Interview with Jana Morgan, LCSW – Field Instructor for the Silicon Valley Children’s Fund

About Jana Morgan, LCSW: Jana Morgan has over 15 years of experience working in therapeutic environments with clients experiencing mental health challenges, including trauma, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Ms. Morgan currently works as a therapist in private practice, serving clients in Los Gatos, Los Altos, and Scotts Valley, California. She is also a part-time group therapy skills consultant, staff trainer, and group therapist for several organizations, and serves as a field instructor and clinical supervisor for the Silicon Valley Children’s Fund.

Prior to her current work in private practice and therapeutic groups, Ms. Morgan was a Psychiatric Social Worker in the Forensic Unit at University of California, San Francisco Medical Center and a Mental Health Case Manager for the Family Service Agency of San Francisco. She earned her MSW from McGill University in Montreal, and her BSW from York University. Jana Morgan was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] To start, could you please give a brief overview of the Silicon Valley Children’s Fund, and the role of social workers in this setting?

[Jana Morgan, LCSW] The SVCF is a non-profit organization that has been evolving and growing to work with at risk youth in the San Jose, CA area. The SVCF is a unique agency that raises money that in turn can be applied in scholarship form (via FAFSA) toward higher education. It is only available to foster youth in this county. At the SVCF, we serve primarily high school aged foster youth. Local and recent research indicates that foster youth have a poor graduation rate, which of course shows up in how many are utilizing local community colleges. Many community colleges have in the past several years re-designed themselves to serve various types of learners and have created extra supports to help youth train to join the work-force and become self sufficient, and to perhaps even transfer to a 4 year college if they prove to have the abilities and interest.

Their mandate is to increase the number of youth making a successful transition to college–be it a JCC, where they can transfer to the UC system if they are achieving or complete training in various diploma programs (many such programs have vocational field placements), or a local technical and trades organization that trains individuals for the workforce directly.

The Fund raises money from the region’s high tech community and also offers its own scholarships to youth with whom the program connects. Through its Emerging Scholars (ES) program, the Fund creates a type of accountability through the relationships it makes with youth. The ES program involves pairing an MSW student with high school aged foster youth, under the supervision of a field instructor. Together, the MSW interns and their foster youth mentees collaborate to identify academic and career goals, and then the program helps to support foster youth’s goals through access to tutoring, counseling, internship opportunities, and other resources.

The SVCF offers scholarships to youth who would rarely make it to that point without this type of proactive engagement. The Fund’s scholarships as well as the overhead of the organization to deliver the ES program are paid for by local businesses. The Fund also helps youth apply for federal financial aid, and all other relevant programs. For many of the social work students who go out to the schools to engage with foster youth as MSW interns, the Emerging Scholars program is their first field placement. Their mandate, like the agency’s, is to connect with the youth, both on a peer level and on a student-mentor level. The Fund utilizes a strength based, social emotional learning model, meaning that the graduate students get to know their youth, meet with them weekly, text often and begin work with the youth on an individual basis, starting with whatever are the unique needs of each youth. The other part of the interns’ job is to do advocacy for educational rights to be extended to these youth by the local school boards and the schools’ special education programs, which are often very busy. The advocacy is essential to the MSW students’ roles, but the focus of their internship is a clinical approach. The graduate internship is described as clinical mentorship.

We have a close working relationship with the Educational Support (EdSU) team at the Department of Child and Family Services (DFCS) of Santa Clara County, which also houses Child Protection Services and Adoption. The EdSU team is unique in the county and the interns work closely in creating, streamlining and generally advocating for the foster youth as an extension of the EdSU mission.

The Fund also has a similar support program that it is implementing at the Junior Community College level. This program is called RISE and is staffed with coaches for foster youth who are in the junior college system.

The Emerging Scholars program for which I am a field instructor can be understood as a support and nurturing (using social emotional learning model) program which helps identify and link up with foster youth so that the scholarships can be distributed and used effectively. The Emerging Scholars program helps to ensure that there is some way for the Fund to account for and support the youth so that the scholarship funds can be monitored and evaluated for efficacy in making a difference in the achievement levels of this vulnerable youth population. This is a macro description. In a more practical approach–the Emerging Scholars Program works with foster youth to help them develop relationships, encourage academic achievement (although many have a myriad of issues such as traumatic grief and chaotic lives, numerous housing placements, scores of “helpers” of which we are one) and try to direct them to continue in school so that they are less marginalized in life.

There are 2 LCSWs, several MSW employees, and about 6-10 other business type employees doing grant writing, outreach, etc. some of whom are part-time. We also have 6 former foster youth who work as coaches at the JCC level. The MSW interns that I supervise are the coaches at the high school level. We refer to them as academic mentors and their internship is described as a clinical mentorship. Two of the MSWs the Fund employs are former foster youth–they are serious, competent young women who are excellent employees and great role models.

[] Could you elaborate on the responsibilities you have as a field instructor and clinical supervisor?

