Commenced in January 2007
Frequency: Monthly
Edition: International
Paper Count: 32579
Enhancing Critical Reflective Practice in Fieldwork Education: An Exploratory Study of the Role of Social Work Agencies in the Welfare Context of Hong Kong

Authors: Yee-May Chan


In recent decades, it is observed that social work agencies have participated actively, and thus, have gradually been more influential in social work education in Hong Kong. The neo-liberal welfare ideologies and changing funding mode have transformed the landscape in social work practice and have also had a major influence on the fieldwork environment in Hong Kong. The aim of this research is to explore the educational role of social work agencies and examine in particular whether they are able to enhance or hinder critical reflective learning in fieldwork. In-depth interviews with 15 frontline social workers and managers in different social work agencies were conducted to collect their views and experience in helping social work students in fieldwork. The overall findings revealed that under the current social welfare context most social workers consider that the most important role of social work agencies in fieldwork is to help students prepare to fit-in the practice requirements and work within agencies’ boundary. The fit-for-purpose and down-to-earth view of fieldwork practice is seen as prevalent among most social workers. This narrow perception of agency’s role seems to be more favourable to competence-based approaches. In contrast, though critical reflection has been seen as important in addressing the changing needs of service users, the role of enhancing critical reflective learning has not been clearly expected or understood by most agency workers. The notion of critical reflection, if considered, has been narrowly perceived in fieldwork learning. The findings suggest that the importance of critical reflection is found to be subordinate to that of practice competence. The lack of critical reflection in the field is somehow embedded in the competence-based social work practice. In general, social work students’ critical reflection has not been adequately supported or enhanced in fieldwork agencies, nor critical reflective practice has been encouraged in fieldwork process. To address this situation, the role of social work agencies in fieldwork should be re-examined. To maximise critical reflective learning in the field, critical reflection as an avowed objective in fieldwork learning should be clearly stated. Concrete suggestions are made to help fieldwork agencies become more prepared to critical reflective learning. It is expected that the research can help social work communities to reflect upon the current realities of fieldwork context and to identify ways to strengthen agencies’ capacities to enhance critical reflective learning and practice of social work students.

Keywords: Competence-based social work, fieldwork, neo-liberal welfare, critical reflective learning.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI):

Procedia APA BibTeX Chicago EndNote Harvard JSON MLA RIS XML ISO 690 PDF Downloads 911


