For many students in the College of Public Health, working “in the field” is an essential part of completing their degree. And fieldwork is about more than just career experience—it’s also about using classroom learning to find creative solutions for real-world challenges. That’s what four social work students did during their placement at the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS), by changing a DHS office from the inside out—literally.
Social work undergraduates Kelly Cush, Dannetta Thomas, Racquel Braham and Ciara Latimer are finishing their eight-month placements at a DHS facility that works with neglected or abused children and their families. They found that the facility’s supervised visitation rooms—often the only place where families are permitted to meet with children in DHS placement care—just didn’t feel like friendly spaces. “The visitation rooms had a very institutional feeling,” says Cush. “The walls were bare, the colors were dreary, and the rooms were unwelcoming to families.” The students say that made it hard for parents and children to interact, which was a big problem: for families with children in DHS care, these supervised visitations are an important part of the process for families hoping to reunite with their child.
The students decided to change that by redecorating one of the rooms, funding the project with donations from DHS staff. They repainted the walls in bright colors, then added more comfortable seating, a new bookcase, and activities like coloring books, games and toys. “The room provides the opportunity for families to engage with each other over different activities, and the welcoming atmosphere makes it feel less institutionalized,” says Cush.
Thomas says that the improved room is much better suited for positive family interaction—and in that way, it actively promotes the agency’s goal of reunifying families. “I’ve seen a positive response from both workers and the families,” she says. “Everyone is so appreciative of what we did.”