SWPI Symposium Examines Child Welfare

Mary McCarthyMary McCarthy: “The nature of the world today has created the heightened need for leadership during times of change, reform or implementation of a renovation.”

The NASW Foundation’s Social Work Policy Institute hosted a symposium with representatives from child welfare research, policy and practice, social work education and child welfare training to discuss the critical role of supervisors in the delivery of quality child welfare services.

Joan Levy Zlotnik, director of SWPI, noted that social workers are leaders in child welfare in regard to practice, research, education and policy.

Input from the November meeting, titled “Supervision: The Safety Net for Front-Line Child Welfare Practice,” will be used to shape a plan of action for future research and opportunities for enhancement of supervisory practice, as well as developing training and suggestions for strengthening collaborations and recommendations for policy, Zlotnik said. The symposium will also assist NASW’s efforts to address child welfare workforce issues and enhance the delivery of services.

The event was planned in conjunction with the NASW Center for Workforce Studies and Social Work Practice and the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute, which is a service of the Children’s Bureau. Casey Family Programs was a contributing partner.

Crystal Collins-Camargo, assistant professor in the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, presented “Highlighting the Evidence Base for Enhancing Supervision in Child Welfare Practice.”

In her discussion, she said there is a growing body of evidence that supervision is vital to achieving a sustainable, committed and engaged workforce, which can result in improved outcomes for children.

She said after the meeting that the topic of leadership in child welfare is timely.

“We know that supervisors provide a particularly critical role in child welfare, but this role has not historically been understood, appreciated or nurtured,” Collins-Camargo said. “I believe this symposium helped to underscore the need for continued research, policy analysis and practice improvement around child welfare supervision.”

Mary McCarthy is co-principal investigator at the NCWWI, lecturer at the School of Social Welfare at University at Albany, SUNY, and a member of the NASW Board of Directors. She presented “The Leadership Role of Supervisors.” She explained that the NCWWI supports the development of child welfare leaders in public and tribal child welfare systems and private agencies contracted by states to provide case management services traditionally administered by the public child welfare system.

Andrew SafyerAnnie BrownParticipants Annie Brown of Howard University and Andrew Safyer of Adelphi University contribute to the discussion.

“The nature of the world today has created the heightened need for leadership during times of change, reform or implementation of an innovation,” she said. One example of helping promote this cause is the Leadership Academy of Supervisors, an online training curriculum that is specifically designed to build leadership skills, McCarthy said.

She said she appreciates that SWPI has offered a national venue for discussions that focus on critical topics relevant to social workers and the systems they work in. “Our profession should be at the forefront of identifying solutions to the challenges faced by these systems,” she said.

“I hope the outcomes from the symposium help highlight evidence-informed supervisory practices and remind us that system reform does not reside on the shoulders of one group or in an organization,” she added.

Carol Wilson Spigner, emerita associate professor/clinician educator at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work Policy and Practice, presented “Supervising for Racial Equity.” Her presentation urged agencies to conduct a broader conversation about stigma, race and ethnicity, class, structural and institutional racism to minimize the impact of stigma on the families and children they serve.

She said supervisors are the standardbearers for good practice and must participate in the formulation of policy and training procedures.

Tracy Whitaker, director of the NASW Center for Workforce Studies and Social Work Practice, presented “Social Workers in Child Welfare: Implications for Supervision.”

A 2004 national study of licensed social workers “has several implications for supervision,” Whitaker explained. “Social workers may choose child welfare practice for a variety of reasons; in fact, child welfare and family practice is a key entry route into the profession for new graduates. However, the findings suggest that once there, social workers face particular challenges, perhaps most significantly their feeling less positive about their ability to intervene effectively in the lives of their clients. As a result, child welfare/family practice can also be an exit route from the profession.”

Whitaker said supervisors may have a unique opportunity to retain their professional social work staff by paying attention to other factors that push social workers away from child welfare.

The symposium also allowed an opportunity for frank discussion.

Zlotnik said some attendees expressed the need to bring competency-based training components to help supervisors become more effective leaders.

Several attendees said the role that supervisors play is incredibly complex. “It was expressed that we don’t do a good job of preparing people for this role,” Zlotnik said. “There were questions about the minimum education requirement for supervisors.”

The knowledge, skills and values provided through a social work degree are aligned with roles and functions; however, people moving into supervisory roles after a few years of practice need continuing education, Zlotnik said.

SWPI will produce a report from the symposium as well as a brief to disseminate to NASW chapters. The presentations will also be available as a continuing education program. “Many chapters are involved with child welfare issues so we hope to share this meeting with others involved in policy making,” she said.

In related news, the NASW Center for Workforce Studies and Social Work Practice released a new Practice Perspective, Supporting the Child Welfare Workforce to Reduce Child Maltreatment. [See the Child Welfare Practice section of the new website.]


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