Social work is an integral discipline for well-functioning individuals and communities. This profession plays an essential role in multiple facets of life, such as confronting social injustices, helping individuals cope with life issues, and advocating for people’s needs. First-hand participation in social work equips practitioners with an understanding of the issues surrounding this field and helps them establish practices that need enhancement to promote individual and societal well-being while strengthening the social net. Therefore, this paper consists of a reflection of my practicum at social services ministry, notably child and family services and programs, lessons I learned from the practice, the difference made from this learning, a reflection of my proudest and disappointing highlights of learning, and a compilation of my strengths and areas for continued growth and development.
Why I Chose Social Work
Growing up, I have had a deep interest in helping others and participating in campaigns that enhance people’s well-being, including condemning social injustices such as discrimination. Therefore, as I began my journey of choosing a career path, I knew social work was the best choice as it aligned with the values and interests I had developed over time. Among the primary reasons I chose this profession is its deep roots in diversity, action and meaningful practices, variety of options to choose from, and impact on people and the environment in which they reside. As the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) states, social work focuses on people within their environment and recognises various facets of life such as family, community, culture, legal, social, spiritual, and economic factors that impact a person’s family, group or communities’ well-being (“CASW social work scope of practice,” 2019). As a social worker, I can play a “helper” role to people of demographic diversity, explore their environment and associated vulnerabilities, and take meaningful and actionable steps to alleviate their well-being.
Moreover, I chose this career path because of the availability of options to choose from. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (2019), there are several areas of specialisations, specific populations, and settings a social worker may choose from. These areas include administration and management, advocacy and community organisation, ageing population, child welfare, developmental disabilities, healthcare, international social work, justice and corrections, mental health and clinical social work, mental health and substance abuse social work, occupational and employees assistance program (EAP), policy and planning, politics, public welfare, research, and school social work. In this context, I chose to specialise in child and family services and programs because of my interest in the family unit and children’s welfare.
What I have Learned, Why I Learned, How I have Learned, and the Kind of Learner I am
My social service practicum at the social services ministry taught me a lot about policies that govern child welfare services in Canada, notably Prairie provinces, and gave me an insight into their pros and cons. For example, I learned that The Child and Family Services Authorities Act (CYFEA) (2000) is the primary policy that governs child welfare services in Canadian Prairies. This policy establishes multiple initiatives aiming to increase service access to families before they reach a crisis, develop permanent homes for children under government care and strengthen Metis and other Aboriginal communities’ involvement in planning for their children’s welfare (Kyte & Wegner-Lohin, 2014). The other policies that govern child welfare services in Prairie provinces include the Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act (2000), the Drug Endangered Children Act (2006), the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act (2006), The Family Law Act (2005) and the Protection Against Family Violence Act (2000). I learned that these policies are enacted at the provincial and territorial levels to intervene in child abuse and neglect and ensure children receive the best care possible.
Pros and Cons of the Policies and Services
While children’s social service policies in Canada were established to serve children’s needs and promote their welfare, it was evident from my practicum that these policies have a few shortcomings. For example, during my practicum, I noticed that some of these policies have led to the removal of the majority of Aboriginal children from their homes to provide them with better care. However, such decisions may affect the children’s and families’ mental health because of separation from their relatives and the lack of sense of belonging. Moreover, I learned that some of the policies hinder adequate allocation of resources to children’s welfare as policymakers pass bills to cut back funding to such services. Nevertheless, these policies are beneficial because they promote children’s interests by protecting them from neglect, abuse, and other forms of harm that may befall them.
Life-Long Impact of Protection Services on Children Removed from their Homes and Placed Under Ministry Care
Based on my experience at the social services ministry, I realised that children protection services that involve removing children from their homes have positive and adverse effects in the long run. Ferguson (2019) notes that these services protect vulnerable children and herald the development of principles to safeguard them and meet their needs in the long term. However, protection services that involve removing children from their homes may also adversely affect the child’s well-being. For example, research shows that children separated from their parents’ care have detrimental, long-term emotional and psychological consequences, which may be worse than leaving them at home (Trivedi, 2019). This trauma mainly stems from the lack of identity associated with child removal and its effect on their self-esteem and guilt. Arguably, a majority of the children in Canada removed from their families belong to Aboriginal communities; therefore, such children may undergo severe trauma of living with other children under the ministry of care with whom they lack a similar sense of identity. For this reason, the ministry needs to offer these children similar support they would gain from their families to alleviate their traumatic experiences.
