Preparing Child Welfare Professionals
I have held numerous roles within the St. Vincent Catholic Charities Child Welfare program, where I have witnessed the field change drastically over the past few years. In such a fluid child welfare community, here are certain training practices that greatly aide future child welfare professionals, help agencies and can improve the overall child welfare field.
4 tips for colleges and universities on how to best prepare our future child welfare professionals:
1. Specialized Instructional Programs
Many college programs are very specific beyond the general degrees offered. For example, some major universities provide the option of a Child Welfare Certificate to accompany the Bachelor of Social Work degree.
This can mean and lead to:
- Students having increased hiring chances and are top prospects for hiring agencies because they are more employable.
- A student is partially trained for a Foster Care or Adoption Case Manager position and only needs to attend the latter half of the Child Welfare Training Institute (CWTI) Training. A student is more prepared for the reality of the field. This saves the agency the cost of training and allows the Case Manager to take on cases sooner.
2. Internship Placement Duration
Most cases last at least a full year from beginning to end, sometimes longer, making long-term internships essential. A 12 week internship or even a 16 week internship barely allows an intern to grasp the process of Foster Care, and provides limited understanding of the Adoption process.
What does that mean?
- Increasing internships at an agency to an academic year allows students to gain a full learning experience in Child Welfare.
- Multiple, different objectives can be met throughout the year.
- Future child welfare professionals can build and maintain a working relationship with employees of the agency and with the families involved.
3. Facilities, Technology, and Equipment
The universal program across Michigan for all Child Welfare agencies, Michigan Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (MiSACWIS), rolled out to the state in Spring 2014 and has essentially changed the work of Child Welfare staff. A student is not allowed access to the system, even for an internship, because of the sensitivity of the information. CWTI trains new workers in artificial modules to give them practice within the system; however, the reality of the program is not experienced until actual cases are assigned.
So What Can Schools Do?
Colleges acquiring teaching modules of these styles may be difficult, but research into this technical area could possibly create more demand for students who have experience in these modules. Currently many colleges do not currently offer any education of technology similar to MiSACWIS. Having this teaching method could also benefit the school.
4. Internship Placements
You can encourage students to pursue:
- For a first or second year Child Welfare student, a placement in a Substance Abuse or Child Protective Services area:
– This is a great place where students can gain a general background of what begins a case.
- A Child Welfare Support position:
– This type of position can provide a well rounded view of Child Welfare. They work behind the scenes in Foster Care and Adoption, and Foster Home Licensing minus the direct casework. This includes contact with parents, children, workers, and therapeutic professionals, only on more of an administrative support level. While this position would be beneficial, it would only be available to students pursuing a bachelor degree.
- For third or fourth year students, specific experiences such as Foster Care, Adoption, or Residential Case Management and a full academic year of learning are ideal:
– Discourage the idea of simply “getting your feet wet.” This can lead to idealizations of the Child Welfare world since future child welfare professionals are not getting an in-depth look at the work being done. Having the student dive in allows him or her to fully understand what he or she is actually getting into. This type of internship allows for direct contact with birth families, foster families, and a myriad of shadowing opportunities, including court, DHHS meetings and Family Team Meetings.
What I learned
These are my personal and professional opinions that I have developed since graduating in 2009. My internship experience only allowed me to touch the surface of the Child Welfare world. I have personally experienced and have witnessed the anxiety many students feel while seeking employment after graduation. One thing I have learned is that the more real life application in the child welfare field student experiences, the more successful the students will be as child welfare professionals.
Dorothy Whiting has been with St. Vincent Catholic Charities for four years. Prior to her current position as Child Welfare support, she has been a Family Preservation Specialist, and a Child Welfare and Adoption Aide. Dorothy also is on the Emergency Response Team, is the Volunteer/Intern Point Person for Child Welfare, and is the Adoption Search Coordinator for STVCC.