Nevada's University State Partnership: A Comprehensive Alliance for Improved Services to Children and Families

Article excerpt

In Nevada as in the nation, collaboration is the name of the game in educating child welfare workers.

There has been a truly remarkable explosion in the number of collaborative ventures in various fields over the past decade. More and more frequently, the traditionally hierarchical organizations that have dominated institutional arrangements in the past are being replaced by collaborative projects, partnerships, and consensus-building endeavors. Organizations are beginning to collaborate with one another in an attempt to maximize their resources and minimize program duplication. As part of this trend, there has been a well-documented emergence of collaboration in the education and training of public agency child welfare staff through the development of school-agency partnerships.l

Collaboration has been defined as "organizational and interorganizational structures where resources, power, and authority are shared and where people are brought together to achieve common goals that could not be accomplished by a single individual or organization independently."2 The partnership between the university system and the public child welfare agencies in Nevada has evolved into this type of shared governing structure.

Members in the partnership include representatives from Nevada's three public child welfare agencies and two university schools of social work, staff from the state child and adolescent mental health divisions, staff from the early childhood and juvenile justice systems, foster parents, and nonprofit social service providers. Components of the partnership include in-service training for public agency staff and foster parents, educational programs that offer bachelor's and master's degrees in social work (BSW and MSW), stipends for graduate students willing to work with vulnerable families in the public sector, public agency field placements, valuable community service, and possibilities for evaluation and research. The current partnership developed because people and organizations involved in different aspects of the child welfare system recognized that each had the same responsibility for Nevada's population of vulnerable children and families.

This article discusses the 10-year history of Nevada's partnership and the critical factors that facilitated its initial development, the four areas of the partnership (in-service training, education, research, and community involvement) that have developed over the past 10 years, the factors that have proved essential in the growth and development of the partnership, the obstacles that the partnership has encountered in its collaborative arrangement, and future directions for Nevada's collaborative efforts.

Forging a Partnership

The partnership between Nevada's child welfare system and its university schools of social work has endured over 10 years. It began in 1986, when the Nevada Department of Human Resources (DHR) approached the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), for assistance with staff training and development. Nevada was facing a tremendous increase in population growth at that time coupled with a dramatic rise in the incidence rates of teen pregnancy, substance abuse, suicide, and child abuse and neglect. When the partnership began, few of the state's child welfare staff had academic preparation in a field related to their work, and less than 20 percent of staff had a degree in social work.3

At around this time, UNR invited DHR to join it in applying for a federal child welfare training grant. When the grant was awarded to them, they established a community advisory board (which has proved a critical factor in the broader partnership) to oversee the training program.

Before 1988, there were no MSW programs in Nevada. The community advisory board and various community focus groups made the decision to seek state licensing for social workers and to approach the Nevada Legislature with a request for funding for graduate social work education. …