UGA collaboration focuses on child welfare

Two universities and a state agency are combining forces to increase Georgia's capacity to deliver high-quality child welfare services.

Over the next four years the University of Georgia School of Social Work, in collaboration with Georgia State University School of Social Work and the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, will evaluate the health of the child welfare agency and implement a leadership training program for DFCS employees. UGA and GSU will provide tuition stipends for DFCS staff who wish to earn a master’s degree in social work.

“UGA has partnered with DFCS for many years—in the Title IV-E program, in our work with DFCS boards, in developing the DFCS employee selection protocol, and in our many internships with DFCS,” said Anna Scheyett, dean and professor at the UGA School of Social Work. “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.”

The UGA portion of the four-year project is funded with a $650,000 award from the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute. The Georgia group was among eight selected by the NCWWI as a Workforce Excellence site.

“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 Allison Dunnigan, an assistant professor in the school and principal investigator for the program at UGA.

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 have been identified by the agency as having management potential. The staff will receive child welfare-specific training in topics identified as priority areas by the school’s faculty and the professional community. The school also will offer new and revised child welfare-related curriculum to all 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, who proposed the project. “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.”

In addition to tuition stipends, the funding will support a comprehensive assessment of Georgia’s child welfare agencies. The assessment, to begin this June, will identify strengths and challenges such as burnout, case manager training and supervision quality. Results will inform plans for organizational change and workforce development.

The university partners also will hold an annual summer training institute. The institute 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. It will provide workshops on key subject areas identified by the assessment, as well as training opportunities for field supervisors, said Dunnigan. The first summer institute will be held in 2020.

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