Academic journal article Child Welfare

Impact of University/agency Partnerships in Child Welfare on Organizations, Workers, and Work Activities

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Impact of University/agency Partnerships in Child Welfare on Organizations, Workers, and Work Activities

Article excerpt

Critiques of child welfare services in the public sector point to problems both in the training and skill level of workers, and in the organizational structure and rigidity of the agencies. University/agency partnerships have been developed to provide educational curricula to enhance public child welfare workers' skills and to stimulate agency change. This article uses findings from focus group interviews of supervisors and workers to explore the impact of M.S.W. education on changes in personal behavior, structure, and technological organization. Benefits and challenges for both agencies and universities are discussed.

Criticisms of the performance of public child welfare agencies focus on the decisions and actions of agency case workers, and the culture, organization, and procedures of the public agencies. Those who have studied the delivery of child welfare services in the public sector point to problems both in the training and skill level of workers [Bibus & Rooney 1995; Leighninger & Ellett 1998; Olsen & Holmes 1982; Pecora 1989; Stein 1982; Vinokur-Kaplan & Hartman 1986], and in the organizational structure and procedural rigidity of the agencies [Cohen 1992; Cohen & McGowen 1994; Gregoire 1994; Packard 1993, 1989]. These two areas of concern are linked to the extent that inadequately trained staff who do not consider themselves professionals may be unable to move their organizations to support more effective means of delivering services. Conversely, overly bureaucratized agencies may be unable to value and support professional staff. In an effort to modify one side of this equation, the federal government in recent years has used its child welfare training moneys to professionalize public child welfare work by supporting B.S.W and M.S.W education for these workers (e.g., U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau). Reflecting the concern that such training should not only affect the worker, but the agency, universities and public agencies were urged by the Children's Bureau to form partnerships and to collaborate on educational curricula and course delivery.

This article presents findings from an exploratory study of the outcomes and experiences of workers who were also students (workers/students) and their supervisors in two urban and two rural county child welfare agencies engaged in a university/ agency partnership for M.S.W education. The study examined both the impact on the workers and the impact on the agency, and highlights what public child welfare workers who are also students report they have gained from their educational experiences, the impact of the students' experiences on organizational change and service delivery in the agency from the perspective of agency supervisors, and both the workers' and their supervisors' concerns regarding the continuing support of the workers' learning, practice, and new skill acquisition beyond the educational program.

Professional Education and Effective Child Welfare Work

Profiles of public child welfare workers over the last 20 years show that despite the enormous difficulties that clients experience and the complexity of workers' tasks, many practitioners lack professional social work education and opportunities for professional development [Olsen & Holmes 1982; Pecora 1989; Russell & Hornby 1987; Shyne & Schroeder 1978; Stein 1982; VinokurKaplan & Hartman 1986]. According to Rycus and Hughes [1994: x], who spearheaded the development of national child welfare competencies, "child welfare is a difficult and complicated field of practice, wrought with uncertainties and dilemmas. Decisions can literally mean the difference between life and death for children, and disruption or preservation of families. The knowledge and skill requirements for skilled, family-centered, culturally relevant child welfare practice are considerable." The discrepancy between the limited skills that workers possess and the complex skills that are required to effectively do the job contribute to role ambiguity, job dissatisfaction, and staff turnover [Ellett & Ellett 1996; Erera 1989; Stein 1982; Vinokur-Kaplan et al. …

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