September 11, 2018

Smart partnerships are critical to cutting-edge training and education, particularly when an organization is charged with shaping a statewide workforce that has a direct impact on the more that 10,000 children that enter Washington state’s child welfare system every year.

At the School of Social Work’s Alliance for Child Welfare Excellence, collaborations are underway that are transforming how child welfare workers and foster and adoptive parents are prepared for the challenging work they face. Partnerships include work with the UW Schools of Nursing, Medicine, Law Court Improvement Training Academy (CITA) and the UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) and the Autism Clinic.

In March, the Alliance began offering foster parents scientific research on child development in an easy-to-access, online format developed by I-LABS, a UW interdisciplinary center that focuses on discovering the fundamental principles of human learning, with an emphasis on early learning and brain development. 

Eighteen modules explore topics such as early literacy, understanding emotions and bilingual language development. Each module can be completed in 30 minutes or less, and they are available in Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese as well as English. 

“The partnership with I-LABS is a win-win,” said Sandra Kinney, the Alliance’s acting executive director. “The online modules give us access to more information that we can offer to our foster parents. At the same time, we are helping create broader access for the I-LABS pioneering research.”

The cost-free modules can be accessed at any time online, making it convenient for foster parents to fulfill their training requirements. Each module includes a list of definitions of technical terms as well as recommended resources for additional learning.  As each module is completed, caregivers download and print their own completion certificates.

For caregivers who prefer a more interactive learning approach, the modules are also presented in a classroom setting, paired with discussions facilitated by Alliance staff. In the first six months, more than 100 foster parents have attended these in-person sessions. Partners for our Children, a research and innovation center at the School of Social Work, is following up to analyze and measure results. 

Additional partnerships forged by the Alliance help integrate practice into learning. For example, when the Regional Core Training (RCT) curriculum—required training for all new social workers—was being redesigned, one request consistently made by frontline workers was to include more hands-on field-based learning opportunities. 

The Alliance responded through skill-building sessions aided by real-life simulations and other research-based teaching techniques. In partnership with the UW Court Improvement Training Academy, Alliance staff created a series of simulations on how to present court testimony with confidence—one of the major functions of a social worker. The mock trials take place in an actual courtroom with practicing attorneys and judges in attendance. More than 250 child welfare workers to date have completed the courtroom training.