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USC instructor honored for contributions to social work education

by David Tobia
Field instructor Nancy Jefferson will receive the Heart of Social Work Award in November.
Field instructor Nancy Jefferson will receive the Heart of Social Work Award in November.

Mental health has drawn increased attention in recent years, but services for children, despite being one of society’s most vulnerable groups, have often gone overlooked.

Nancy Jefferson Mance, known to her students and colleagues as Nancy Jefferson, has stressed the importance of children’s mental health for more than 30 years. Now the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) has honored the USC School of Social Work field instructor with the 2013 Heart of Social Work Award for excellence in social work field education and innovation.

Jefferson, who was selected from a pool of nominees from the 744 membership colleges and universities that make up CSWE, developed the guidelines for and placed hundreds of Los Angeles-area Master of Social Work (MSW) interns, including those from USC.

“There has not been one day that I have questioned my decision to become a social worker,” she said. “For me, it has been the right fit.”

Jefferson began her social work career in 1982 with the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic before joining the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in 1990. She served 16 years there as the clinical supervisor and field instructor of the Carson Guidance Program, which provided mental health services to LAUSD schools in the Carson, Calif., area.

As the lead psychiatric social worker, Jefferson started an innovative program to train interns in mental health services and then place them in local schools, ensuring that each school received services from well-trained social workers. The establishment of such a program, which provided schools with everything from counseling and crisis intervention to parenting workshops and community outreach, was unprecedented for LAUSD at the time.

Jefferson wrote the guidelines for the district’s social work interns, as well as its school mental health handbook for field instruction. She continues to serve as field administrator for school mental health with LAUSD.

Though Jefferson’s relationship with the School of Social Work started under stressful circumstances — she served as an ally to USC to help stabilize and heal the neighborhoods around the university following the 1992 civil unrest — the partnership flourished.

Jefferson increased her involvement with USC in 1995 when she joined the school as a part-time instructor. She taught “Social Work Practice in School Settings,” one of her most popular courses, until 2009. She has since transitioned to a more-involved role as field instructor, playing an instrumental part in placing MSW students in internships.

Jefferson’s colleagues described her as a first-rate field education supervisor, as well as a mentor and role model for students.

“Nancy’s work with MSW students reveals her compassion for children and families, her connection to the USC School of Social Work and her commitment to the profession of social work,” said Tory Cox, clinical associate professor and assistant director of field education at the School of Social Work.

Jefferson mentored Cox while he earned his MSW from USC and helped him form an effective crisis strategy after a shooting occurred at the middle school where he interned.

“With the whole campus in crisis mode, Nancy’s calm style of reflective supervision and years of expertise helped the school respond effectively to the crisis,” Cox said. “Her guidance that day helped move me past a confused state and into one of focused, thoughtful and strategic intervention.”

Jefferson’s USC colleagues said she encourages students to approach their work with nonjudgmental, empathetic attitudes and to consider biological, sociological and physiological perspectives when examining intersections of race, class and power. She takes time to get to know her students and to understand their backgrounds, and she uses these relationships to personalize her teaching methods, stressing the importance of self-awareness.

By maintaining connections with LAUSD while working with USC, Jefferson has streamlined an internship placement process, benefiting both students and the schools they serve.

“It has been more than 20 years since I began this journey as a field instructor,” she said. [I started taking] one intern, then another, then more. It has turned out to be a major highlight and joy of my work as a psychiatric social worker with LAUSD.”

The journey has led to the development of a joint USC-LAUSD internship-training program for first-year MSW students who work in the district’s Kindergarten Intervention Program, which provides prevention and early intervention to young children and families from a strengths-based perspective. Jefferson not only helped create and implement the training, but she also reached out to many LAUSD colleagues to participate in the training and commit to becoming field instructors.

“This award going to one of our field instructors is a first and something of which we can all be so proud,” said Marilyn Flynn, dean of the School of Social Work. “Our field department has been gaining strength and visibility every year, and this is further testimony, as Nancy’s honor so beautifully reflects.”

Jefferson will receive the award Nov. 2 at the CSWE annual program meeting in Dallas.

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