Renison students lead charge for new social work policy

Monday, July 25, 2016

[Ed. Note: This Week at Renison has been following this story since June 13, 2016 when we talked to Natasha Ekelman about presenting the ASIST training proposal at CASWE 2016. We linked to a story that was written for Imprint on July 25th that required several corrections. In the interest of accurately reporting this we have issued revisions here (marked in bold)...]

Three Renison students at CASWE 2016Renison University College students Natasha Ekelman, Marielle Tye, and Stephanie Meek presented at the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE) conference in Calgary June 2016. The three social work students succeeded in lobbying for a proposal that will make suicide prevention training mandatory for every social work student in Canada. 

“The proposal was to advocate that the CASWE board of directors [to] recommend that the educational policy committee advocate for the inclusion of mandatory suicide intervention skills training,” Ekelman said.

The idea came about while Ekelman, and her peers (LeeAnn Kelpin, Madeline Mackenzie, Vicki Whiting, Julie Stevenson) were brainstorming ideas for their group project. Ekelman explained that at first the members of her group, including herself, were hesitant to do a suicide awareness-themed project because of the stigma around the topic. 

“But after we started talking, we realized that each one of us had either directly or indirectly been touched by suicide,” said Ekelman. “So quickly we realized that this is something that we’ve all experienced and that in the field of social work this is exactly why we should be doing this, because there’s so much stigma surrounding it.”

The group eventually decided on two main goals that they wanted to do for their social change project. The first was to raise awareness on campus, and to engage students and faculty to talk about suicide. The second goal, which was the midterm goal, was to advocate for suicide intervention for the Bachelor of Social Work cohort.

CASWE is an annual conference frequently attended by social work professionals. The motion was policy was presented at CASWE and approved, making suicide prevention training mandatory and demonstrating its importance to social work student which means that talk around suicide intervention skills training for social work students across Canada is in the works. (or something to that affect – seeing as this is not mandatory at this time).

Looking to the future, Ekelman said that one day it would be nice if, “faculty and even dons could be trained in suicide and intervention skills training.”   

Both the University of Waterloo and Renison University College had an important role in implementing suicide intervention skills training into the BSW program, this policy, and Ekelman said that without their support, the progress she and her teammates have made would not have gone as quickly. 

After We went to Renison and showed our findings from our social change event to the dean principle and the faculty. Shortly after, a social worker was hired at Renison to help advise us on how we should proceed to provide additional support and counselling services on campus. school was on board and they were very supportive because they knew that this was needed as well,” Ekelman said.

The University also Renison also partnered with helped the group by connecting them with the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council which to provided a two day ASIST suicide prevention workshop for the bachelor of social work students at Renison. UW and Laurier.

“Prior to the training about 75 per cent of students felt uncomfortable speaking about suicide or intervention, and about 95 per cent of our students felt that suicide prevention should be implemented into our curriculum,” Ekelman said. “However, from the post-training surveys that the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council completed we did, we found that students felt way more confident and comfortable talking about suicide.”

Furthermore, because of the positive feedback from BSW students who had received the ASIST training at Renison, Ekelman felt a strong need to further advocate for suicide intervention skills training for all social work students across Canada.

*The national association (CASWE) has been working to address the inaccuracy about the claim that suicide training will now be mandatory in reports published on this issue. In response to these reports the president of the CASWE has issued a statement to all Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work indicating the following:

"I would like to clarify that this is an incorrect presentation of what was passed at the AGM. The wording of the motion is as follows:

The Student Committee motions that the CASWE-ACFTS Board of Directors recommends that the Educational Policy Committee advocates for the inclusion of mandatory suicide intervention skills training. This will allow social work students to enter their placements feeling competent in suicide prevention and intervention.

In effect, this motion is asking the Board of Directors to RECOMMEND to the EPC to advocate for mandatory suicide intervention skills training in social work curriculum. At this point, this content is not required and the Educational Policy Committee will be following up with the motion. I would also like to remind you that the Association’s By-laws do not allow for Standards for Accreditation changes to be made at the AGM."

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