A relationship begins when one party takes the initiative and the other party is receptive. More than 10 years ago, Mary Maurer, then Director of MSW Field Education with the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign reached out to the Illinois Legislative Staff Intern Program (ILSIP). Thinking outside the box, she asked if graduate level social workers with an interest in social policy might complete their field placement requirements through ILSIP. Barbara Van Dyke-Brown, Director, Legislative Internships, also a social worker with a passion for policy was excited at the prospect and embraced the idea of bringing social workers into the program.
Together, Mary and Barbara began the painstaking process of determining if it was possible for Master of Social Work students in the macro concentration of Leadership and Social Change (LSC) to participate and how the relationship between the two institutions might work. A dual-credit opportunity was born, where MSW’s in the LSC concentration would apply, through the UIUC School of Social Work, and the Illinois Legislative Staff Intern Program. If selected, the social work student would participate in the usual seminar required for all ILSIP interns, as well as the integrated, online seminar course required of all UIUC MSW interns participating in field placements.
The second major hurdle was the requirement of field instructor/supervision. Social work students must meet weekly for supervision with someone that has completed a graduate degree, preferably in social work, along with at least two years post-graduation experience. Barbara met that criteria and agreed to serve in that capacity, creating a new opportunity for social work students to pursue a field placement and complete their graduate degree requirements.
Once there was agreement on how the relationship could work, it was time to make the proposed arrangement a reality. Beginning with recruitment, advisors with the UIUC School of Social Work identify potential candidates and Barbara recruits during Field Placement Fairs, talking to social workers about the opportunities available through ILSIP. Social work education has a long, recognized history in the micro-practice or more commonly referred to as direct practice (Advanced Clinical) of the profession and less so in the macro practice. Around the 2009-2010 academic year, the UIUC School of Social Work launched their macro-focused concentration now known as Leadership and Social Change creating the need for policy field placements.
For ILSIP, there was a learning curve for the selection committee and legislative staff to gain understanding about how a social worker might be well suited and an asset to the legislative process. It was only after several fits and starts that a social work student would run the gauntlet of application for a field placement, an application for ILSIP, be selected to interview, and then offered a position. In 2018, the first social work student, Erin Winn, was offered a position and hired to participate as an ILSIP intern with the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.
An affiliation agreement was drafted between the two agencies which remains in place and has worked beautifully. It takes time to nurture and establish a relationship and then continuous engagement to maintain it. Mary Maurer established the relationship but it would be Hellen McDonald, Clinical Associate Professor with the Field Education Office that continued to develop and support the relationship.
From the perspective of the new MSW Field Director, Lindsey Trout,
“I was very happy to learn about the incredible opportunity established with ILSIP. Field placements are the cornerstone of social work education, and the School of Social Work is committed to providing our students with diverse and rich learning experiences. ILSIP provides a unique opportunity for our students to experience firsthand the legislative process.
“Over the years, our relationship with ILSIP has allowed our students to demonstrate the knowledge they have acquired during their coursework, as well as directly contribute to shaping policies by utilizing their macro-focused learning. While there have been many steps along the way, this relationship with ILSIP continues to provide opportunities that may otherwise be difficult to obtain. We look forward to continuing our partnership!”
This year, Jaynen Kates, was selected to participate in the Illinois Legislative Staff Intern Program. She too is interning with the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. When she reviewed the available field placements, she knew immediately that ILSIP offered exactly the opportunity that she was looking for. As part of a team, she is working on a survey of the Illinois statutes, reviewing areas of the law where a particular topic is specified and identifying issues of concern. Currently, she is receiving training on the drafting of pension notes and is looking forward to gaining more insight to the legislative process once the spring session is underway.
Jaynen has a background in corrections and has identified a Research Unit publication, entitled, “Laws for Youth” as her project. She will be reviewing and updating the publication which provides an overview of state laws related to youth in Illinois. The publication update is due out next fall. While this publication was designed primarily for use by the lawmakers and legislative staff, Jaynen envisions use by a wider audience and is looking forward to identifying others that might benefit from the information and getting the word out about its existence. The publication is currently available on the Commission’s website at https://www.ilga.gov/commission/lru/2019LawsforYouth.pdf.
Jaynen pointed out “policy is important for programs to flourish, providing a structure.” She carries a strong belief that having a social worker understand the process, and then advocating on behalf of program services and funding is extremely beneficial. She is also particularly interested in the research aspects of the internship. Jaynen views the internship not just as a requirement but a personally beneficial professional experience for her future aspirations. Eventually, she hopes to pursue an administrative/leadership position with the State Department of Corrections where she can have a hand in shaping policies. Jaynen hopes her ILSIP experience will open some doors in the future.
Erin Winn, the first social work student to receive dual credit, completed her ILSIP internship in the spring of 2019. Near the end of her internship, an opportunity with the 4th District Appellate Court of Appeals was shared by a former ILSIP intern, transitioning to law school. Erin was immediately hired upon completion of her ILSIP internship. She currently works in a variety of capacities assisting each of the judicial chambers located in the Fourth District of the Illinois Appellate Court. Erin’s responsibilities include reviewing many of the documents prepared by the court. She examines all citations, references, quotations, and factual information contained in the document and uses original sources to verify accuracy. Erin also edits each document to conform to the intricate guidelines set forth in the Illinois Supreme Court Style Manual and to the rules of spelling and grammar.
When asked about how her experience as an ILSIP intern impacted her current work, she related that “it is basically the same but for a different branch of government.” In her role with the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, she engaged with policy-makers, learning how the legislative process worked, analyzing the impact of legislation, and identifying what legislators need to know. Her project involved an evaluation of the criminal justice system, providing reference material, and responding to frequently asked questions.
Now, she is doing similar work for the courts. She is learning how the courts work and how the law is interpreted. Erin related her internship provided her with “experience and familiarity with government and the legislative process as well as the level of formality and professionalism required.” She reported lots of opportunities for engagement and really enjoyed the interaction with legislators, the expectations of the job, and understanding that her work made a difference. She talked about ILSIP being a real confidence booster and the internship providing her with the legal training necessary for the work that she does now. Eventually, Erin hopes to move into more of an advocacy role either in government or a non-profit. Knowledge of how laws are made and also interpreted will make for a powerful combo as she moves forward in her career.
The Illinois Legislative Staff Intern Program is always looking for ways to get the word out about the program and the opportunities it affords. If you are interested in public policy and looking for an opportunity to gain real world experience, check out the Illinois Legislative Staff Intern Program. All applicants must complete their undergraduate degree prior to the start of the internship. Like the relationship with UIUC, ILSIP is open to establishing similar arrangements with other programs, social work and otherwise. The program offers 24 internships each year. The deadline for this year’s online application is March 15. For more information, see the website at https://www.uis.edu/graduateinternprograms/ilsip/ or reach out to Barbara Van Dyke-Brown at (217) 206-6579 or by email at email@example.com.
Barbara Van Dyke-Brown has served as director of the Illinois Legislative Staff Intern Program since 2003. She is the co-author of Lobbying Illinois: How You Can Make a Difference in Public Policy (2003) and editor of the Almanac of Illinois Politics (2002 and 2004). As adjunct faculty, she taught for multiple years, an undergraduate seminar for legislative interns as well as an online graduate course, Political Action and Advocacy, designed specifically for the master level educational leadership curriculum. Before coming to UIS in 2000, Barbara accumulated almost a decade of legislative experience as lobbyist, public policy coordinator, and legislative staff. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Illinois State University and her Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Louisville. For Barbara, education, public service, and making a difference in the lives of others is a life-long pursuit.