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February 2013Vol. 14, No. 1Strengthening the Workforce for Systems Change

By Mary McCarthy, Co-Principal Investigator, Katharine Briar-Lawson, Co-Principal Investigator, and Nancy S. Dickinson, Project Director, at the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute

Children, youth, and families who come into contact with child welfare services deserve evidence-informed assistance from a committed and skilled workforce, one supported and nurtured by the leadership skills of staff at all levels. These leadership skills include competencies to implement systems change; develop innovative programs and practices advancing improved outcomes for children, youth and families; and foster stable, well-managed, high performing agencies. Over the past 10 years, there has been increasing attention to and significant Federal support for strengthening the child welfare workforce, in particular the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI).

NCWWI is funded through a cooperative agreement with the Children's Bureau and is a collaborative involving nine schools of social work with Principal Investigators experienced in child welfare workforce development. Serving as a national learning and capacity building resource, NCWWI is guided by a rich evaluative process. NCWWI spearheads a number of strategies to build the leadership capacity of the workforce to implement meaningful change in child welfare:

  1. Developing a model for child welfare leadership
    The Leadership Model and Competency Framework with The Leadership Competency Model and Framework that portray the multiple dimensions of child welfare leadership are fundamental to the work of NCWWI. The Leadership Model describes four domains of leadership—leading change, leading in context, leading people, and leading for results—and five leadership principles (adaptive, collaborative, distributive, inclusive, and outcome focused), identifying the skills of successful leadership performance, as well as indicators of proficiency for workers, supervisors, managers, and executives. 
  2. Cultivating middle-managers' leadership capacity for systems change
    The Leadership Academy for Middle Managers (LAMM) is a weeklong residential program—followed by peer networking and coaching—whose goal is to enable middle managers in public and Tribal child welfare to lead sustainable systems change. LAMM participants identify and develop change initiatives that are part of efforts in States and Tribes to improve outcomes for children, youth, and families, and NCWWI provides resources and support to strengthen the implementation of these projects. Evaluation findings show significant gains in all competency areas from pre- to posttraining, and participants indicate they are using LAMM leadership skills in their work. Since 2009, 14 LAMM trainings have been held regionally for more than 400 middle managers, as well as a LAMM Tribal coaching event for graduates from Tribal agencies. 
  3. Advancing supervisory leadership skills and competencies
    Many States and counties are prioritizing leadership development for frontline supervisors, using a developmental approach with multiple strategies designed to strengthen key competencies. Since 2009, NCWWI's Leadership Academy for Supervisors (LAS), which includes a core curriculum plus four stand-alone modules of the Take the Lead series and facilitated peer networking, has provided free online leadership training to more than 1,600 experienced child welfare supervisors. In Albany County, NY, Illinois, Indiana, Colorado, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Tennessee, training departments are implementing LAS using a more coordinated approach, facilitating their own State/county cohorts, learning networks, and individual or group coaching.
  4. Building an effective child welfare pipeline
    Traineeship projects are building a more diverse and culturally responsive group of trained child welfare professionals for the 21st century workforce. NCWWI Traineeship Projects involve 12 schools of social work and are promoting evidence-informed curricula, innovations in course work/field units, and co-curricular learning and competency development. More than 300 social work trainees are being prepared for child welfare practice and leadership roles. Faculty experts bring their research and innovations to the cross-university learning community. Special focus is placed on trauma-informed practice, cultural humility, and racial disproportionality, as well as educational strategies to support the American Indian child welfare workforce.
  5. Sharing information for effective transfer of learning and workforce/leadership development
    To address challenges associated with accessing, understanding, and applying new knowledge and information, NCWWI has developed a dissemination framework and is implementing a range of approaches to effectively share resources with our distribution network of  nearly 13,000 subscribers. Timely resources on workforce and leadership topics are housed on our Online Resource Library, as well as summarized in one-page overviews. NCWWI has developed a master packet of online resources in 105 different child welfare hot topics to support participants' implementation of change projects, as well as 20 comprehensive resource packets. Finally, NCWWI offers webinars and teleconferences for peer network program participants, distributes quarterly updates to the field, and hosts a popular national webinar series, What Works for the Workforce: Leadership Competencies in Action, showcasing workforce innovations and the skills and action steps necessary to support, implement, and sustain them. Since 2011, NCWWI has hosted six national webinars and six follow-up learning labs, attracting a large national following of 5,000 unique registrants.

For more information, please contact:

Mary McCarthy, M.S.W., Ph.D.
Co-Principal Investigator

Katharine Briar-Lawson, M.S.W., Ph.D.
Co-Principal Investigator

Nancy S. Dickinson, M.S.W., Ph.D.
NCWWI Project Director
University of Maryland School of Social Work

Randi Walters, M.S.W., Ph.D.
Federal Project Officer