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Dec/Jan 2009Vol. 9, No. 10The National Child Welfare Leadership Institute Trains Future Leaders

The National Child Welfare Leadership Institute (NCWLI) is a 17-month project created to provide leadership training to mid-level child welfare managers in public and Tribal agencies around the country. Training focuses on the use of evidence-based management skills to implement organizational change and includes group training events and individual technical assistance. The project is currently in its final phase, with funding ending in February 2009.

Funded through a cooperative agreement with the Children's Bureau, the NCWLI is a project of the Social Research Institute at the College of Social Work, University of Utah. Partners include Independent Living Resources, Inc., American Humane Association, the National Implementation Research Network, and the University of South Florida (USF). Norma Harris, Ph.D., serves as project director and Ray Kirk, Ph.D., as co-principal investigator.

The project began with a review of the leadership literature, which led project staff to target leadership change as the project's focus, incorporating a "stages of change" model adapted for child welfare. Project staff also chose to focus on mid-level managers, since these managers will be the ones taking leadership positions when current child welfare leaders retire. Eighty-eight mid-level managers nominated by their CEOs or Tribal leaders were accepted into the program. Before they began the initial training, participants were asked to present a change initiative they wanted to implement in their own agency. The change initiatives covered a wide range of child welfare topics, from implementing systems of care in child welfare, to improving CPS interactions with juvenile court, to implementing uniform safety, risk, and family assessment practices.

The leadership training has occurred in four phases:

  • A 5-day training event. In the first training event, held at four locations around the country, participants spent 2 days developing leadership skills and 2 days exploring how these leadership skills could be applied in two topical areas: family assessment (including engagement, formal assessment, and family-centered practice) and disproportionality in child welfare (including disparity and building cultural competency and responsiveness). On the final day, participants used their new skills to design a plan for their own change initiative.
  • A 3-month transfer of learning. During this phase, trainees began their change initiatives within their agencies. Project staff developed a private website for each of the four training sites to give trainees the opportunity to share information about their initiatives. Project staff also provided technical assistance over the websites and held teleconferences every 2 weeks.
  • A 3-day training event. For the second onsite training event, project staff conducted a review and held training sessions on program evaluation, dealing with the media and the public, and recognizing and anticipating secondary stress among CPS workers.
  • A 5-6 month implementation phase. The project is currently in this phase. Participants are continuing with the implementation of their change initiatives, and project staff are offering intensive technical assistance. Project staff also developed a series of webcasts on child welfare topics.

Researchers from the Florida Mental Health Institute at USF are evaluating the project. The training modules were evaluated after every session, and this information was used to make adjustments in the materials used for later trainings. While USF researchers are conducting the overall project evaluation, the co-principal investigators hope to collect information on the participants' individual projects to find out how their initiatives changed their agencies and, eventually, outcomes for children and families.

Anecdotal feedback to date has been extremely positive. Participant reactions include, "This is the best professional development experience I've ever had," and "I now have hope and optimism so I can do the job," as well as other similar responses. Project staff report strong commitment and enthusiasm among participants for the training, their individual change initiatives, and the child welfare field in general.

For more information about the NCWLI or to learn more about the training curriculum and materials, visit the NCWLI website at or contact Norma Harris at

Many thanks to Norma Harris, who provided the information for this article.