Via Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

What does the day-to-day look like for a social work intern at HIRC? Well, it could look like many different things. At HIRC, we work with a diverse population of clients. Our work consists of providing both emotional support and case management support based on a case-by-case basis. Depending on a client’s needs, a general workday could consist of facilitating cognitive behavioral therapy focused interventions during an office or home visit, supporting attorneys during client interviews that may consist of discussing emotionally heavy topics, or accompanying clients to their local clinic to help them apply for health insurance. Each day can look different depending on the clients’ needs and goals for the day.

There are many highlights and some challenges in doing this work. I enjoyed being immersed in the different cultures and backgrounds of our clients. Social work interns get the chance to build a different kind of relationship with clients through home visits and consistent communication. Another highlight is the relationship that is formed between attorneys, law students and social work interns. This experience is one-of-a-kind as the social work interns and the legal clinic create a team atmosphere where each person supports and learns from one another.

Two challenges that comes to mind include the locations that some of the clients live in and adapting certain clinical interventions for the specific population being worked with in a way that is relevant and helpful for clients. Some clients live very far from Cambridge and this can make it more difficult in terms of providing consistent emotional support and trying to schedule home or office visits. Another challenge I was faced with was learning how to provide emotional support in a way that is validating and supportive to a population that is going through difficult circumstances, which can bring up valid fears and concerns. As an intern, it is important to take the time to check in with attorneys about current laws that could affect a client’s well-being, as well as to be aware of any current policy changes that may be relevant to the case to better understand how to support any needs that may arise.

Lastly, an important part of the social work intern role at HIRC is the intersection of law and social work. The intersection of law and social work is one of the most intriguing aspects of this work. As a social work intern, you are considered to be apart of the legal team, which means that you work with attorneys and law students on mutual cases together. Therefore, in addition to supporting clients’ needs, you also check in and coordinate with attorneys in regards to any important topics that may have come up during individual social work visits that may help the legal team build their client’s case. As a team we learn from one another and support each other with recommendations within our area of expertise. Social work interns learn about current laws and policies that may or may not affect the clients we work with in regards to accessing resources and general mental health, and attorneys and law students learn tips in regards to social work skills, such as positive communication tools, and sharing empathy when interviewing and meeting with clients who may come in with a history of trauma. It is a unique dynamic that is not common among many field placements.

A large takeaway that I will bring with me from this internship is how diverse the role of a social worker can be. Before working at HIRC, the intersection of social work and law was something that never crossed my mind. This experience made me realize that social workers can play an important role in various settings, not just in common settings such as a school or a clinic.

This post was written by former HIRC social work intern Kayla Peña. Kayla is currently pursuing a Masters in Social Work (MSW) at Simmons College.