Education and Partnerships in Child Welfare: Mapping the Implementation of a Child Welfare Certificate Program
Cash, Scottye J., Mathiesen, Sally G., Barbanell, Lisa D., Smith, Thomas E., Graham, Pamela, Journal of Social Work Education
CHILD WELFARE TRAINING and education have historically received considerable attention in the field of social work. Child welfare has roots in the development of social work (Charity Organization Societies) and has been heralded as a cornerstone of the profession (Lindsey, 1994; Tracy & Pine, 2000). Recently, as attention continues to focus on the child protection field, the need for more social work professionals with specialized training is becoming apparent.
A curriculum was designed to bring child welfare workers and students together in an educational setting to enhance existing skills in child welfare assessment and gain an understanding of the mental health aspects of maltreatment from a developmental perspective. The purpose of this article is to present the findings from the focus-group portion of the evaluation, which was held after participants completed both child welfare courses in the Child Welfare Certificate Program, spring 2001. In addition to the focus group, a Web-based and vignette-driven exam was developed and administered to those students who had completed the academic and field components of the certificate program. The goal of the Web-based exam was to determine if students and child welfare workers had an increase in their skills in assessment and mental health issues with this population. The sample size from the exam portion of the evaluation was too small for any meaningful summaries, at this point. To ensure protection of the students and workers, the university's Institutional Review Board approved the data collection protocol and procedures. The perspectives of both students and the current child welfare workers in the class were sought in the evaluation of this pilot program in order to modify content and focus for future cohorts in the program. It is believed that by using a focus group format in obtaining these data from both social work students and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) workers, they were able to provide multiple perspectives on how the curriculum met their needs. As a triangulation method, the stated concepts were also consistent with the objectives outlined in the syllabus. Concept mapping was the methodology used to collect and analyze the qualitative and quantitative data (Trochim, 2002). This article presents findings from the concept-mapping process, and recommendations are provided regarding infusing child welfare curriculum into social work programs.
Professionalization of Child Welfare
Throughout the past 20 years, an explosion of child maltreatment reports has occurred in the United States (Cash & Wilke, 2003; Chaffin, Kelleher, & Hollenberg, 1996; Freisthler, 2004; Lindsey, 1994). During this time, however, there has been insufficient funding for recruiting and training qualified professionals to work with an increasing number of children and families (Fox, Burnham, & Miller, 1997). State and county child welfare agencies have been left to scramble and recruit a cadre of child welfare workers (from various academic backgrounds) needing to be trained for many different aspects of the child welfare worker's job, including: answering hotline calls, conducting investigations, making critical decisions about children's safety and care, and providing services to families. These workers are recruited and placed in the front lines without necessarily having a degree in social work (Risley-Curtis, McMurtry, & Loren, 1997). As a result, there is a contingency of child welfare workers who are charged with the responsibility of protecting children and serving families, without having the specialized educational background necessary to make these decisions (Briar-Lawson, Schmid, & Harris, 1997; Pecora, 1989; Vinokur-Kaplan, 1987). It has been suggested that using workers with social work degrees and training in child welfare would lead to "better child safety, stronger families, fewer lawsuits, and fewer public attacks" (Briar-Lawson et al. …