March is National Social Work Month— the ideal time to spotlight CCNY’s current interns! Samaa Aiad and Megan Krebs are students in the University at Buffalo Master of Social Work program. They are working in CCNY’s Evaluation & Analytics department on different aspects of fidelity measurement within Erie County programs. Both are experiencing macro-work for the first time at CCNY.

What are you learning about the connections between evaluation/data and social work practice?

Megan Krebs: In school, we learn that the clients are the experts on their own lives. Social workers are merely a tool for them to use in order to reach the goals that are important to them. We learn evidence-based practices that are formed from theory, put into practice, and then evaluated to determine the effectiveness for the clients and communities we serve. This allows the social work profession to be rooted in social science and not out of personal judgement. 

While many theories and practices of social work aim to increase individuals well-being and social justice at large, we do not know if it is in fact doing that without data evaluation. Therefore, there has been an increase in social research to assess the reliability and validity of the formalized theories and practices social workers engage in with clients. 

This internship has been my first experience using data to improve quality care for under-resourced populations. In the past, I have had internships focusing on the one-on-one interactions with children and adolescents to improve their social and emotional well-being. I personally think data evaluation is an overlooked skill by many social work professionals because we are so client-focused. However, it is just as important to ensure that we are advocating for improvements to systems of care by using reliable and valid data to improve outcomes for the people we serve. 

CCNY has provided a unique internship experience, enabling me to round out my knowledge of the social work field and to work closely with colleagues from other educational backgrounds, which makes for interesting conversations during supervision. 

Samaa Aiad: Social work is a broad field and when people first hear this term they mostly think of human service jobs. However, a huge area of work within social work is data evaluation, work within a macro-level organization. This type of work has always been intimidating to me because, up until working with CCNY, I had a diverse range of experiences with counseling sessions but no experience in data evaluation.

I chose to broaden my experience working with CCNY. I knew I would be able to challenge myself and I wanted to gain experience in macro-level work. I thought I wanted to do counseling but since working at CCNY, I’ve become more interested in being a change-maker and ‘helping people who help people.’

What I have learned is that social work practice would not be possible without evaluation and data. Social workers who work in macro-level settings directly use evidence-based models and evaluations as the basis of their work. Direct practice with clients can not be done effectively without evaluation of the practice that we do at CCNY. Our work helps entire communities and clients on an individual level.

As social workers, we have to evaluate the work we do because we owe it to our clients, communities, and systems to make sure that the methods we are using is providing the best possible outcome. We work with vulnerable clients and communities and it is our duty to ensure that we are delivering the most beneficial services as promised and that the funding and programs we use are used in an effective manner, and that can not be achieved without data and program evaluation. 

This is also my first coaching experience and I appreciate [CCNY Executive Director] Heidi [Milch]’s wide range of experience because it helps me connect my work at CCNY to my social work degree.  My classmates have had mentors who were ‘newer,’ so we’re in a unique and positive position to be supervised by an Executive Director who has a LMSW and over 20 years of experience.    

How do you relate your work at CCNY back to the Social Work Code of Ethics?

Megan: The Social Work Code of Ethics is the social workers go to book to live by. The work I have been involved in at CCNY has contributed greatly to my competence relating to ethical standards, specifically those listed under the Social Workers’ Ethical Responsibilities to the Social Work Profession. Evaluation and Research is one of the longest sections of the Social Work Code of Ethics, proving the level of detail and comprehensiveness of this standard. While each section is equally important, evaluation and research was lacking in my development as a social worker. 

I feel it is a great responsibility to maintain ethical research practices such as informed consent, confidential and secure data storage, and de-identifying any findings. Knowledge is power and the research findings can inform policy changes to benefit many clients. Therefore, I understand the importance of being objective in my findings and while disseminating information.  

The Council on Social Work Education mandates that students have one hour a week of supervision from a Licensed Master Social Worker for all four semesters of our field placements. Heidi [Milch] has provided this supervision requirement virtually every week. She links the data evaluation we are doing to direct care practice to provide a big picture outlook on the scope of our work.

During the week if I have a question or learn about something in school that I think would be an interesting conversation and her insights would be beneficial I jot it down in our virtual meeting agenda. Doing this has ensured that supervision is a time of learning. It has been especially helpful to learn about Heidi’s role as CCNY’s Executive Director. She has given us insight into how to function as social work leaders. To be supervised by an LMSW Executive Director for a non-profit and for her to make that time commitment, is pretty incredible.

Samaa: The Codes of Ethics hold a great basis for our work, we aim to always fall back on these ethical principles. During my time with CCNY, we are always evaluating and assessing our work to make sure that it adheres to these ethical principles and standards and to provide communities with the best level of care. 

With every project I have worked on, I practice the ethical principle of competence and the ethical standard of evaluation and research. No decision that is made in our work at CCNY is made without us becoming trained and doing an extensive amount of research on it. Gaining that knowledge on the work allows us to provide quality evaluation methods on delivery of services to help vulnerable communities. 

Through this work I have had a wide range of training, supervisions, and research that has allowed me to learn the process of data evaluation and its direct value on individual clients and entire communities.

Heidi has been really good about providing us with time and a safe environment to discuss basically anything from ethical issues we may come across in our career and work-life balance to questions about the social work field, what it takes to become a member of committees, and how job interviews work. She’s also said that any time we need a one-on-one, we can just add it to her calendar.  She makes us feel like she’s there for us.