulted in a child welfare cross-agency forensic response model. This model consists of 10 forensic social workers who specialize in physical and sexual abuse cases collaboratively with the county’s District Attorney’s office, the Sheriff’s Department, and the Asheville Police Department. 

“Our agency has undoubtedly seen tangible benefits from MSW interns, ranging from the development of visitation tools and practice, a kinship care handbook, and more effective partnerships with other county departments,” said Becky Kessel, Diehn’s field supervisor. “Interns help us to improve our outcomes in achieving safety, permanence and well-being for children and families.”

Jim Atkinson and Tiffany Bodo, Watauga County Department of Social Services

Additionally, Watagua County DSS has created a much-needed program for mothers who struggle with substance abuse, thanks to the assistance of Tiffany Bodo during her internship.  According to Bodo, the agency has gained an added resource as well as program development knowledge acquired through her classroom course work. 

Her field supervisor, DSS Director Jim Atkinson, said that interns are an agency benefit because you get “an extra person to help with agency efforts to improve the community.” Furthermore, if students are interested in seeking agency employment after completing their internship, Atkinson reports that “they can typically be hired full-time.”  This connection benefits not only students, but agencies as well.

During her internship, Diehn was permanently hired as a social work supervisor and continues to work at Buncombe County DSS.  She now supervises a unit of forensic social workers. 

Bodo remains at Watagua County DSS with aspirations of becoming a supervisor or manager. She recently served as her unit’s lead social worker during her supervisor’s absence.

Both aspire to obtain their licensure in clinical social work to interact more closely with individuals and families.

These experiences are just two of the many that attest to the value added to agencies when serving as field placement sites.  “It is a great opportunity to look at how an intern can bring specific skills, interests, and creativity to an area of need within an agency,” said Kessel.

Atkinson advises current and future DSS field placement agencies to “remember (that) what you teach students will and can have a big impact on whether students choose to seek employment in DSS.”

The benefit added to DSS agencies through having an MSW intern can be summed up in one word: invaluable.

By Chanitta Deloatch, MSW/MPA ‘10