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Student Safety

Student safety is of paramount concern. FIFSW, MSW students, and our partners in field education have collaborative roles and responsibilities to ensure safety in the practicum.

FIFSW will:

  • communicate with all agencies to ensure that appropriate safety policies and procedures are in place prior to MSW students commencing the practicum;
  • make Practicum Office staff available to support all stakeholders in promoting safety;
  • document, assess, and work to resolve any incidents that threaten the student’s physical and emotional well-being while in practicum; and
  • make Faculty-Field Liaisons available upon request to conduct site visits to discuss safety issues.

The Field Instructor/practicum setting will:

  • establish and review on an ongoing basis comprehensive safety policies and procedures that address protocols for preventing, assessing, and responding to risk;
  • orient students to policies and procedures regarding risk management and staff/student/client safety, including fire procedures;
  • advise students of any known risks associated with the practicum setting and/or population served; and
  • complete the Checklist 1: Practicum Safety and Orientation (PDF) and Checklist 2: Practicum Learning and Reflection (PDF).

The Practicum Student will:

  • be aware of any safety risks associated with their practicum;
  • inquire about the practicum site’s formal and informal methods for assessing and handling risky situations;
  • notify and discuss safety concerns with the Field Instructor(s), Education Coordinator (if applicable), Faculty-Field Liaison, or the Practicum Office. In exceptional circumstances, if none of the above can be reached, the student will consider the risks and act in a manner that ensures their safety;
  • immediately report any incidents of threat or harm to the Field Instructor and the Practicum Office;
  • complete Checklist 1: Practicum Safety and Orientation (PDF) at the start of the practicum/rotation and Checklist 2: Practicum Learning and Reflection (PDF) at the practicum mid-point; and
  • provide all relevant information on home/community visiting in their Learning Contract.

Addressing Discrimination and Harassment in Practicum 

The Practicum Office acknowledges that discrimination can take many forms, as outlined in the Ontario Human Rights Code and can have a significant impact on the well-being and success of students in their practicums. Similarly, addressing experiences of discrimination and/or harassment in practicum can be very challenging for students. The Practicum Office places priority on (1) ensuring the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of every student in their practicum, and (2) providing clear and transparent protocols for students to disclose experiences of discrimination and harassment that may arise during their practicum. 

Students are encouraged to contact the Practicum Office or a trusted member of the University community to confidentially share any experiences of discrimination or harassment encountered during their practicum. 

Members of the University community students can connect with include: 

Practicum Office Response to Disclosures of Discrimination and Harassment in Practicum 

The Practicum Office prioritizes the safety and well-being of students. If students disclose that a practicum site has caused harm or feels unsafe, we ask for specific details, such as the name of the practicum site and/or field instructor, as well as information about any incidents that took place. The intent is to share the information with the field instructor with consent from the student. If the student gives consent, a meeting with the field instructor is arranged to discuss the disclosure. In cases where a student does not provide consent, the Practicum Office will offer alternative avenues to address the student’s concerns (e.g., reassignment of practicum, referral to support services, practicum modifications, etc.) and prioritize their safety. 

As is the case with students, field instructors can change behaviour when provided with constructive feedback and given an opportunity to display their growth. A practicum site where a concern has been disclosed may be reposted on the PAS when there has been a resolution. 

In the event of a practicum termination, a Practicum Coordinator works 1:1 with a student to assign a new practicum—it is the responsibility of the Practicum Office to arrange alternate practicum opportunities. 

In summary, the Practicum Office has a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory behaviour and advocates for disciplinary action at the practicum site or Faculty when necessary. 

The Practicum Office continues to collaborate with the University of Toronto’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office (ARCDO) to offer additional professional development opportunities to students and field instructors focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues such as cultural competency, unconscious bias, and anti-racism. 

Home/Community Sessions

Home and community sessions provide invaluable information about clients and their environments. There are a number of challenges inherent in home and community visits that protocol and safety practices in the field can address.

To mitigate the specific challenges posed by practicum activities outside of the agency, consider the following:

Before a student is required to conduct an independent home/community session:

  • the student will receive training on how to identify signs of agitation and de-escalate potentially dangerous situations, as well as how and when to enlist assistance;
  • the student will be provided with opportunities to observe and shadow the work of the Field Instructor in the home/community environment;
  • clients/work assignments will be pre-screened to assess any history of violence, and will balance the complexity and the level of risk with the student’s knowledge, skills, and experience;
  • Field Instructors will introduce clients to the student and explain their role within the agency;
  • learning objectives for the session will be clearly established;
  • a cellular phone will be accessible so that the student can maintain contact with the agency at all times; and
  • the student will provide the agency with their itinerary for the session, as well as their current address, phone number, and emergency contact details.

While in the home/community:

  • depending on the practicum setting, the option to have an escort will be provided;
  • the student will contact the supervisor/designate when commencing and completing the session; and
  • if, upon arrival, the environment is determined to be unsafe, the student is instructed to decline or terminate the session.

After the home/community session:

  • the Field Instructor and student will hold a debriefing session to address learning objectives.

Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) Coverage

Students are responsible for reporting any accident immediately to the setting (Field Instructor, Education Coordinator if applicable) and to the Practicum Office.

The Practicum Office will provide all students with a “Declaration of Understanding – Workplace Safety and Insurance Board or Private Insurance Coverage for Students on Program Related Placements (PDF)” prior to the start of the practicum. This declaration states “I understand that all accidents sustained while participating in an unpaid work placement must be reported to the Placement Employer and my University of Toronto, FIFSW Practicum placement coordinator. A Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) Postsecondary Student Unpaid Work Placement Workplace Insurance Claim form must be completed in the event of an injury.” Students are required to sign the form and return it to the Practicum Office.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities provides students with coverage through either the WSIB or Chubb private insurance while they are registered in the practicum course and not employed by the practicum site. Coverage does not include classroom instruction or orientation that is held outside of the scheduled practicum. Students and field instructors anticipating the student being employed at the site for the practicum must complete an Application for an Employment-based Practicum.

Practicum Disruptions Due to Inclement Weather

Students who are in social work practicums in the winter (and even fall) semester can expect inclement weather, such as heavy snowfalls and icy conditions, that may make commuting to the practicum site unwise, or that may result in the closure of the practicum site. Hours missed due to inclement weather must be made up, regardless of whether the decision not to attend was made by the student or the site.

Emergency personal days may not be used for inclement weather. Students are encouraged to anticipate a closure and discuss make-up hours with the Field Instructor in advance.

Options for making up hours include:

  • utilizing any extra hours already accumulated to make up hours missed due to weather;
  • adding the missed hours either during the remaining practicum weeks or at the end; or
  • arranging for an assignment (to be evaluated by the Field Instructor) that does not require travel to the site (participating in conference calls, written assignments, etc.)

Feel free to discuss these or other options with your Faculty-Field Liaison.

Learn more about the University of Toronto’s protocol regarding closures due to inclement weather.