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School of Social Work Receives $750,000 to Help Transform Child Welfare

Federal grant aims to improve training, performance of workers

A $750,000 federal grant has designated greater Kansas City as a “transformation zone” for child welfare efforts, with the funds dedicated to improving the training and performance of child welfare workers.

The National Child Welfare Workforce Initiative (NCWWI) University Partnership grant has been awarded to the School of Social Work at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The School of Social Work is working with the Missouri Children’s Division, Cornerstones of Care and the Child Protection Center to transform development of social workers and services for children and their families in public and private child welfare settings.

“This grant supports significant state-wide change initiatives that build upon unique elements of our curriculum,” said Rosalyn M. Bertram, Ph.D., a professor of social work and lead researcher on the UMKC grant.  “Our emphasis is on evidence-based practice models that have been shown to strengthen families.

“NCWWI grant recipients generate local, state and national lessons about developing a public and private child welfare workforce that is sustainable, evidence-based and informed,” Bertram said.

UMKC’s five-year grant provides full tuition and most fees for selected students. The initial cohort of six students began classes and field placements this semester. From four to six students will be admitted each additional year through 2019.

UMKC’s grant-funded students, select grant staff, and the greater Kansas City area will serve as a “transformation zone” in which Missouri’s Children’s Division will test and bring to scale initiatives focused on improved family engagement and a transformation of family-centered services through revised training, coaching and development of the child welfare workforce.

Bertram said that UMKC’s NCWWI traineeship seeks a diverse group of students. “Ideally we’re looking for more mature students who may have kids of their own, but not necessarily those with a child welfare background,” she said. “In fact, without such work experience, they bring fresh eyes to our change efforts.”

Students take courses as a cohort. Their NCWWI traineeship includes field experience working in various child welfare settings three days each week. They rotate through different private and public child welfare responsibilities twice each semester.

Based upon their development, as students complete their education and earn an MSW degree, the grant partner agencies identify child welfare employment opportunities.

NCWWI graduates must work in child welfare for at least as many months as they received financial support through the grant. In most cases, this will be just over two years. They also participate in continuing evaluations of grant activities as well as child welfare and MSW curriculum change initiatives.

By law, the Children’s Division investigates abuse or neglect reports and is joined by the Child Protection Center in forensic evaluation of sexual abuse reports. The Children’s Division also provides family-centered services when children are at risk for placement in alternative care settings. If a child is placed in alternative care, the Children’s Division is responsible for simultaneously working with biological and foster parents to determine the best outcomes.

Cornerstones of Care is a large non-profit private child welfare service organization that complements these efforts with intensive in-home services, prevention programs, and recruitment and support of foster care providers.

UMKC’s MSW program received this award with ten other universities that offer social work master or bachelor degrees. Missouri State University‘s BSW program was similarly funded. Missouri is the only state to receive two grants. Other programs receiving NCWWI funding include the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Connecticut.

In addition to receiving the University Partnership grant, Missouri was selected as one of only three states to participate in NCWWI’s Workforce Excellence initiative. This award provides three years of training, technical assistance, and evaluation of specific child welfare change initiatives.

The child welfare change initiatives funded by the grant will be the focus of the keynote opening panel presentation at the annual regional child welfare conference for professionals in the field, “Fostering Strategies for Change: Children, Families and their Communities.” It is being held Nov. 12 on the 4th floor of the UMKC Student Union; $60 registration includes CEUs, parking and meals. For more information and registration go to the conference website.

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