The History of the MSW Program at Memorial University Of Newfoundland

The Master of Social Work (MSW) program at Memorial was introduced in the late 1970s and first accredited by the Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work (CASSW) in 1988. The program is accredited by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE).

As Memorial is the only university in the province, its School of Social Work prepares graduates for service delivery and leadership in rural and urban areas. The MSW program was initially designed to respond to the need for MSW graduates to manage the growth and development of social work services within the public and not for profit sectors of Newfoundland and Labrador.

By the time the program was re-accredited in 1995, other issues had increased the need for graduate social work education in the province. Extensive public attention to the sexual abuse of children, including by clergy, and increased reports of child sexual abuse generally accentuated the need for specialized services for survivors and perpetrators. At the same time, collapse of the province’s fishery put many fisher people out of work and highlighted the need for reformed income security and community-based economic development. Consistent with the experience in other provincial jurisdictions, governments sought to reduce their debt by cutting the budget, resulting in reorganizing and restructuring as public agencies tried to do “more with less.” Consequently, departments were regionalized, with the need for regional infrastructures across the province. In addition, deinstitutionalization initiatives resulted in large numbers of disadvantaged and disempowered individuals needing community-based support services. In this context, more MSW prepared social workers were needed throughout the province to provide leadership in policy development and in clinical practice.

In its early years, the MSW program was accessible only to social workers living within commuting distance of the capital of St. John’s. Social workers in rural and northern communities could access this education only if they were prepared to come to St John’s for full time studies. As a result, MSW graduates were disproportionately located in the Avalon region, and most rural and northern regions lacked MSW-prepared social workers. In the 1990s, the School of Social Work began to address this problem by enrolling cohorts of part- time students in various rural regions, delivering courses in a four-weekend format, supplemented by email and teleconferencing. As a result, groups of students graduated from the west coast of Newfoundland, from Labrador and from eastern/central Newfoundland. A cohort from Prince Edward Island also participated in the MSW program. As a result of these initiatives, enrolment in the MSW program increased from around 45 to over 80 students in 1999. However, financial pressures on the University made the delivery to decentralized cohorts no longer feasible.

In the late 1990s, the curriculum of the School’s MSW program was revised, as was the mode of delivery. The MSW had been offered in two specializations: 1) Advanced Practice with Individuals and Families, and 2) Social Policy and Administration. However, consultations revealed that most potential applicants wanted an MSW in clinical practice, but sought more flexibility than normally provided in the program. Students wanted to be qualified as clinical practitioners, with some community development, policy, and management skills. In addition, reorganization of the province’s social services into the Department of Health & Community Services increased pressure for clinical specialization. Revision was also made in the research sequence as the existing program was becoming increasingly costly for both the school and for our students. In consultation with stakeholders, the School worked to develop a program with a focus in advanced clinical practice, which was implemented in the fall of 1999. In 2010, the School increased MSW admissions from 15 to 30 students annually.

In Fall 2011, following an academic program review, consultation with stakeholders, and a four year planning and accreditation process, the School of Social Work introduced a new program focusing on creative approaches to critical thinking for leadership in diverse social work practices. This program emphasizes leadership, social justice, diversity, research, anti-oppressive practice, community development, social policy, and intervention with individuals, families and groups. This innovative and creative curriculum features the introduction of mentoring through PATHWAY and provides the program with a distinctive feature unique to MSW programs in Canada. PATHWAY enhances the quality of students’ learning as they work closely with faculty members in undertaking intensive advanced work in a specialized area of social work knowledge and practice.

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