The Significance of Indigenous Field Education: an Analysis of the Social Workers Advancing Through Grounded Education Program

WashU affiliated authors: Kelli Thompson, Lindsey Manshack, Jenifer Van Schuyver (Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies)

Abstract: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is predicated on the inherent sovereign rights that all Indigenous peoples have to their lands, cultural practices, and traditional resources prior to colonization and assimilation. However, Indigenous populations continue to be disproportionately affected by inequitable access to education, workforce development, and physical and mental health care. Opportunities for education and workforce development in the field of social work are essential to strengthening Indigenous communities. Indigenous students must often move outside of their communities to pursue master’s-level social work degrees, decreasing their opportunity to practice skills within these communities during required master’s-level practica. Universities must offer equitable opportunities to Indigenous students wishing to complete practica within Indigenous communities by providing financial support and curricular preparation. In 2014, the Social Workers Advancing through Grounded Education (SAGE) program was created by the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies to provide these opportunities to MSW students, particularly Indigenous students. SAGE consists of recruitment, classroom training, field training, and partnership development. The program has provided financial and educational support to 53 students and created 43 formal partnerships with Indigenous-serving institutions, with nearly 90% of SAGE recipients identifying as Indigenous. This article presents findings that suggest access to practica with Indigenous populations leads to Indigenous social work students feeling more confident about serving Indigenous communities as social work professionals upon graduation. These results add to literature regarding best practices for creating equitable field education programs suited to enhancing social work in Indigenous communities.

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