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Georgia Universities, Family Services Agency Partner on Child Welfare

The schools of social work at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University and the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services are teaming up for the next four years in an initiative aimed at boosting the state’s capacity to provide high-quality child welfare services.

Their collaboration – one of eight proposals nationwide chosen by the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) – will involve evaluating the agency and creating a leadership training program for its employees.

Dr. Anna ScheyettDr. Anna Scheyett

“This new initiative is exciting because it builds on our existing work and expands it into the area of leadership workforce development and data-driven change,” said Dr. Anna Scheyett, social work dean and professor at UGA.

UGA has partnered with DFCS for many years on multiple fronts, she said, including the Title IV-E program, work with DFCS boards, developing the agency’s employee selection protocol and student internships.

Dr. Brian Bride, director of GSU’s social work school – the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies – and a distinguished professor there, said the three entities “all kind of jumped on it and got together” in response to a call for proposals earlier this year to become a NCWWI Agency-University Partnership Workforce Excellence site.

“I’m really excited that we’re able to take part in this,” said Bride. “Child welfare is such a challenging field. It’s such an opportunity to receive funding to try to better that one aspect of social work.”

For years, GSU has provided ongoing training of the agency’s front-line workers, he said, and the new project will involve training supervisors the next level up.

The project was among eight Workforce Excellence sites nationwide selected by the NCWWI. Representatives of all eight will convene next Tuesday and Wednesday in St. Louis to start gearing up, said Bride.

Dr. Brian BrideDr. Brian Bride

NCWWI awarded UGA $650,000 and GSA $579,000 to implement the program. The grants will cover the tuition and fees and provide stipends to master of social work students — many of them DFCS employees — who are accepted into the competitive program. In exchange, they will join or return to the GA-DFCS workforce upon graduation.

“Our approach is unique in that we are providing current DFCS supervisors, managers and administrators with an opportunity to return to school and obtain their MSW while remaining employed,” said Dr. Allison Dunnigan, a UGA assistant professor and principal investigator for the UGA program.

Starting this fall, the UGA School of Social Work will admit two cohorts of six to seven students who are current DFCS staff in administrative positions or who have been identified by the agency as having management potential.

The staff will receive training on child welfare topics identified as priority areas by the university faculty and the professional community. Additionally, UGA will offer new and revised child welfare-related curriculum to students in the graduate social work program.

“We hope that by targeting supervisors across Georgia, we can have a large-scale impact at the county level,” said Dunnigan. “These supervisors will take their training and knowledge gained at UGA back to the field where it will impact how they support case managers and investigators, as well as DFCS programs.”

The funding also will support a comprehensive assessment of Georgia’s child welfare agencies that will begin this month. It will identify strengths and challenges such as supervision quality, case manager training and burnout, and the results will inform plans for workforce development and organizational change.

GSU’s school of social work has a history of creating innovative partnerships and building strong relationships with GA-DFCS and the UGA.

“This may be, in part, why the partnership’s proposal was successful,” said Dr. Robin Hartinger-Saunders, director of the Title IV-E program at Georgia State and an associate professor of social work who will manage the program for GSU.

But this partnership represents a departure of sorts from prior collaborations, said Bride.

“The difference with this program is its focus around leadership and workforce development, and organizational change to improve outcomes,” he said.

Each summer starting in 2020, the university partners will hold a training institute that will be open to current DFCS employees, child welfare-focused students in the federal Title IV-E program and other community partners engaged in child welfare practice.

Workshops will be provided on key subject areas identified by the assessment, as well as training opportunities for field supervisors, said Dunnigan.

LaMont Jones can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMontJones

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