Social Workers Poorly Trained for Children’s Welfare

April 19, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

As if children’s welfare agencies don’t have enough problems, now comes this (Chronicle of Social Change, 4/9/19).  It’s a piece by Tom Morton, a veteran of some 39 years’ experience in social work.  Although tactful, Morton is none too pleased with the training social workers receive.  Specifically, despite making up a large percentage of caseworkers for CPS agencies, graduates of schools of social work tend strongly to receive little-to-no training in understanding, assessing and addressing child maltreatment by parents.

Is social work training the right answer to child welfare’s workforce training needs?…

[T]he relevance of social work training hinges on whether or not it reliably produces the necessary and sufficient set of skills in each of these areas to effectively serve maltreating families, their children and related parts of their ecosystem.

In my experience, social work training does not do this.

We might think that, given that CPS agencies are one of the chief employers of graduates in the field of social work, those schools would offer training that focuses on how to assess and assist families who abuse or neglect their kids.   

But the [social work school accreditation] guidelines do not require specific instruction in these practices with maltreating families and children nor standardization of this instruction across schools. So, it is possible to graduate with either degree having never taken a course specific to assessing and treating maltreating families, let alone a comprehensive course of study in this area.

But not to worry.  Once hired, child welfare agencies provide their own training to fill in where schools of social work failed. 

With or without with social work training, [child maltreatment training] also begins with relatively short pre-service training provided by child welfare agencies.

So all is well, right?  The agencies pre-train their new employees, so how could there be a problem? 

If social work training does not provide a comprehensive basis for child maltreatment practice reliably across all graduates, does the pre- and in-service training provided by public child welfare agencies reliably fill the gaps? Again, I’d say no. The limitations on these training programs are many, not the least of which is their length which significantly limits comprehensiveness.

That of course comes as no surprise.  From the Atlantic to the Pacific, state CPS agencies are strapped for cash.  They routinely burden caseworkers with far more cases than they can handle effectively.  To the too-high workload, they add poor pay and record-keeping demands that often keep caseworkers in the office instead of kids’ homes and lives.  That means a high turnover of caseworkers that only continues the problem and makes it worse.

So naturally CPS agencies tend to spend little time and money on training.  They need “boots on the ground” far too much to delay their entry into the field.

For his part, Morton sees no way out of the conundrum of too little academic and on-the-job education.

It seems highly unlikely that schools of social work, given the economies of scale they face, would ever likely be able to devote necessary resources to such a degree of specialization in child maltreatment practice. Nor does it seem likely that individual schools of social work would be able to attract a sufficient pool of students to justify this allocation of such resources to a true child maltreatment specialization…

So, for the time being, public and private child welfare agencies along with the families and children they serve are left holding a Gordian knot, forced to satisfice rather than optimize when it comes to the capacity to reliably produce the outcomes for which the federal government and public hold them accountable…

 [O]ne is left to ask, “How are we working to solve this problem rather than just live with it?”

It’s a pithy question, indeed.

I’ll say more about social workers next time.

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