Pennsylvania's Comprehensive Approach to Training and Education in Public Child Welfare

By Breitenstein, Larry; Rycus, Judith et al. | Public Welfare, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Pennsylvania's Comprehensive Approach to Training and Education in Public Child Welfare


Breitenstein, Larry, Rycus, Judith, Sites, Edward, Kelley, Kathy Jones, Public Welfare


An interdisciplinary, competency-based program prepares child welfare staff to address complex family problems and administrative decisions.

Preparing child welfare staff for the complex demands and challenges of their work has long been a public policy concern. Agencies and jurisdictions vary widely in their emphasis on professional social work education as a prerequisite for employment. While workers with undergraduate social work degrees are reported to be better prepared for child welfare practice, fewer than 25 percent of all child welfare workers nationally receive any preservice education.(1) In fact, tens of thousands of child welfare workers, supervisors, and administrators throughout North America are employed in agencies without the benefit of professional education and training. It has been recognized for decades that social work education alone cannot meet the learning needs of child welfare staff.(2) Continuing opportunities for in-service and on-the-job training are essential to address this need.

Such concerns prompted Pennsylvania in 1986 to begin to formulate a policy response to the problem of ensuring timely and well-integrated education and training for practitioners in the public child welfare system.

Pennsylvania's public child welfare system employs more than 4,000 staff in 67 county-administered children and youth agencies. These agencies serve a culturally and economically diverse population in a variety of communities, ranging from large metropolitan centers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to very sparsely populated rural counties. Some of the smaller agencies employ as few as three staff. The educational requirements for employment in these agencies vary from as few as 12 college social science credits to a master's degree in social work (MSW). Further, Pennsylvania's county-administered system creates considerable diversity in local agency philosophy and approach. These factors present significant challenges to any education and training system that strives to establish consistent standards and uniformity in casework practice throughout the service system.

Ultimately, through a lengthy sequence of developmental efforts, Pennsylvania conceptualized, developed, and fully implemented an integrated system of education and training designed to promote best practices in child welfare throughout the state. Pennsylvania's policy is based on the premise that to be of value, child welfare training and education must accomplish the following objectives:

* Meet the individual learning needs of each employee;

* Prepare staff to help local agencies achieve their unique organizational goals and objectives;

* Promote achievement of the mandates and expectations of both federal and state human service agencies; and

* Be easily accessible and routinely available to all child welfare staff, regardless of their position or placement in the system.

Given the diversity of practice, the wide scope and variety of needs, and the multiple providers of social work training and education in the state, extensive collaboration was essential to achieve a system without creating or promoting redundancy. A unique collaboration between the public and private sectors, across disciplines, and among local, regional, and state administrative structures was created to design, develop, and ultimately manage such a system. This collaboration has been a significant strength in achieving Pennsylvania's goals.

Elements of the Training and Education System

The two major components of Pennsylvania's training and education system are the Child Welfare Competency-Based Training and Certification (CBT) Program and the Child Welfare Education for Leadership (CWEL) Program. While these two programs represent collaborations between state and county governments and two different universities, they were designed to complement each other and to prevent duplication of effort. …

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