December 3, 2013
A Medicare@50 blog post by
Marc Laferriere (Social Worker) – Follow @MarcLaferriere
Grand River Community Health Centre (Brantford, ON)
Bethany Deml (MSW candidate and Placement Student)
Grand River Community Health Centre (Brantford, ON)
A question still being asked by many in North America is: “what is a Community Health Centre (CHC)?”. While CHCs have been around for decades, the short answer is simply this: if you have seen one CHC then you have seen one CHC.
The differences between CHCs are numerous. The creation and management of individual CHCs are rooted in grassroots community development and CHCs are designed in such a way that they form around their communities in a variety of ways. Some, for example, may offer more services related to addiction, while others may see a local uptick in homelessness and poverty in their area and seek to address that. Others still might focus on communities and individuals with common characteristics.
The result is that two CHCs no more than 50 miles apart might have significantly different programs based on the identified needs of their respective communities. One CHC might have a large focus on rural and migrant worker health because it is located in a community where this is relevant, while another might have a great deal of programs for youth who speak French. It all depends on the local community.
The CHC this article is being written from is the Grand River Community Health Centre in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. It is co-written by an MSW and an MSW student, at the culmination of her successful 6 month placement with the CHC. Both authors have come to realize that there is a lack of literature and information about the potential role for social work student learning at CHCs across Canada.
Completing a student placement within a Community Health Centre can allow for a diverse experience of social work practice. For those social work students who are equally interested in both the clinical and community side of social work practice, a CHC may be the perfect fit. To illustrate this, a student may spend part of her time counselling, part of her time sitting on local committees, and a part of her time participating in outreach activities. A student may also have the option to register for local training workshops, which could take the form of suicide prevention training or holistic healing practices. The versatility of a CHC placement allows students to experience social work and social justice at the macro, mezzo, and micro levels all at the same time.
In addition, this versatility often means that students can work with a variety of clients. Students may participate in seniors programs, LGBTQ projects, and multicultural initiatives. Considering the growing demand for culturally-relevant practices, working with diverse groups is valuable experience for new social workers.
Research can also be a component of a CHC placement, especially depending on which team of the CHC you are placed with. The activities carried out by the Social Work team and/or the Health Promotion team are likely to include a research component. Students may have a chance to write for a CHC’s blog or other publications; to research best practices; or to write an article for an external publication, such as The New Social Worker Magazine!
Research is an important part of social work practice. Whether assessing the usefulness of existing studies, evaluating programs, or conducting new research—social workers need to engage with research on a daily basis. It is important, then, that social work students get a feel for agency research, and a CHC may offer this opportunity. In short, CHCs are a great option for students completing their thesis, or for those students who wish to improve their writing and researching skills. The time for this is exciting, especially since the Canadian Association of Community Health Centres and its national Research Working Group are now focused on building a Canada-wide CHC research strategy and helping local CHCs to build in-house research capacity.
Over the course of six months with the Grand River CHC, our student was able to see a variety of clients in a clinical social work setting. This included individual and group work. She was also able to take part in mental health promotion programs in which literally thousands of community members engage with activities designed to help reduce mental health stigma. She was able to help the City and County with the development of their 10-year housing and homelessness strategy and also helped with various research projects and the creation of written materials that will be a part of the CHC long after the student has graduated.
Some placement students complain about limited experiential opportunities during their placements with other types of organizations. Counselling placements with only a very specific type of client (say youth age 6-12) may not allow for the generalist experience you were hoping for. In this turbulent job market you would probably like a variety of relevant experiences to pull from during future job interviews. During the six month placement, our student saw clients both young and old, and with a variety of presenting issues that these clients wanted to work on from a strengths-based perspective.
For students who have a variety of interests, the dynamic and multi-faceted environment of a CHC might be an excellent fit. Interested in clinical work AND policy development? Or perhaps you love community development AND research too? Working in an inter-professional health care environment means there are opportunities for a large variety of experiences. What an opportunity to have so early in your social work career!