[Jana Morgan, LCSW] As a field instructor, I meet with each of my students for individual supervision. We cover various topics as the students present their dilemmas for getting their youth to keep appointments, more distracting current issues such as traumatic grief from foster care issues, frequent moves between foster homes and group homes and family reunification attempts, peer and sibling struggles, mental health issues, substance abuse, quite often pregnancy, truancy with infrequent homelessness, missing status, teacher conflict, aggression, learning and processing special needs, immigration issues, money management… there are many complexities. Also one must include the collaborative social work teams that exist in each foster youth’s life: county social workers, therapists, CASA (legal aid volunteer) group homes and school personnel.

I work at the Fund doing supervision two days per week for six interns. I am responsible for reviewing each of their clients with them weekly and helping them track the educational advocacy that is a big part of their job. Our young clients frequently struggle with extenuating issues of personal nature which make a sole educational focus a challenge. We discuss how best to approach engagement, mostly focusing on how to be client-centered, listen, join but with boundaries and empathy. I bring in theory so we can draw on useful frameworks. My job is to help the interns feel comfortable being honest with me and with themselves, and begin to apply their education in the field. I model a parallel process in terms of unconditional positive regard and creating a “there are no dumb questions” atmosphere. I help them formulate their thoughts so they can work in the moment–for example, speaking to what is happening with their clients as it is occurring and doing it in a way that elaborates and furthers their relationship with their client. When this is happening in our supervision, I draw our attention to it for examination from an affective vantage point. The whole idea is to get in tune with and trust oneself. I evaluate how we are doing by monitoring this relational dialogue myself as well as using the self evaluation and Field instructor feedback tools that my students’ universities provide.

My clinical supervision aims to help interns with the direct practice piece of their work. I ask them to talk to me about what they are honestly seeing and feeling when with their youth. Getting in touch with what goes through their mind and what types of emotions are triggered when beginning to work directly with clients is a key to begin to discern what to pay attention to, what topics to discuss with their youth, and how to amplify certain aspects and contain or redirect in the conversations. I help them become inquisitive and we discuss what it means to be non-judgmental or what unconditional positive regard is and how that translates into client-centered treatment. This leads into discussions about ethics. I help them see themselves as agents of change and to pay attention to the process. I teach and model process within our supervisory hour. I feel it is important to impart upon them that their feelings and thoughts are cues, and as clinicians we learn to pay attention and dare speak of the process in the moment, which helps build relationships with our clients. We also discuss how best to work collaboratively with colleagues, how to draw on psychological and social work literature to expand our knowledge. Managing their time and the job itself with all of the requisite documentation, timely responses and accountability is something that ties it all together. It is supervision but it tilts toward personal therapy, which is my challenge–how to help the interns help their clients first and then develop their new professional identities and increased sense of themselves in a therapeutic manner. The line between personal and professional development is close.

Progress is measured through a learning contract, which outlines specific aspects of social work and professional skills that are important for the intern to develop–for example, intake process, bio-psychosocial assessment and range of possible diagnosis according to the DSM-5, and the effective development of a treatment plan that is then constantly adjusted as work with the youth client ensues. The supervisory plan is also adjusted as we progress. Regularly scheduled feedback evaluations are done which are initiated and reported to the Faculty Field Liaison at the interns’ university. I always ask for interns to complete the evaluations by self report with specific examples from their practice to substantiate their scores on skills such as cultural sensitivity, ethical practice, client centered assessment and interventions, professional use of self, etc. I also review the evaluations with each intern once I complete them. There is opportunity for rich dialogue and we use it. We also utilize process recordings (i.e. written records of a student’s interaction with a client) to review in detail difficult interactions and what can be learned. Process recordings are a way for the intern to dissect the interaction, slow it down and discuss in supervision. Once the interns understand their intent, these recordings prove to be beneficial and a source of much discussion in an ongoing way.

[]What are some of the main questions and concerns students have when preparing for and completing their field education? How do you help them address these concerns?

[Jana Morgan, LCSW] In my experience, students have very little idea of how one might assess developmental needs of clients using Erickson’s developmental stages (a model of psychosocial development that explains how human beings progress through stages of trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. doubt/shame, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. role confusion, and intimacy vs. isolation as they mature over time) and how that might be useful, and they are invested in learning how to do so. They also often demonstrate a desire to learn more about other models of human change and development, and I have been surprised in my own idea formulations to help my students’ understanding of how theories and frameworks are useful to guide one’s work.

Having some grounding in theory helps one have patience and will create endurance; it also helps one develop a more cohesive and deeper problem solving plan with clients rather than burn out at the futility at the complexities of clients’ troubled lives.

Interns are interested in incorporating theory into their practice. They want specific knowledge about resources and what to utilize to help their youth clients. Quite often they are anxious and do not or are unable to articulate what they want out of fear that they will appear naive. I work at getting to know each intern and normalizing the anxiety and how difficult it is to always not know, as that is how they see themselves at the beginning. I try to work with their strengths and build an atmosphere where there is no such thing as a stupid question.

[] What do you enjoy the most about mentoring MSW students?

