Fostering alternative leadership skills among child protection workers

Presentation given at the Council on Social Work Research’s Annual Program Meeting….
Moving beyond supervisory leadership: 
Fostering alternative leadership skills among child protection workers
Mary Byrne, PhD, LICSW, Salem State University
Carol Masshardt, LICSW, Bridgewater State University
Elspeth Slayter, PhD, MSW, Salem State University
Cheryl Springer, PhD, LICSW, Salem State University
Overview:  The availability of traditional leadership roles for MSW graduates in child protection systems is at times limited, therefore requiring creative approaches to fostering alternative leadership possibilities – and the curricular means to obtain them.  Organizational and curricular approaches to fostering both traditional and alternative leadership opportunities are discussed.
Learning Objectives:
1.                  To design alternative pedagogical and/or curricular approaches for fostering leadership development among child protection workers in MSW programs
2.                  To integrate alternative pedagogical and/or curricular approaches for fostering leadership development among child protection  workers with existing curricular structures and the EPAS.
3.                  To model systemic follow-up with Child Welfare MSW graduates to foster development of post-graduate leadership skills.
Significant curricular, organization and research efforts have focused on the shortage of MSW-educated child protection workers, their preparedness for practice and mechanisms for their retention (Briar-Lawson and Levy-Zlotnik, 2002; Fox, Miller, Barbee, 2003).  The need for leadership development within the child protection workforce is also documented (Clark, 2003).  Given documented structural challenges throughout child protection systems across the United States (i.e. racial and ethnic disproportionality, budgetary challenges, implementation of differential response models), MSW graduates will have important roles in re-visioning the “structure and design of agencies” in this sector (Clark, 2003: 152).  MSW graduates entering into public child protection practice in the coming years will need to evidence significant leadership and organizational skills to this end.  The noted demand for leadership skill development in the child protection workforce has also impacted the development of MSW program curricula.  This demand has also led to the development of various criteria for promotion to supervisory or managerial levels within public child protection agencies (CalSWEC, 2008; Institute for Human Services for the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program, 2009; Rycus and Hughes, 1994).
However, despite attention to both the shortage of MSW-level child protection workers and attention to the need for specific leadership skills in this service sector, promotion pathways can be limited (Robin and Hollister, 2002; Scannapieco and Connell-Corrick, 2003).  Given documented challenges in retaining MSW graduates in child welfare work, the development of alternative pathways to leadership opportunities may address both a need for professional progression and a specific strategy to impact MSW graduate staff retention .  Given these realities, there is a need for a discussion about the creation of both alternative leadership opportunities in public family and child protection agencies, as well as curricular and pedagogical innovation in the training of these future child protection leaders in MSW programs.
Building on the widespread knowledge that professionally-educated social workers are better prepared for a long-term commitment to professional child protection practice, this panel addresses the experience of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Child Welfare Education Collaborative with respect to promoting leadership development among MSW students who are also experienced child protection workers.  The Collaborative is a public-private partnership which began in 2005 between the state’s Department of Children and Families and four MSW programs at two public Universities and two private Colleges.
This panel will involve two presentations related to the work of the Collaborative.  First, the authors will address the availability of and opportunities for both traditional (i.e. supervisor, manager) and alternative (i.e. peer supervision models, participation in innovative pilot programs, research projects, field instructor roles, agency training, community organizing) leadership roles in the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.  This presentation will include findings from an evaluation of the nature of leadership roles embraced by 109 child protection workers who participated in the Massachusetts Child Welfare Institute’s MSW Fellowship Program (akin to a Title IV-E training program, but funded through a slightly different mechanism).  The Collaborative has offered MSW Fellowships to 109 child protection workers, with a 92.7% completion rate and an 100% retention rate at the two-year mark.  While only 14.3% of MSW Fellowship Program graduates took on a “traditional” leadership role within graduation, 100% reported adopting a range of “alternative” leadership roles. Former MSW Fellows reported an array of ways in which their MSW education prepared them for both traditional and alternative leadership roles.
Second, building on the results of this evaluation, the authors will then address the ways in which these data and the realities of the current budget environment as it applies to promotion opportunities led to a consideration of the ways in which the academic members of the Collaborative promote the development of leadership skills amongst MSW fellows.  Preparation of these Fellows includes skill development related to future work as a supervisor or in an alternative leadership role through the use of a relational leadership framework and targeted research and evaluation training (Drath & Palus, 1994; Heifitz & Laurie, 2001).  This part of the panel presentation will include a discussion about the development of child protection-specific MSW academic and field education course content focused on leadership development for either traditional or alternative leadership roles.  Suggested modules, courses and course sequences are discussed, including models for child protection-specific field education seminars, a child protection system-specific research and evaluation training course and leadership courses focused on public speaking, organizational planning and administration in agency settings.
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California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC), (2008).  MSW Curriculum Competencies for Public Child Welfare in California.  California Social Work Education Center, University of California: Berkeley.
Clark, S. (2003).  The California Collaboration: A Competency-Based Child Welfare Curriculum Project for Master’s Social Workers.  Journal of Behavior in the Social Environment. 7(1/2), 135-157.
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Scannapieco, M., & Connell-Corrick, K. (2003). Do collaborations with schools of social work make a difference for the field of child welfare? Practice, retention and curriculum. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 7(1), 35-51.
Rycus, J.S., & Hughes, R.C. (1994). Child Welfare Competencies: Promoting Family Centered, Culturally Relevant, and Interdisciplinary Child Welfare Practice and Training. Columbus, Ohio: Institute for Human Services.