Factors that Lead to Child Apprehension and Placing Children Under Foster Care
The other lesson I learned during my practicum is that social services and the ministry can apprehend and place children under foster care for multiple reasons. The most common factors are physical and emotional abuse, neglect, parent illness, and abandonment. Children who suffer from physical and emotional abuse such as bullying, sexual abuse, or live with parents perceived as unfit because of drug addiction, may be placed under foster care to keep them safe. Emotional, medical neglect and parents’ failure to provide their children with basic human needs such as food and water may also lead to the child’s removal from their parents and placement in foster care. I also learned that children who lack a guardian to care for them after their parents are incarcerated for long might be placed in foster care. Besides child abandonment, caregivers’ physical and mental illness or death may also lead to their apprehension and placement under foster care.
The Over Representation of Indigenous and Other Minority Children in Government Care
Participating in social work services in the ministry also gave me an insight into the issue of the overrepresentation of indigenous and other minority children in Canadian government care. Research conducted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 revealed that the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in Canadian child welfare had reached a crisis, necessitating measures to address such discriminatory representation (as cited in McKay-Panos, 2018). In my observation, this phenomenon is caused by historical and systemic issues facing the country. For example, a majority of Indigenous communities faced discrimination and oppression in the past, explaining their current economic and social disadvantages. These disadvantages have led to their children growing up in poverty and sometimes unsafe housing and subsequent placement in government care to safeguard and offer them basic needs.
The other cause of the overrepresentation of Indigenous and other minority children in government care is cultural misunderstanding and discrimination. McKay-Panos (2018) states that a report by OHRC indicates that sometimes authorities misinterpret cultural differences as neglect, leading to the referral of racialised children to child welfare services. The author also adds that some of the risk assessment tools and policies used in the Western system may lead to unconscious bias, resulting in erroneous assumptions about a child’s vulnerability (McKay-Panos, 2018). Essentially, my social service practicum at the ministry helped me observe first-hand the overrepresentation of Indigenous and minority children in government care and understand that such cases result from historical events in Canada, existing policies, bias, and discrimination.
Why did I Learn?
I had several motives for learning about social services, especially child and family services and programs. Some of these motives were to explore this field as widely as possible and use the findings to improve my social work understanding and skills. During my first time at the social service ministry, I had witnessed multiple cases of Indigenous children apprehension and placement under foster and government care. Therefore, I decided to explore this matter in-depth to understand the overrepresentation of such children in the child welfare system and determine how I could improve their welfare during practice. I also indulged in active learning to understand more about the policies that govern my career path and how these policies may affect adequate service provision among vulnerable families and children in Canada.
How I Have Learned or Not and the Kind of Learner I am
My experience at the social services ministry entailed “hands-on experience” of social work services involving child and family welfare. This experience helped me discover my preference for tactile learning. Most notably, I realised that I learn best through physical interaction with the things I have a profound interest in. In this context, social work services have always been my area of interest; thus, indulging in social services helped me learn more about this field, including its benefits and shortcomings.
Differences that the Learning made in my Intellectual, Personal, Ethical and Spiritual Development
A reflection of my learning experience shows that it has contributed to my intellectual, personal, ethical, and spiritual development. Most importantly, my practicum experience at the social service ministry helped me organise my ideas and thoughts about social work and make sense of some of the issues facing this field, such as the overrepresentation of indigenous and minority children in child welfare. This learning made a difference by enhancing my intellectual growth and allowing me to critically analyse the benefits and issues surrounding social services and their root causes.
