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Effective Frontline Supervision Essential to Child Protection Services

National Association of Social Workers Releases Report on Workplace, Skills and Support Challenges

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Every day a child in the U.S. dies from child abuse and neglect.  In many instances, these horrific deaths could be prevented. 

Every day, public child welfare employees, many of whom are professional social workers, witness some of the most difficult challenges facing families. They are charged with investigating, and intervening, when children are exposed to drugs, sexual abuse and countless other forms of family violence and neglect. 

No two cases are the same, and no two workers are exactly alike. Yet policy makers and the public demand immediate and uniform corrective action when the unthinkable occurs; and supervisors are accountable.

To better understand the complex and crucial role supervisors play in the child welfare system, the NASW Social Work Policy Institute (SWPI) has published its final report from the November 2010 national symposium, “Supervision: The Safety Net for Frontline Child Welfare Practice.”

According to NASW, child welfare supervisors are expected to be:

  • highly skilled practitioners who can implement ethical and culturally competent practices that result in improved outcomes for children and families
  • mentors to frontline workers, many of whom do not have formal social work training
  • actively involved in their communities
  • skilled at transmitting agency policies and evaluating performance
  • exemplary leaders who help others cope with the stress and trauma of the work

However, real world child welfare practice indicates that it is very difficult to be effective in each of these roles simultaneously, and nearly impossible to find all these attributes in one individual.

Experts from all areas of the child welfare system—federal, state and local leaders, public agencies, as well as private non-profits—conclude in this report that the lack of program research, consistent tools, adequate workplace supports and best practice models, coupled with repetitive experiences of trauma, service and resource gaps, and inconsistent hiring qualifications all contribute to troubling outcomes for children and overburdened foster care systems. 

“We have reached an important crossroads in our country,” says Joan Levy Zlotnik, Ph.D., ACSW, director of the NASW Social Work Policy Institute. “As a society, we have increasingly high expectations of the system but we do not invest in the very innovations needed to keep up with service demand.”

Recent child death cases in New York, Florida, Oklahoma and Ohio have made it clear that new commitments to ensure better training and high-quality supervision in child welfare are worth larger national discussions.

The full report, “The Safety Net for Frontline Child Welfare Practice," can be found at

To watch video presentations from the November 18, 2010, Symposium, please click here.

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The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers with 145,000 members. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.