Working with children and families in the child welfare system requires a highly competent and skilled workforce. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), a qualified and stable child welfare workforce is the foundation of child welfare service delivery. Nebraska Families Collaborative agrees, so we focus on hiring professionals who have college degrees in social work or similar studies to serve as our front line staff. We call them Family Permanency Specialists.
Each day, our Family Permanency Specialists (a.k.a. case managers) face critical decisions about the lives of vulnerable children and youths while working in stressful environments. Their day-to-day work with children and families spans a multitude of tasks, from conducting in-home visits to documenting case notes to giving testimony in court. Most importantly, they need to see the big picture with each family--identifying their strengths, building a strong relationship, advocating for the child(ren)'s best interest, and helping connect them to community supports and services that will help them become a stronger, healthier family. At times our Family Permanency Specialist have to tackle really difficult situations, like when a parent's rights are terminated. During those times especially, our staff have to adeptly manage what is often a highly emotional situation.
Like many other organizations who rely on skilled social workers, Nebraska Families Collaborative is finding that the number of professionals with social work degrees and backgrounds has diminished over the years. This is making it difficult to recruit new employees for this important work in child welfare. Nebraska is not alone. According to supply and demand projections, the nation will experience a total shortfall of over 195,000 social workers by the year 2030 (Lin, Lin & Zhang, 2016) if nothing is done to address this workforce shortage problem.
Recognizing the dire situation public and private programs face with a shortfall of qualified and educated social workers, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has advocated for a number of policy and regulatory changes, including supporting the use of Title IV-E for BSW/MSW education in the child welfare workforce that allows states to directly charge the costs of education to the Title IV-E program, as well as promoting incentives for BSW and MSW students to pursue child welfare work through student stipends and loan forgiveness programs.
Nebraska Families Collaborative is also taking action to address this workforce shortage. For the past year, we have been developing a Master's in Social Work Child Welfare Cohort Program in partnership with the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Grace Abbott School of Social Work, Project Harmony and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Together, we have created an educational opportunity for 20 employees from NFC and these partner agencies to obtain their advanced social work degrees.
“This collaboration will make a major contribution to the professionalization of Nebraska’s child welfare workforce. Our employees are thrilled to have this new professional development opportunity.”
--David Newell, president and CEO of Nebraska Families Collaborative
The 20 employees, five of whom are from NFC, will spend the next three years earning a graduate degree by taking courses online and attending in-person classes every other weekend in Omaha or at the Grace Abbott School of Social Work's University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) location.
Funded by a combination of federal and private dollars, the cohort program will include an evaluation by the University of Nebraska at Omaha. For more information about the MSW Child Welfare Cohort Program, contact Donna Rozell, NFC's Chief Operating Officer at 402.492.2500.