Program for social work students to provide free counselling expands in London, Ont.

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A free social work counselling program out of King’s University College is set to roughly double in size from eight students offering free counselling services to 15 in January and grow again to 20 in April.

M.K. Arundel, coordinator of field education for the School of Social Work at King’s, said the King’s Community Support Centre (KCSC), which began with a partnership with an on-site clinic from the Salvation Army London’s Centre of Hope in January 2023, “has been extremely well received.”

“Community members would have otherwise faced a significant waitlist for this kind of support. The demand is too great right now for service,” she said.

“Our students are able to help respond to the needs of the community without the community having to wait and without any other barriers such as cost or a cap on the amount of service.”

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In September, the KCSC began supporting Mission Services of London Men’s Mission and the City of London’s Housing Stability programs.

The city’s director of housing stability services, Craig Cooper, said the program “is a unique outcome by the King’s School of Social Work in response to the health and Homelessness Whole of Community System Response,” part of London’s reimaging of its homelessness response.

“The target populations for the supports are individuals who have experienced trauma, mental health issues, addictions and past tenancy issues, Special Priority Population applicants, and newcomer families,” he said.

“The City is appreciative of the opportunity to collaborate with King’s on this initiative as we all work to address the health and homelessness crisis London is experiencing.”

Research shows that “just providing a roof over one’s head” is not enough to ensure successful housing for vulnerable people, according to King’s, and the barrier-free counselling often addresses items that can be “underlying issues in the city of London’s health and homelessness project.”

Come the New Year, the program will also offer free counselling services to those involved with the Unity Project, Mission Services Community Mental Health Program and Quinton Warner House. Programs are also in development to help support the existing social services workforce through accessible sharing circles available in person and online beginning in late January.

The program involves free counselling provided by undergraduate and masters students. Clients can be seen wherever works best for them, from in person at partner sites to online or even at an outdoor park or café. It accepts self-referrals online and referrals through a support person.

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Arundel said the students are supervised by a “seasoned clinical social worker who provides weekly supervision and direction for all clinical work.” The program also benefits students as they work towards the 1,000+ hours of paid/unpaid direct practice experience “in the human services field” and also provides them with “real-world experience within their practicum,” she said.

Amanda Bain, a former student, wrote in a testimonial on the program’s website that “it was exciting to be part of a growing program that meets community needs” and that she is “thankful for all the people who shared their story with me.”

Hayley Clark of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, a Toronto hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto and not with the King’s program, said having students involved in care is “the bread and butter of our education and training programs.”

Sarah Choudhury, director of communications with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW), stressed that “only those who are registered with the OCDSWSSW can call themselves a ‘social worker,’ ‘registered social worker,’ ‘social service worker’ or ‘registered social service worker,'” but added that the college does not have the authority to set curriculum standards for programs, including practicum requirements.

“The OCSWSSW has authority over its registrants, who, if providing supervision, are required to provide adequate supervision and follow the Standards of Practice. In this scenario, an OCSWSSW registrant should require that clients be told they are receiving services from a student and that the student needs to share information with their supervisor. This is necessary to ensure clients are aware of the limits of confidentiality and can make informed decisions about proceeding with the counselling service.”


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