[1] Hamilton, N. and Else, J., Designing Field Education: Philosophy, Structure, and Process. Thomas (Springfield, Ill.), 1983
[2] Social Workers Registration Board, Principles, Criteria and Standards for Recognizing Qualifications in Social Work for Registration of Registered Social Workers, revised version in October 2014. Hong Kong: Social Workers Registration Board, 2014. Accessed on 22 January 2017.
[3] Sewpaul, V. and Jones, D., “Global standards for the education and training of the social work profession”, Internal Journal of Social Welfare, 14, 2005, pp. 218-230
[4] Teigiser, K. S., “New approaches to generalist field education”, Journal of Social Work Education, 45(1), 2009, pp. 139-146.
[5] Wilson, G., “Reforming Social Work Education: Some Reflections on the Contribution of Practice Learning”. Practice: Social Work in Action, 24(4), 2012, pp225-237.
[6] Rogers, G., “The voices of practice teachers in Britain and Canada: Comparing views after training”, Issues in Social Work Education, 16(1), 1996, pp.2-27.
[7] Chui, W. H., “Of field education in Australia and Hong Kong: A social work educator’s personal reflection”, The Hong Kong Journal of Social Work, 42(1/2), 2008, pp.33-49.
[8] Doel, M. and Shardlow, S., Social Work in a Changing World: An International Perspective on Practice Learning. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1996.
[9] Papadaki, V. and Nygren, L. “I’ll carry this experience with me throughout my studies and future career: Practice tutorials and students’ views on social work in Iraklio, Greece”, Social Work Education, 25(7), 2006, pp.710-722.
[10] Kaseke, E., The Role of Fieldwork in Social Work Training, in: Social Development and Rural Fieldwork. Proceedings of a workshop held in Harare. Harare, Journal of Social Development in Africa, 1986, pp. 52- 62.
[11] Townsend, P., “Ageism and Social Policy” in C. Phillipson and A. Walker (eds.) Ageing and Social Policy: A Critical Assessment. London: Gower, 1986.
[12] George, A.,“A history of social work field instruction: Apprenticeship to instruction” in B. W. Sheafor and L. E. Jenkins (eds.) Quality Field Instruction in Social Work: Program Development and Maintenance. New York: Longman, 1982.
[13] Cheung, O. N., “Situated learning: the teaching and learning in practicum”. In L. C. Leung and K. F. Chan (eds) Bridging Theories and Practices: Reflection on Social Work Education in Hong Kong. (in Chinese) Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2008, p.120.
[14] Chiaferi, R. and Griffin, M., Developing Fieldwork Skills: A Guide for Human Services, Counseling, and Social Work Students. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1997.
[15] Hui Lo, M. C. (ed.), Learning and Teaching in Social Work Practicum, (in Chinese) Hong Kong: Department of Applied Social Sciences, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, 2005.
[16] Leung, L. C., “Reflective practices: Challenges to social work education in Hong Kong”. Social Work Education, 26(6), 2007, pp. 632-644.
[17] Chui, E., Tsang, S. and Mok, J., “After the handover in 1997: Development and challenges for social welfare and social work in Hong Kong”, Asia Pacific Journal of Social Work and Development, 20(1), 2010, pp.52-64.
[18] Clarke, J., Gewirtz, S. and McLaughlin, E. (eds.), New Managerialism: New Welfare? London: Sage Publications, 2000.
[19] Rogowski, S., Social Work: The Rise and Fall of a Profession. Bristol: Policy Press, 2010.
[20] Munro, E., The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report – A Child Centred System. London: Department for Education, 2011.
[21] Munro, E., ‘Learning to reduce risk in child protection’, British Journal of Social Work, 40(4), pp.1135-1151, 2010.
[22] Lymbery, M., “Building a safe and confident future: One year on reflections from the world of higher education in England”, Social Work Education, 30(4), 2011, pp.465-71.
[23] Shardlow, S., Scholar, H., Munro, L. and McLaughlin, H. (2011). “The nature of employer’s involvement in social work education: an international exploration”, International Social Work, 55(2), pp.205-224.
[24] Globerman, J. & Bogo, M., “Changing times: Understanding social workers’ motivation to be field instructors”, Social Work, 48(1), 2003, pp65-73.
[25] Clark, C., “Key issues for research on competence”. In P. Marsh and C. Clark (eds.) Research Issues In Social Work Education and Training. UK: University of Sheffield, 1990.
[26] Lyons, K. “Professional training in higher education: the case of social work” in P. Ford and P. Hayes (eds.) Educating for Social Work: Arguments for Optimism. Aldershot, Avebury, 1996.
[27] Yelloly, M., “Professional competence and high education” in M. Yelloly and M. Henkel (eds.) Learning and Teaching in Social Work: Towards Reflective Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1995.
[28] Jones, S. and Joss, R., “Models of professionalism” in M. Yelloyly and M. Henkel (eds.) Learning and Teaching in Social Work: Towards Reflective Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1995.
[29] Kuhlmann, E. G., “Competency-based social work education: A thirty-year retrospective on the behavioural objective movement”, Social Work and Christianity, 36(1), 2009, pp.70-76.
[30] Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Education Policy and Accreditation Standards. Alexandra, VA: Author, 2008. Available online at Accessed on 22 January 2017.
[31] Boud, D., Keogh, R. & Walker, D., Reflection: Turning experience into learning. London: Kogan Page, 1985.
[32] Brockbank, A. & McGill, I., Facilitating reflective learning in higher education, 2nd edition. Berhshire: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press, 2007.
[33] Hillier, Y., Reflective Teaching in Further and Adult Education, Second Edition. London: Continuum, 2005.
[34] Light, G., Cox, R. and Calkins, S., Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The Reflective Professional. London: Sage, 2009.
[35] Gould, N. & Taylor, I. (eds.), Reflective Learning for Social Work. Aldershot: Arena, 1996.
[36] Lovelock, R., Lyons, K. and Powell, J. (eds.), Reflecting on Social Work: Discipline and Profession. Aldershot, Ashgate, 2004.
[37] Martyn, H. (ed.), Developing Reflective Practice: Making Sense of Social Work in a World of Change. Bristol: Policy Press, 2000.
[38] Yelloly, M. and Henkel, M. (eds.), Learning and Teaching in Social Work: Towards Reflective Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1995.
[39] Schön, D., Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1987.
[40] Barnett, R., Improving Higher Education. Buckingham: SRHE/Open University Press, 1992.
[41] Noble, C., “Researching field practice in social work education: integration of theory and practice through the use of narratives”, Journal of Social Work, 1(13), 2001, pp.347-360.
[42] Parsloe, P., “Looking back on social work education”, Social Work Education, 20(1), 2001, pp.9-18.
[43] Wilson, G., Walsh, T. and Kirby, M., “Reflective practice and workplace learning: the experience of MSW students”, Reflective Practice, 8(1), 2007, pp.1-15, DOI: 10.1080/14623940601138840
[44] Ixer, G., “There’s no such thing as reflection”, British Journal of Social Work, 29, 1999, pp.513-527.
[45] Mezirow, J., “On critical reflection”, Adult Education Quarterly, 48(3), 1998, pp.185-189.
[46] Taylor, C., “Critically reflective practice” in M. Grey & S. A. Webb (eds) The New Politics of Social Work. Pargrave Macmillan, 2013.
[47] Askeland G. A. and Fook, J., ‘Critical reflection in social work’, European Journal of Social Work, 12(3), 2009, pp.287-292.
[48] Das, C. and Anand, J. C., “Strategies for critical reflection in international contexts for social work students”, International Social Work, 57(2), 2014, pp.109-120.
[49] Fook, J. and Askenland, G. A., “Challenge of critical reflection: ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’” Social Work Education, 26(5), 2007, pp.520-533.
[50] Karvinen-Niinikoski, S., “Promises and pressures of critical reflection for social work coping in change”, European Journal of Social Work, 12(3), 2009, pp.333-348.
[51] Schneck, D., “The Promise of Field Education in Social Work”, in G. Rogers (ed.) Social Work Field Education: Views and Visions. Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1995, p.6.
[52] Moffatt, K., “Teaching social work as a reflective process” in N. Gould & I. Taylor (eds.) Reflective Learning for Social Work. Aldershot: Arena, 1996.
[53] Brookfield, S., “The Concept of Critical Reflection: Promises and Contradictions” European Journal of Social Work, 12 (3), 2009, pp.293-304.
[54] Ruch, G., “From triangle to spiral: reflective practice in social work education, practice and research”, Social Work Education, 21(2), 2002, pp.199-216.
[55] Yip, K. S., ‘Self-reflection in reflective practice: a note of caution’, British Journal of Social Work, 36, 2006, pp. 777-788.
[56] Chu, W. C. K., Tsui, M. S. and Yan, M. C., “Social work as a moral and political Practice”, International Social Work, 52(3), 2009, pp. 287-298.
[57] Kam, P. K., “Back to the ‘social’ of social work: reviving the social work profession’s contribution to the promotion of social justice”, International Social Work, 57(6), 2014, pp.723-740.