Developing Collaborative Child Welfare Educational Programs

By Risley-Curtiss, Christina; McMurtry, Steven L. et al. | Public Welfare, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview
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Developing Collaborative Child Welfare Educational Programs

Risley-Curtiss, Christina, McMurtry, Steven L., Loren, Shari, Gustavsson, Nora, Smith, Evie, Faddis, Richard, Public Welfare

Recruiting and preparing students in Arizona for careers in public child welfare.

Child welfare training needs today have their roots in the growth of demand for services both at the national and the state levels. This demand is reflected in the enormous rise in the number of reports of child maltreatment received by child welfare agencies over the past 20 years. Between 1982 and 1991, for example, the number of reported cases of child abuse and neglect nationwide more than doubled, from 1.2 million to 2.7 million cases.(1)

In Arizona, statewide reports of child maltreatment increased more than 77 percent between 1987 and 1993, according to statistics from the Arizona Department of Economic Security. The latter figures involved more than 133,000 individual allegations that concerned almost 83,000 children, which illustrates the demand for investigative work created by the reports. Similarly, in the last eight years, the number of abused and neglected children placed in out-of-home care has grown by 45 percent, the Foster Care Review Board of the Arizona Supreme Court reported in 1994. This growth has resulted in an increased demand for child welfare services.

Nationally, the surge of new reports and the growth in the number of children in out-of-home care has been felt throughout the child welfare system, resulting in an acute shortage of professionally trained staff in public child welfare agencies. One study reported vacancy rates for child welfare positions in these organizations of up to 24 percent and averaging almost 10 percent.(2) Turnover of professional staff in many agencies ranges from 30 percent to 75 percent, and the overall proportion of social workers whose job location is a public agency has dropped.(3)

In Arizona, a wide gap developed between the demand for child welfare services and the availability of qualified staff to meet this demand. Because of personnel shortages, the Department of Economic Security (DES) in recent years was unable to respond to as many as 25 percent of child abuse and neglect reports that were deemed appropriate for investigation. In the state's two most populous counties, the rate of uninvestigated reports at one point exceeded 33 percent, according to the state Foster Care Review Team of the Supreme Court in 1987. Although new funds have been made available to create additional positions, the lack of qualified applicants has often thwarted efforts to improve services.

In some states, the difficulty of recruiting trained staff has contributed to lower standards for public child welfare positions. Almost half the states responding to one national survey did not require entry-level child welfare workers to have completed a bachelor's degree to hold direct-service positions.(4) The same study also found that turnover rates are higher in states that do not require bachelor's or master's of social work degrees (BSWs or MSWs) for upper-level positions. Still, while 37 percent of states responding to the study did require a college [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] degree, none mandated that entry-level workers have a social work degree. Another study of 5,000 child welfare staff showed that only 28 percent had bachelor's or master's degrees.(5)

Arizona is one of the states in which the elimination of degree requirements for child welfare positions has occurred, and recent statistics on DES staff provide evidence of deficiencies in worker education across the state. For example, one study found that more than 12 percent of current DES child welfare workers did not have a college degree.(6) Those who did have college education were most likely to have undergraduate degrees in fields other than social work (34 percent). Only 15 percent held an MSW, and 9 percent had a BSW.

Together, these findings indicate a critical need for the field to double its efforts to recruit and retain professionally educated social workers in child welfare, especially in child protective services (CPS).

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