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Dec/Jan 2009Vol. 9, No. 10Workforce Institute Launches With Ambitious Program

The National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) was recently funded by the Children's Bureau as a 5-year project to raise national awareness about child welfare workforce issues and cultivate leadership at multiple levels within child welfare agencies, expanding the skills and knowledge of professionals in public, private, and Tribal child welfare systems. As a member of the Children's Bureau Training and Technical Assistance (T&TA) Network, the NCWWI will serve as a workforce resource to other members that provide T&TA to States and Tribes.

"We know that child welfare workforce issues have a real impact on outcomes for children and families," noted NCWWI Project Director Nancy Dickinson, Ph.D. "For instance, high turnover among caseworkers has been linked to higher rates of repeat maltreatment and slower permanency. And we also know that mid-manager and supervisory leadership is key to building a healthy workforce."

Staff members on the NCWWI project have an interesting history together. Almost all are faculty from social work schools at eight universities around the country funded by the Children's Bureau in 2003 as grantees for "Developing Models of Effective Child Welfare Staff Recruitment and Retention Training." During their 5-year projects, the eight grantees were able to share information and develop strong working relationships. This established collaboration has given the group a running start as they launch the NCWWI. Their newest partner, the National Indian Child Welfare Association, adds important expertise related to Tribal systems.

The Institute will undertake a broad range of activities to promote effective child welfare practice and leadership development. Early in the NCWWI's first year, project staff are focusing on knowledge assessment and management (KAM) in an effort to assemble a comprehensive collection of best practices in workforce development, leadership, and cultural competence. Content for competency-based training curricula and other resources will grow out of this KAM effort. Other components of the NCWWI will include:

  • A Leadership Academy for Managers that will provide residential training for 622 mid-level child welfare managers at 5 sites around the country over 5 years
  • A Leadership Academy for Supervisors that will provide online training for child welfare supervisors
  • Funding and oversight of child welfare traineeship programs at nine M.S.W. and B.S.W. universities, where participating students will have field placements in child welfare, enroll in relevant classes, and work in a child welfare agency upon graduation (see "Workforce Grants for M.S.W. and B.S.W. Programs" in this issue)
  • Development of peer-to-peer networks among individual manager and supervisor groups, university faculty, B.S.W. and M.S.W. students and, eventually, at a more inclusive, national level
  • A national dissemination network
  • An extensive project evaluation and cross-site evaluation of five other regionally based workforce projects funded by the Children's Bureau

All of these NCWWI components will be grounded in a systems of care framework. Training will focus on helping child welfare leaders bring about systemic change at all levels—from university programs to child welfare agencies to States, Tribes, and national networks. The goal is to change organizational climates to incorporate the following:

  • An intentional focus on recruitment and retention of a qualified child welfare workforce
  • Leadership planning and preparation
  • Distributed leadership within an organization so that staff at all levels feel they have a voice
  • A supportive environment for supervisors and caseworkers

Leading the effort is the University at Albany, State University of New York, which is joined by the University of Denver, Fordham University, University of Iowa, Michigan State University, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, University of Southern Maine, and the National Indian Child Welfare Association. Co-principal investigators are Mary McCarthy, Ph.D., and Katharine Briar-Lawson, Ph.D.

For more information on the NCWWI, contact Nancy Dickinson at

Many thanks to Nancy Dickinson, who provided the information for this article.