School of Social Work partnership with Community Care In Union County, Inc. benefits students and the community

Indiana University East School of Social Work and Community Care In Union County, Inc. (Head Start/Early Head Start programs) in Liberty, Ind., have developed a close working partnership over the past 12 years. In the last year, IU East has been invited to expand its role as the program’s mental health consultant making this a unique collaboration between the programs.

The partnership is providing lasting benefits to Head Start and the community.

Jennifer English, executive director of Head Start, said IU East students will work in two different capacities with Head Start. For the practicum, Head Start gives each student a variety of experiences from working one-on-one with children and families to experiencing the administrative side of the program and grant writing, English said. She added that Head Start will also work with students through informal projects.

“Often students may need to work with an agency in their community to fulfill specific criteria for a class. For example, this past semester a social work student contacted me in regards to writing a small grant for our Early Head Start program. We worked together to develop the need and to find a funding source,” English said.

“Through the partnership, we provide interventions and consultations on-site and in the classrooms. Most mental health consultants provide training for the staff. We’ve taken it a step further,” said Ed FitzGerald, Director of the Social Work program at IU East.

The Liberty Head Start program is a practicum site for social work students in the bachelor’s degree program at IU East. Lisa Steiner, lecturer of social work at IU East, is on-site one full day a week and responds to the needs of Head Start. All IU East social work faculty provide classroom observation and services including grief counseling, family counseling, consultations, or behavior modification.

“One of the greatest benefits for IU East students working with Head Start is the variety of opportunities that setting offers. Students can work with individuals in every developmental stage from newborns through grandparents, and at the same time begin to understand the individual in the context of family,” Steiner said. “There are opportunities to work with Head Start as an organization, offering students the ability to explore the roles that system plays in the larger community.  In addition, this project helps students develop a good understanding of the unique strengths and challenges of social work practice in a rural community, and begin to use that understanding to really help families thrive. “

Social work students are required to complete a practicum of their choice as a part of the degree program. Students apply and interview for the practicum. They also attend a weekly seminar and have assignments to complete through the practicum which may include acquiring skills, assessments, how to communicate effectively, understanding policies and procedures, or research.

“This experience enhances student’s education by learning and putting that knowledge into real life situations,” said Shelia Armstead, clinical assistant professor. “Our students take on the persona of the client to better understand what they are going through and to identify the needs, goals, or abilities of the client. Students then develop a plan that meets the client’s needs and assists in the action of delivering the plan.”

Head Start has seen additional benefits to its program since developing the partnership with IU East. A study revealed that since IU East has worked as the consultant for the Head Start program, staff absentee rates have declined, the staff turnover rate has dropped to zero, and the staff is reporting that their morale has increased, FitzGerald said.

English agreed that the program has benefited through the partnership.

“We are able to provide outstanding mental services to the children, families and staff of our program. Our partnership has enabled us to go beyond the required bi-annual classroom observations to having a mental health professional on-site one day per week,” English said. “This availability of mental health services has brought enhanced support for our teaching staff and has provided a resource for families that could not have been provided otherwise.”

IU East offers a Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Social Work degree programs. For more information, contact the School of Social Work at (765) 973-8535 or go online to