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Graduate Social Work Program Earns Accreditation

After a three-year process, accreditors find Sacred Heart meets all required standards

Social Work Clinical Associate Professor Patricia Carl-Stannard

Sacred Heart University’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program has earned accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the national accrediting body for social work education programs. The accreditation means the program meets all CSWE’s standards.

The accreditation process took place over the past three years. It involved full program development and a self-study from the program’s faculty and students, annual site visits by CSWE representatives and CSWE Council on Accreditation reviews.

The 60-credit MSW program is offered full-time and part-time on campus, advanced standing on campus and part-time and advanced standing online only. Due to student feedback during the accreditation process, SHU recently added the part-time, Saturday cohort option, which incorporates online classwork and classes on ground that meet alternating Saturdays.

“We come from a strong bachelor’s in social work program,” said Bronwyn Cross-Denny, associate professor and director of the MSW program. Sacred Heart has offered the bachelor’s degree in social work since 1981, Cross-Denny said, and the program and its students have a good reputation in the area. Offering the MSW was a natural progression for the University, she said.

Sacred Heart’s MSW program differs from others because it incorporates all levels of social work practice, said Cross-Denny. Students learn integrated, specialized skills in social work through direct clinical or community practice, and each specialization includes components of both. Students also are required to participate in a supervised field practicum, which enables them to hone their skills and to work in a more specialized area.

Cross-Denny said this teaching model empowers students to not only help clients with their problems, but also to drive policy and advocate on behalf of their clients (such as individuals and families), who may struggle with poverty and obtaining resources such as housing, food and health care.  

“We need to advocate for more equitable policies so we can better assist our clients,” Cross-Denny said. “This program is a perfect fit for SHU and its mission.”

Sacred Heart’s mission statement declares that the University “embraces a vision for social justice and educates students in mind, body and spirit to prepare them personally and professionally to make a difference in the global community.”

Maura Rhodes, director of field education for the Social Work Department, investigates agencies and places students at the appropriate field placement site—crucial elements of the program’s success.

CSWE considers field education as “the signature pedagogy” of instruction, according to Rhodes. It has a list of field education standards schools must follow to become accredited. Rhodes said the department uses the standards to build the program and ensure it is successful in training proficient social workers. 

Students in the MSW program must accumulate a minimum of 1,100 hours of field work–550 hours each year. “This gives them the opportunity to integrate theoretical concepts learned in the classroom with real-life situations and people,” Rhodes said.

While students gain hands-on experience in their field placements, they are supervised by master’s-level social workers. They also are building their professional network.

Adilene Garcia, 23, of Wallingford, is currently enrolled in the MSW program and also is a graduate assistant in SHU’s Department of Social Work.

“I wanted to pursue social work because I love helping others and I believe everyone in this world matters, regardless of where they come from,” said Garcia, who earned her bachelor’s in social work from SHU in 2018. “In this profession, we assist those who need it the most, including those who come from difficult circumstances. Everyone deserves to live a fulfilling life and to have someone on their side, willing to fight with them and rise up to issues of human rights and social justice.”

During Garcia’s time in SHU’s bachelor’s and master’s programs, she has had four internships, working for Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services in New Haven, the Department of Children and Families in Milford, Yale New Haven Hospital’s trauma unit and the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport.

“Through these internships, I learned a lot about what it means to be a professional,” she said. “They gave me exposure to the potential populations I could be working with.”

For more information on the MSW program, visit the Sacred Heart MSW webpage.