As part of his studies in Pfeiffer University’s Counseling and Human Services program, Chad Leonard of Lexington is interning through early May at Child Protective Services (CPS) of Stanly County. He couldn’t be happier.
CPS is precisely the kind of environment where Leonard would like to work as a social worker after he graduates from Pfeiffer in May with a Bachelor of Arts in counseling and human services. It’s acquainting him with a range of duties that social workers regularly perform at work. And it’s showing him that a career in social work would indeed fuel his passion for finding the best ways to help children whose well-being has been jeopardized by such factors as addiction, sexual abuse, violence, and neglect.
“I like to see other kids be happy,” he said. “I don’t want things to get to the point where I’d have to recommend removing them from the home.”
As an intern at CPS, Leonard may not talk to its clients. However, he is frequently in their homes, shadowing social workers as they monitor safety-related agreements. This makes him an added set of eyes that a social worker can tap as they’re assessing a situation that could lead to separating children from their parents.
During visits to a home, a CPS social worker typically interviews clients and observes their environment.
“We have to read their body language during interviews,” Leonard said. “Sometimes, when they tell us things, they’ll look away; that lets us know that they’re probably not abiding by this or that of an agreement.”
Leonard also looks about the house, for such things and wires, broken windows, and drug paraphernalia out on a table. “If I see anything, I’ll tell the social worker after a visit,” he said.
By interning at CPS, Leonard is fulfilling a requirement of Field Placement, a course that he and all other Counseling and Human Services majors must take to graduate. All told, Dr. Aimée Bellmore, the program’s coordinator and primary faculty member has placed 101 students in internships over the past five years. Field Placement interns have worked at such places as police departments, schools, agencies working to prevent child abuse, various ministries, clinical addiction resource centers, and behavioral health programs.
To hear Leonard tell it, the internships on offer are numerous and varied enough for a student to be matched up with a work situation that fits their interests and strengths.
Marie Webb, Leonard’s supervisor at CPS, graduated from Pfeiffer in 2000, earning bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and sociology. She has strongly advocated for her alma mater’s students filling internships at her agency.
“Pfeiffer is part of our community, and healing the community begins within,” she said. “While students are getting their degrees, sometimes the world seems very different in school than the actual work that is being done, especially in child welfare. I like that students get a very realistic look at what it means to be a Child Protective Services social worker.”
For Leonard, that realistic look has revealed such scenarios as “late nights, hostile clients, excessive amounts of paperwork, removals (and) the moments that make this job worth it,” Webb said. “He has experienced the interaction with the children who are in need, children being reunited with their parents, and watching as cases closed due to the children living in a healthy, happy environment.”
Expectations for Field Placement internships are quite high. Leonard, for example, will have spent 22 hours working at CPS each week between Jan. 13 and May 8. In addition to keeping up with required class reading and participating in discussion posts with other interns throughout the semester, he’ll also write a paper about his experiences at CPS and talk about them in a presentation to the entire Field Placement class. The aim, as it is with other student interns, will be relating his experiences to four different areas of practical study: administrative organization, workplace ethics, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and organizational and professional communication.
Is such a commitment worth it? Leonard’s internship would certainly suggest that it is. Like many other Counseling and Human Services students who have interned before him, he is gaining hands-on experience translating theory learned in the classroom into practice.
Leonard is also learning and practicing professional skills. He is gaining a better understanding of how organizations function. He is developing an ethical awareness and learning practical strategies for managing ethical problems in the workplace.
He is gaining not only marketable, resume-building experience but also the assurance that he’s headed down the right career path. What’s more, an internship at CPS could lead to full-time employment after he graduates.
“I have talked to them and I will be able to apply there,” he said.
Counseling and Human Services is part of the Department of Social Sciences. For more information, contact Bellmore at Aimee.Bellmore@pfeiffer.edu or (704) 463-1360
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.