Slippery Rock University graduate students are breaking the mold of stereotypical internship chores by embedding themselves with law enforcement operations as police social workers.
Three students in the Master of Social Work program are helping de-escalate situations and applying their area of expertise.
Haylee Zinn, a graduate student majoring in social work from Westland, is fulfilling her internship requirement working 16 hours a week with the New Castle Police Department. Zinn has a background with domestic violence victims.
The work the SRU students are doing is part of an emerging profession in an area called forensic social work, a specialized area of practice where social services are offered within the criminal justice system. They interact and help victims of abuse, people suffering from mental illness and criminals after they are charged with a crime.
“Police social workers can perform a variety of duties,” said Yvonne Eaton-Stull, associate professor of public health and social work. “They accompany police and assist in actual crisis intervention once a scene is secure. Once police do their job first, then the social workers can lend their expertise, especially in areas like domestic violence, mental health and substance abuse.”
Chris Frye, the mayor of New Castle, helped create community-based initiatives after he was elected the city’s mayor in November.
“For many years, the New Castle Police Department, under the direction of Chief Robert Salem, has made community relations a priority,” said Frye, who is also an SRU part-time instructor of public health and social work. “Recently, Chief Salem and I created a Community Affairs Bureau to identify and address problems within the community. The CAB will focus on untapped demographics and solicit interaction to achieve goals and resolve issues. By partnering with SRU’s Social Work Master’s program, the CAB now has the opportunity to include forensic social work frameworks into it mission and effectively assess people in their environments.”
While their work does include going out on police calls, they also perform outreach to connect resources with residents and they are available for counseling appointments at the police station.