Field internships are an important part of the curriculum at the USC School of Social Work, but one Master of Social Work student was able to turn hers into an accepted proposal for a national child welfare conference in Texas.
For the last year, Charisma De Los Reyes has been part of a multiyear community project among the School of Social Work, Child Welfare Services (CWS) and San Diego State University that has worked to connect community resources and empower families to reduce child abuse, increase safety and family well-being, and build a stronger sense of community among residents in the Bella Vista apartment complex in El Cajon, Calif.
In May, the group presented its initial findings from the project, “Building Community: Engaging Residents of a Large Apartment Complex to Increase Safety and Reduce Child Abuse,” as well as the strategic plan, implementation, highlights and challenges, at the Title IV-E National Roundtable Conference in Galveston, Texas. Title IV-E refers to a major source of federal funding for educating and training the child welfare workforce.
CWS selected the 150-unit Bella Vista apartments for this intervention after the complex was named a top 10 response location by the El Cajon Police Department two years ago, causing it to temporarily lose its crime-free multihousing status. Interns from the Building Community” project stepped in with a prevention-oriented approach of reducing child maltreatment and police investigations by developing a partnership with property management, organizing community empowerment events, providing direct referrals and resources to residents, and brokering connections between residents and community organizations. Bella Vista regained its crime-free status in 2011.
De Los Reyes contributed to the holistic approach to community organization for the low-income families living in Bella Vista by changing the way families viewed CWS. She coordinated a series of events within the apartment complex to engage the residents and increase positive social worker-resident contact, thus preventing residents from becoming involved with CWS for the wrong reasons.
“I’ve been fortunate to have this incredible opportunity to further develop community relationships and exercise my skills and strengths as a community organizer and planner within the normal scope of my job as a front-line social worker,” said De Los Reyes, who worked for CWS as a full-time employee while studying community organization, planning and administration at USC’s San Diego Academic Center.
Omar Lopez, clinical assistant professor at the School of Social Work, recommended that De Los Reyes take on the project for her field placement, and she ended up leading it.
Lopez has proven to be the key link among the three organizations taking part in the project. Prior to joining USC in 2010, Lopez was the CWS liaison and a field faculty member at San Diego State University who helped with the initial setup of the Bella Vista project.
With many prominent child welfare managers and faculty in attendance at the national conference, Lopez hopes sharing the group’s experiences will have a positive impact on the way other social workers and educators approach field placements in the future.
“The presentation showed how internships can be opportunities for creative change to improve safety, permanency and well-being,” he said. “It also showed how universities might better collaborate with child welfare agencies in the development of field practicum ventures.”
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