A workforce training program created by UConn’s School of Social Work in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) is preparing a select group of graduate social work students to work with the most vulnerable children and families the state agency serves.
The program, called the Partnership for Child Welfare Excellence Traineeship, graduated seven students last year who were all hired by DCF, says Antonia Cordero, associate professor of social work. Another eight are expected to graduate this spring and will also be given priority consideration for employment with DCF.
Ultimately, the partnership aims to train 35 Master of Social Work (MSW) graduates over five years to help DCF employees work effectively with vulnerable children and families.
“UConn is partnering with the state’s child welfare agency to develop a highly competent workforce to address the current needs of DCF and its clients,” Cordero says. She notes that the program is tailored to DCF’s “Strengthening Families Practice Model,” which calls on social workers to collaborate with families by building on family strengths to find solutions to the challenges that affect their children.
UConn’s School of Social Work was among 13 university graduate programs nationwide awarded a five-year, $735,000 federal grant in 2014 from the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute. The university-agency partnership funding covers the cost of tuition for the final year of graduate study for UConn students in the program, and in exchange the trainees are expected to work for at least a year in one of DCF’s public child welfare regional area offices or facilities.
The School of Social Work has developed a specialized master’s level curriculum focused on serving the needs of vulnerable children, particularly in African-American and Hispanic families, who make up nearly 60 percent of the state agency’s clients. The partnership also hopes to increase the ethnic diversity and linguistic competency of the agency’s staff to better represent the diverse population served, and has emphasized recruiting minority, bilingual, and male candidates to take part in the program.
Louise Montemurro, program manager of DCF’s Academy for Workforce Development, notes that many of DCF’s current child welfare workforce have not previously had an opportunity for a master’s level social work education. Yet, given the complexity of many child welfare cases served by DCF, which often include trauma, multigenerational poverty, and racial and ethnic disparity, graduate-level child welfare specialization skills can help the agency’s future workforce to be effective.
“UConn has a very strong graduate program,” she says, “so we have wanted this partnership for quite some time. Our traineeship program has built a bridge between the work we do in child protection and what the students are taught in the classroom, providing them a chance to do an internship here and hopefully end up working at DCF.”
The partnership has become “a really fabulous working relationship,” Montemurro adds.
Additional School of Social Work staff working on the program include Robin Spath, associate professor; Mary Harris-Miller, academic specialist; Kathi Crowe, project specialist; and Cheryl Jackson-Morris, program director.