[Jana Morgan, LCSW] I like to work with bright minds. I like that I was a student once and remember how awkward it was at times. I like to speak to that and create what I think is helpful and when it works, it is very rewarding. I see the interns literally transform. I like to see them at the end of the year banquet with their foster youth and how they all relate together. It is really amazing and energizing to see we are making a difference. It is powerful to work in a well run program to help clients whom others have given up on, but whose potential we are effectively inciting.

The students I supervise are mostly healthy young people with a commitment to helping. I enjoy seeing them stimulated and activated by new information; particularly when this new knowledge fits their existing understanding and deepens their knowledge by allowing new synthesis.

[] Field education is a major component of MSW programs and requires a significant time commitment from students. How do you recommend the students you mentor balance field education with other responsibilities?

[Jana Morgan, LCSW] This is an excellent question as I see interns balancing a family life, part time work, the academic portion of the MSW program and then 2 full days of internship per week. I have encouraged my interns to re-think trying to work concurrently with going to school and doing internship. There are only so many things one can do well. I think for optimum integration of learning and practice, students need to be well aware to not spread themselves too thin. It leads to tremendous stress.

I uphold the importance of practicum learning, naming it “important and necessary supervised experience” which is the beginning of a career-long process and investment in the self. I explain how I use supervision and teach that some skills, such as clinical skills, are best learned with the guidance of a more experienced practitioner.

I teach that it is in social work values to keep and build a social work identity for ourselves as professionals and for the public to know social workers as ethical and skilled helpers. On a less pedantic level, I help students connect to self care, knowledge of their own family of origin issues, and awareness of their own needs, which happen in the context of numerous demands being placed on them. I do my best to guide them through an exploration of ideas of how to feel better and manage their time.

[] Can you describe the importance of self-care in social work? How do you recommend the students you mentor manage their own self-care, both during their MSW program and beyond?

[Jana Morgan, LCSW] I am not on a pedestal preaching self care but when an opportunity presents itself, I talk about it. I do it in the predictable manner of pointing out signs of stress and how the body manifests it. I talk about taking time for oneself and self reflection so that one is not reactive but mindful of what one is or is not doing. This matters a lot as interns are working in a therapeutic relationship with our clients. They need to be self-aware.

I integrate self care into the teaching of counseling skills. How one uses oneself in the relationship with one’s client is kind of a spiritual/philosophical process. To be self aware is to be mature. If students want to guide someone to a place or through a process, they have to have been there themselves and value how they got in and out enough to think about it and be interested enough to share that with someone who might need an ally such as this to handle a particular situation with thought rather than reactivity. The parallel process is a useful paradigm.

I use self disclosure here as well. I will tell my interns that I suffer from self-care challenges too, and that I go the extra mile to be good to myself in simple ways. I talk about how difficult it can be as I have negative messages that I am not always aware of that I play out in my behavior. I point to my older age and explain that it has taken me a long time to figure some things out. I talk about object relations theory and how people internalize messages we get from our caretakers and our environment. We talk about how this is evident in the foster youth, and then we draw closer to our own families of origin to explore and wonder how this might be playing out in our lives. We know what to do, but we don’t do it, which is interesting and merits further examination. With time, thinking, self-acceptance and love we can build compassion for ourselves and a self care attitude emerges. This is actually a critical skill as once one has self-compassion, compassion for others follows quickly and from that a type of interest in healing and helping.

In our group supervision curriculum in my Field Instructor role, we cover self care. I teach that self care is not something optional but is a requirement. It is not a fluff topic that we should cover quickly so we can move to more “pertinent” discussions of client issues. We do interactive and self-exploratory exercises that help our interns reflect on lifestyle habits. The mean age of my students is 30, so I am often working with mostly women who have some young children. Some of them have part-time jobs atop their classes and the field placement. There are cultural issues as well; some students struggle with the fact that they have culturally established, caretaking roles in the family and community, and feel that they are compromising these roles due to their professional aspirations and work load.

To try and help support students, I have used myself as an example. I try to really speak to how I imagine their lives are to help them hear me. I tell them that when I get stressed I let my surroundings get kind of messy, my sleep hours become erratic as I stay up late trying to get something done or resolved, I end up not having food at home and so I end of starting the day off by eating poorly which colors the day. I am candid with my students about my own struggles with self-care so that they can connect with me and trust that I know what they are feeling and experiencing. Then I offer what I have learned over the years from my own experiences. For example, to take care of myself I need to have decent food for the morning, so I go out and buy good food particularly fruit and cereal to start off right. I make myself have a hot shower when I get home late so that I feel clean which makes me feel more human. I turn on the heat in my living area so that I am comfortable–while this costs more, if it helps me work better the next day and not be miserable when I come home after a hard day, it is worth it. I have to get outside regularly or I am unhappy. I know I start to feel better when I start picking up my room and being more present in my space –not just being attached to my computer. This kind of personal stress and how it manifests led to a discussion in the group, and I also bring it up in individual supervision. I spend time at the beginning of each individual session talking about this and also talking about more informal topics, which can often help us transition to topics that are pertinent to their work.

Thank you Ms. Morgan for your time and insights into social work field education.

Last updated: April 2020