ATLANTA—Georgia’s Division of Family & Children Services (GA-DFCS) and its partners in the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI) University Partnership Program – Georgia State University, University of Georgia and Albany State – recently celebrated the program’s first cohort of M.S.W. graduates, including J. Garrett Pierce, Destine Williams and Mary Beth Knight from Georgia State.
The program is a national organizational leadership development program for DFCS professionals and students committed to working for DFCS upon receiving an M.S.W. Nationally, it has awarded stipends supporting the advanced educations of 75 students – including 24 Georgia DFCS employees – at the nine NCWWI Agency-University Partnership Workforce Excellence sites.
Robin Hartinger-Saunders, director of the Title IV-E program at Georgia State and an associate professor of social work, is one of three principal investigators and program directors for Georgia’s $1.5 million, five-year NCWWI University Partnership Program. Cheryl Williams-Hecksel, an evidence-based trauma treatment certificate coordinator at Michigan State University’s School of Social Work, is the national NCWWI University Partnerships Team Lead and NCWWI liaison to Hartinger-Saunders. We recently discussed the NCWWI program with them.
Why an NCWWI program in Georgia?
CWH: Social work degrees contribute to a well-prepared child welfare workforce, positive outcomes for children and families, and social work leaders who are prepared to create an equitable child welfare system focused on keeping families together.
RHS: The School of Social Work in Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies has a history of creating innovative partnerships and building strong relationships with GA-DFCS and universities in the Georgia Child Welfare Education and Training Consortium, including the University of Georgia (UGA) and Albany State. This may be, in part, why our NCWWI partnership’s proposal was successful. We, too, believe this program will provide better outcomes for Georgia’s families and children.
What is your goal for the program?
RHS: My goal is for Georgia State and our NCWWI university partners to be a model for other states and universities on training child welfare leaders in partnership with DFCS.
CWH: The partnership among Georgia State, UGA and Albany State is an exemplar of how committed cooperative partnerships can impact child welfare and the social work field.
What do you expect NCWWI’s impact to be in Georgia?
CWH: Over the course of the NCWWI grant, more than 70 GA-DFCS employees are expected to complete their M.S.W. degrees. They will be the future leaders in these fields.
RHS: From my experience in the field, I know that if you have strong leaders who support and value their workers, it translates to a more engaged workforce interested in and committed to becoming future leaders. It’s like a domino effect. Our child and family services workforce will be more effective in producing better outcomes for Georgia’s children and their families.
What happens next for these new M.S.W. alums?
RHS: We work with them on developing career paths for GA-DFCS. Here at Georgia State, Amy Mobley, program manager in GSU’s Professional Excellence Program, works closely with the students as a transition mentor prior to graduation. With her DFCS background, she uses her insider knowledge to link students to resources and important contacts. This transition is critical. When the students get into the reality of the work, often they’re shocked. We want people to stay past their buyback period. So, we’ve done advocacy around the program and the intent of the program. During recruitment, we ask “what’s your plan here?” We want someone who will remain committed to child welfare so the workforce is strengthened.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact the program?
RHS: We all had to learn a different way to work. Our field instructors were amazing, creating learning opportunities from home. The child welfare field supervisors also stepped in and were creative in coming up with ways to give students the internship experience they would have expected to have on the ground. Whether attending family meetings or court sessions online, they found ways to get the needs of our students met.
The field supervisors were also learning new ways to do their jobs, but they kept their students in the forefront. In response, I initiated a monthly online Supervisor Support Group to provide support, answer questions, brainstorm ideas for student tasks/projects, provide them with online trainings and resources, and often just to connect. The meetings were successful enough that I reached out to our partner universities and suggested we do this as a collaborative effort. We brought our partners in from all three universities and had a great session. We will continue doing it this year – bringing everyone together – and in the future we may use this in our Title IV-E program.
Is NCWWI in Georgia meeting expectations?
CWH: Yes. These three Schools of Social Work are committed to advancing and supporting the child welfare workforce in partnership with Georgia DFCS to prepare their workers to be future leaders in child welfare and the social work field. The model they’ve developed offers lessons for others.
Robin Marie Hartinger-Saunders
School of Social Work
Robin M. Hartinger-Saunders is an Associate Professor in The School of Social Work at Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. Dr. Saunders graduated from the State University of New York at Fredonia in 1993 with a B.A. in Sociology. She obtained her Masters in Social Work (MSW) in 1997 and her PhD in 2008 from the University of Buffalo (UB). Prior to joining the faculty at Georgia State University, Dr. Hartinger-Saunders was the Field Administrator and a faculty member in the BSW program at The State University of New York at Fredonia.