Enhancing Child Welfare Service Delivery: Promoting Agency-Social Work Education Partnerships
Zlotnik, Joan Levy, Policy & Practice of Public Human Services
Editor's Note: The issue of recruiting and retaining child welfare workers is important to APHSA members. As a result, the APHSA Board of Directors has convened a task force to address the issue. Under the direction of APHSA's Board Task Forte on Human Services Workforce Preparation, Recruitment, and Retention, APHSA staff has formed a partnership with the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and the Alliance for Children and Families to gather data about the scope and nature of workforce problems in child welfare agencies. Using a common questionnaire, the three organizations surveyed their public members (APHSA) and private members (CWLA and the Alliance) in late 2000. APHSA's preliminary findings are expected to be presented at APHSA's spring meeting of the National Council of State Human Service Administrators in Bethesda, Maryland.
Child welfare agencies throughout the United States are challenged to recruit and retain competent staff (Alwon & Reitz, 2000). Frontline staff and supervisors need knowledge and skills to deal with the complexities of child welfare practice--working with children and families who have multiple problems; dealing with multiple systems, including the courts, mental health, schools, and substance abuse providers; and providing a range of direct counseling, therapeutic, and case management services.
The need for well-trained, competent staff who will remain on the job for a reasonable period of time is further reinforced by efforts to implement the provisions of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997. ASFA places renewed emphasis on staff abilities. Staff need to work "quicker" and "smarter" to ensure timely decision-making and to address safety, permanence, and well-being for each child who enters the child welfare system. They need to have the value base and ethical standards to effectively implement such practices as concurrent planning and family group decision-making.
With more than one-half of the states involved in child welfare class action lawsuits, a frequent antidote is to require that child welfare staff have better training (Jenkins, 1994). For example, to settle a long-standing class action lawsuit in Illinois, the Department of Children and Family Services sought accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Services for Families and Children (COA) for its public agency and all its private providers. Under COA standards, all child welfare supervisors must have a graduate degree in social work or a related field. To meet this standard, the state sent more than 140 supervisors to graduate school to get their master's in social work.
As further evidence of the need for competent staff, research on child welfare practice also indicates that agencies may encounter the following benefits if they hire staff with social work degrees:
* Agencies have lower rates of turnover if some positions require a graduate degree in social work;
* Staff with undergraduate and graduate social work degrees are better able to make permanency plans for children who are in foster care for at least two years (Albers, Rittner & Reilly, 1993);
* Staff with graduate social work degrees are better able to deal with the complexity of problems faced in child welfare practice; and
* Staff with social work degrees are rated higher on quality assurance measures (Dhooper, Royse & Wolfe, 1990).
Reconnecting Social Work Education and Child Welfare
To meet policy and judicial demands and to improve practice, child welfare agencies at the state and local levels have reconnected with social work education programs to
* Develop staff training strategies for current staff,
* Encourage social work students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels to pursue careers in child welfare,
* Provide opportunities for current child welfare staff to return to school to get graduate social work degrees, and
* Undertake collaborative research, program development, evaluation, and planning efforts. …