The learning has also made a significant difference in my personal development by enhancing my capabilities and competencies. The hands-on experience with children in the social service ministry was a learning experience that enhanced my skills and competencies in social work. The experience helped me develop and improve my empathy, communication, critical thinking, and active listening skills, which I will utilise in future practice. The learning also equipped me with cultural competence and patience, essential capabilities I require to work with diverse children and families I meet during practice.
Besides intellectual and personal growth, the learning experience made a difference in my ethical and spiritual development by enhancing my understanding of the people’s spiritual dimension, its role in their holistic well-being, and the moral principles required to form lasting relationships with others. Tactile learning by interacting with children and families at the ministry shed light on how spiritual connection plays a vital role in their well-being. This lesson triggered me to reflect on my spiritual dimensions and increase my knowledge and understanding of this facet to better support and help vulnerable families and children cope with crises. Learning also helped me grow my set of ethical principles that I intend to utilise to develop and maintain long-lasting and valuable relationships with my clients in the future.
What Am I Taking from this Practicum Experience?
Overall, my practicum experience was rich in several lessons that I intend to consider in my future practice. My key takeaways were the importance of developing social service policies that enhance rather than deteriorate communities’ well-being. I interacted with multiple children during my practice in the ministry, most of whom lamented experiencing trauma during their placement in government care. Some of these children lacked a sense of belonging because some of the cultural activities imposed on them were foreign. Some also feared being placed under the foster care of families that did not share similar cultural aspects. My conversation with these children helped me understand that saving such vulnerable populations from misfit families may not be enough; they require emotional support and connection with relatives with whom they share a sense of identity to enhance their well-being. Fortunately, social workers, including me, can easily bridge this issue by supporting the children and their families and advocating for better policies to reduce biased child apprehension and separation from their families.
The Proudest and Disappointing Highlights of My Learning
Overall, I had proud moments during my practicum experience and learning at the social service ministry. My proudest highlight was assisting the families seeking help under the child and family services and programs. Most importantly, it was satisfying to see these families complete their programs, happy and satisfied with the outcome of the services on their well-being. Essentially, it was fascinating to see the positive impact I made to some, if not all, the families I interacted with and assisted during my learning at the institution.
Despite these proud highlights, there were a few hiccups and disappointments during my learning. For example, some of the individuals who sought help in the ministry were unwilling to share their issues with me, probably because they preferred working with the same social worker they encountered during their first visit. While such experiences were disappointing, they helped me understand some essential values that foster social work services’ success. Most notably, clients value trust-based relationships, explaining their reaction to new practitioners at the centre. Therefore, rather than viewing this experience as entirely disappointing, I intend to use it to enhance my relationship with future clients.
My Strengths and Areas for Continued Growth and Development
Overall, I have multiple strengths that enhance my competence as a social work professional. These strengths include my outstanding listening skills, self-awareness, and persuasive speech, which enable me to reach out to people seeking social and emotional assistance. Nevertheless, a few areas require continued growth and development, such as cultural and diversity understanding, to help me deal with people of different backgrounds more effectively.
“CASW social work scope of practice.” (2019). Casw-Acts.ca. https://www.casw-acts.ca/en/what-social-work/casw-social-work-scope-practice
Ferguson, D. (2019, November 13). Thirty years on, has the Children Act changed family life for the better? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/nov/13/children-act-changed-family-life-children-better
Kyte, A., & Wegner-Lohin, J. (2014, September). Alberta’s child welfare system. Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal. https://cwrp.ca/sites/default/files/publications/Alberta%27s%20Child%20Welfare%20System.pdf
Mckay-Panos, L. (2018, August 31). Over-representation of indigenous (and other racialised) children in child welfare system: Human rights aspects. LawNow. https://www.lawnow.org/over-representation-of-indigenous-and-other-racialized-children-in-the-child-welfare-system-human-rights-aspects/
NASW. (2019). Types of social work. Socialworkers.org. https://www.socialworkers.org/News/Facts/Types-of-Social-Work
Trivedi, S. (2019). The harm of child removal. Review of Law and Social Change, 523(2019). https://scholarworks.law.ubalt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2087&context=all_fac