This topic has been rolling around in my head for some time. Let me start by saying, I am a former caseworker myself. I think I was considered one of the ‘better’ caseworkers. My supervisor gave me positive reviews. I was dedicated to my profession and honestly, I tried to help the children and families on my caseload as best I could. However, I look back at that experience and realize how little I really knew about best practices in child welfare, about what researchers were learning about positive outcomes, or how my interactions with children and families could have a positive impact. I also was relatively uninformed about what was going on in the larger ‘child welfare world’, what the advocacy folks were promoting in terms of national legislation or why administrators made changes in policy at the state level.
I was reminded of this yesterday when a friend and former colleague e-mailed me with a question about the Child & Family Services Reviews (CFSR), federal outcome requirements, and best practices. It was tempting to say, “how can you not know this…after 20+ years working in child welfare?” The CFSRs have been around for almost a decade. (They were federally legislated in ASFA in 1997, and begin officially in 2001.) I bit my tongue, answered the question, and vowed to blog about this issue.
As I considered this further, I came back to what I’ve been saying for a long time. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been a great caseworker. Seriously. I look back and realize I didn’t have a clue. I had a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree. I did papers in college; I spent my spare time reading about child welfare issues. I went through the state mandated training for the job. And I did not have a clue. My friend’s questions make me think that there probably continue to be many other caseworkers, (and supervisors, managers, etc.) in similar situations. They may mean well, they may try hard, they may be really good at their jobs. In fact, as a frequent consultant reviewer in the first round of CFSRs, I know that many caseworkers had little information about the process and outcomes in general. I recall many caseworkers asking at the end of an interview, “how did I do?”. There should be no question. The outcome measurements are fairly straightforward. They are available on the web. And I would hope that administrators would have frequent conversations with caseworkers about the requirements.
The internet makes information much more accessible compared to 10-15-20 years ago. But the reality of the job probably remains as it was when I was a caseworker; too little time to do the job, let alone learn about what is going on outside of one’s own little ‘bubble’ of casework practice.
Do I have an answer to this problem. Maybe. I’m working on that…