A University of Mississippi-led team is at the forefront of improving child welfare training in the state. The new UM Child Welfare Training Academy, established through a four-year grant administered by the Mississippi Department of Human Services, has overhauled the pre-service training curriculum required for all Mississippi child welfare workers and supervisors. The academy began delivering the training this year. “The children that were in the foster care system were not getting their needs met,” said Kim Shackelford, UM associate professor of social work and principal investigator of the academy. “We have taken on revising the whole training program for pre-service workers and for supervisors and have written brand-new curriculum. I think what we’ve brought to this is a high level of expertise and a high degree of experience in child welfare.” Previously offered by the MDHS Division of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, the state’s child welfare training was outdated and not available on a regular basis, said academy director Martha Houston. The new training is ongoing to ensure that new hires are trained as soon as possible. As part of the overhauled curriculum, social workers complete four weeks of classroom training and four weeks of on-the-job training in their counties, during which the academy partners with DFCS to supervise the trainees. Additionally, all new social workers are required to pass a mandatory exam. “The social workers who do this job make decisions that involve life or death,” Shackelford said. “They have to make predictions on the risk of leaving a child in their own home versus running the risk of placing them in an out-of-home situation that can cause other problems like grief and loss and attachment problems. These workers have to be the expert on physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, psychological maltreatment. We have a rule within our training unit – we won’t accept any mediocre social workers.” The academy began administering the 270-hour training in January, with its first class completing the coursework in February. Shackelford estimates the academy will train about 150 or more new social workers annually. “The training being provided by the UM Child Welfare Training Academy is critical to all newly hired child welfare workers and supervisors in the state,” Houston said. “The training curriculum is newly developed and it includes practice model information and council on accreditation standards. It provides them with a solid foundation of information to guide them in providing quality child welfare services to families and children in Mississippi.” The UM Child Welfare Training Academy also offers a 40-hour, pre-service training course and 24-week mentoring program for professionals entering into supervisor position. All mentors are trained through the academy’s Clinical Supervision Mentor Orientation. The academy also developed a “Train the Trainer” curriculum that was used to train DFCS Professional Development Unit staff on topics including how to write curriculum and improve upon training delivery. To ensure the training’s effectiveness, the UM Child Welfare Academy is also utilizing information collected by an outside evaluator in trainee focus groups to continue to improve the quality of the state’s training. For more information about programs in the Department of Social Work, click here.