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March 2008Vol. 9, No. 2Child Welfare Training in Rural Oregon and Alaska

Focusing on the unique opportunities presented by rural child welfare, partners from the University of Alaska and Portland State University in Oregon teamed with Oregon's Department of Human Services and the Child Welfare Region centered in Bethel, AK, to develop training for State and Tribal child welfare workers, foster parents, and community partners. The resulting training project, "Training for Excellence in Child Welfare in Rural Oregon and Alaska," serves as an affirmation and celebration of rural child welfare practice, boosting the recognition and importance of rural and Tribal child welfare staff and their work.

The project addresses the special benefits and challenges of working in rural communities. As noted by the project's principal investigator, Dr. Katharine Cahn, rural child welfare practice differs from practice in other localities in three major ways:

  • Remoteness, which affects budget, time, and workload, as workers cover long distances and find creative ways to deal with technological challenges
  • Resources, which may be limited in a formal sense but plentiful when community networks, family, and cultural networks are tapped
  • Relationships, which take on a greater importance in areas where workers may regularly come into contact with families in the community, and collaboration among service providers and partners is the norm

Representatives from child welfare and Tribal staff, the State agency liaison, training staff, and an evaluator formed a steering committee for the project, often holding meetings via teleconference. As its first task, the committee conducted a training needs assessment by visiting pilot sites in Oregon and Alaska and reviewing Child and Family Services Review data. As a result of the assessment, the committee launched an ambitious training program, developing a variety of training materials and methods for delivery, including:

  • A 3-day institute, "In Celebration of Rural Practice," that offers face-to-face training for child welfare workers (and has been held in both Oregon and Alaska)
  • Web CT (course tools), which offers 5-week, college-level classes and credit for rural child welfare staff and includes real-time and self-paced training
  • Net-Link distance training for child welfare workers and caregivers, offering training on specific topics through a virtual classroom
  • Creation of a casebook of rural family case studies and community scenarios that can be used in a variety of trainings
  • Adaptation to meet cultural learning needs and training of trainers for the Tribal Risk and Safety Training offered by the National Resource Center on Child Protective Services
  • A newsletter, Rural Express, available online and in hard copy for wide distribution (

Anecdotal reports from the more than 900 workers and supervisors who participated in trainings have been very positive, indicating that training objectives were accomplished. More evaluation data will be available as the project funding period comes to an end this fiscal year.

For more information on "Training for Excellence in Child Welfare Practice in Rural Oregon and Alaska," visit the project website:

Or contact:
Judy Miller, Project Director
Portland State University
Child Welfare Partnership
4061 Winema Place NE #215
Salem, OR 97305

The Training for Excellence in Child Welfare Practice in Rural Oregon and Alaska project is funded by the Children's Bureau, Grant 90CT0125, under the Children's Bureau Priority Area: Training for Effective Child Welfare Practice in Rural Communities. This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from official Children's Bureau site visits.