Researchers at Charles Darwin University (CDU) have found that Australian social work students in regional and remote locations who undertake unpaid university placements are likely to suffer from financial stress and poor mental health outcomes.
The research project surveyed 372 students from Victoria University, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Southern Cross University and the University of South Australia, and analysed the impacts of compulsory lengthy, unpaid placement on low socio-economic, rural or remote and First Nations students.
Senior Lecturer in Social Work, Dr Lisa Hodge, and her team found that students who experience financial hardship and unstable accommodation as a result of lengthy and unpaid placements, are likely to experience negative mental health and wellbeing.
“Social work students are predominantly women, who might be parents, carers and sometimes people from low socio-economic backgrounds. So, having these unpaid placements could also heighten the disadvantage for women.
“The drop-out rate among many rural and remote social work students has increased due to the burden of unpaid placements and their associated effects. So, we wanted to investigate the impact of placement on that and hear about their experiences,” Dr Hodge said.
Dr Hodge has previously surveyed research about the financial and mental health stress of having 500-hour unpaid placements among university students at Victoria University.
“We need to rethink the current model to increase flexibility. The aim is to provide empirical evidence to the accreditation body towards developing a new placement model that is both inclusive and sustainable.
“Some students could even experience homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse and relationship breakdowns as a result,” she said.
As part of the social worker accreditation process, which is governed by the Australian Association of Social Workers, social work students in Australia are required to undertake two 500-hour unpaid placements at an approved setting to become accredited before they can qualify as social workers in Australia.
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