Field Education Supervisors' Experiences of Social Work Student Placements in the COVID-19 context


  • Rachael Sanders La Trobe University
  • Natasha Long
  • Elinor Grossmith
  • Cody Waite
  • Tal Araten-Bergman


field education, placement, social work, supervisors, COVID-19


The COVID 19 pandemic significantly impacted the ability of universities to provide social work student placements. During 2020, Victoria, Australia, experienced stringent public health measures, including social distancing measures. This created uncertainty in relation to the provision of social work student placements, as health and human service sector agencies struggled to adapt their service delivery models. Where possible agencies were still able to provide placement opportunities to student, although they looked different. This article reports on findings from research undertaken with placement supervisors who supported student placements during 2020 for one Victorian based university. A mixed method research design was used to explore supervisors’ experiences of placement in the COVID-19 context. Data is drawn from 96 responses to an on-line survey and 12 people who participated in focus groups. The findings suggest that although there were some challenges experienced by supervisors, they found creative ways to deliver supervision and support student learning, highlighting that it is possible to ‘do’ placements in other ways than what has been considered ‘traditional’ for many years.


Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). (2020). COVID-19 pandemic response to the Australian social work education and accreditation standards (ASWEAS).

Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). (2021). Australian social work education and accreditation standards (ASWEAS).

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

Chen, T., & Lucock M. (2022). The mental health of university students during the COVID-19 pandemic: An online survey in the UK. PLoS ONE, 17(1),

Cleak, H., & Wilson, J. (2019). Making the most of field placement (4th ed.). Cengage.

Crisp., B. R., Stanford, S., & Moulding, N. (2021). Educating social workers in the midst of COVID-19: The value of a principlesled approach to designing educational experiences during the pandemic. British Journal of Social Work, 51(5), 1839–1857. https://

Davys, A., & Beddoe, L. (2010). Best practice in professional supervision. Jessica Kingsley.

Department of Health and Aged Care. (2021). Modified Monash model.


Domakin, A. (2014). Are we making the most of learning from the practice placement? Social Work Education, 33(6), 718–730.

Gardner, F., Theobald, J., Long, N., & Hickson, H. (2018). Introduction: Reflecting critically on successful field education. In F. Gardner, J. Theobald, N. Long, & H. Hickson (Eds.), Field education: Creating successful placements (pp. xix–xxviii). Oxford

University Press.

Harris, P. A., Taylor, R., Minor, B. L., Elliott, V., Fernandez, M., O’Neal, L., McLeod, L., Delacqua, G., Delacqua, F., Kirby, J., Duda, S.N.,

& REDCap Consortium. (2019). The REDCap consortium: Building an international community of software partners. Journal of Biomedical Information.

Ketner, M., Cooper-Bolinskey, D., & VanCleave, D. (2017). The meaning and value of supervision in social work field education. Field Scholar, 7(2).

Loos, M., & Kostecki, T. (2018). Exploring formal supervision in social work field education: Issues and challenges for students and supervisors. Advances in Social Work and Welfare Education, 20(1), 17–31.

McFadden, P., Russ, E., Blakeman, P., Kirwin, G., Anand, J., Lähteinen, S., Baugerud, G.S., & Tham, P. (2020). COVID-19 impact on social work admissions and education in seven international universities. Social Work Education, 39(8), 1154–1163.


Morris, Z. A., Dragone, E., Peabody, C., & Carr, K. (2020). Isolation in the midst of a pandemic: Social work students rapidly respond to community and field work needs. Social Work Education, 39(8), 1127–1136.

Nicola, M., Alsafi, Z., Sohrabi, C., Kerwan, A., Al-Jabir, A., Iosifidis, C., Agha, M., & Agha, R. (2020). The socio-economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19): A review. International Journal of Surgery, 78, 185–193.

Pelden, S., & Banham, V. (2020). Counselling placements caught up in the mismatch of standards and realities: Lessons from COVID-19. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 17(4).

Sanders, R. E. (2020). Human services workers’ experiences of rapidly moving to Telehealth. Children Australia, 45(4), 236–240.

Sepulveda-Escobar, P., & Morrison, A. (2020). Online teaching placement during the COVID-19 pandemic in Chile: Challenges and opportunities. European Journal of Teacher Education, 43(4), 587–607.

Whittall, H., Shaw, J., & Beatty, L. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic and clinical psychology placements: A provisional psychologist’s perspective. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology Research & Practice, 2(3), e36.

World Health Organization. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on people’s livelihoods, their health and our food systems.’s-livelihoods-their-health-and-our-food-systems

Zuchowski, I. (2014). Planting the seeds for someone else’s discussion: Experiences of task supervisors supporting social work placements. Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning, 13(3), 5–23.