Husker team earns $12M to train state's child and family services workforce

Husker team earns $12M to train state's child and family services workforce

Video: Center on Children, Families and the Law earns $12M grant

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has won a $12 million award from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to prepare newly hired child welfare professionals to strengthen Nebraska families and protect children from neglect and abuse.

It's a role the university's Center on Children, Families and the Law knows well, said Eve Brank, center director and associate professor of psychology. The interdisciplinary center, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, has partnered with DHHS to operate the state's Child Protection and Safety Training Program since 1987. The new award extends the program for three years, with the possibility of an additional two years.

Child and family services specialists are case managers for Nebraska's children and families that need welfare intervention because of abuse and neglect.

"They have the critical job of caring for our most vulnerable children so that they grow up to be productive citizens," Brank said. "Our research-based training program is continually evaluated and updated to focus on helping the state's employees become qualified and confident in their responsibilities."

The 14-week training program is conducted about 10 times a year in Lincoln and includes four weeks of face-to-face training along with 137 hours of webinars and online learning to better serve new employees throughout the state. The program trains more than 200 new child welfare employees each year. Center staff also provide continuing education and professional development for the state's entire child welfare workforce.

Trainees learn to assess safety and well-being, engage positively with family members, develop case plans and goals, understand the effect of trauma on children and families, and apply standards for preserving American Indian families and culture, among other topics.

An important feature of the training involves a simulation house where trainees role-play engaging with families in various scenarios. The house is available through a partnership with the Lincoln Child Advocacy Center. In addition, CCFL's field-training specialists work one-on-one with newly trained employees in their local offices during their first year on the job.

Thirty years ago, the training program began with two part-time employees, including Kathryn Olson, assistant director and research assistant professor. Today, it relies on nearly 40 staff members who coordinate the program, conduct trainings, develop training curricula and conduct ongoing training evaluations. The center's highly experienced training staff have a total of nearly 600 hours of direct child welfare experience.

"The award is another recognition of the center's high-quality work and deep understanding of the complex issues affecting children and families," Olson said.

In addition to administering the training program, center faculty and staff conduct research on issues related to children and families and provide analyses on legal issues and policies affecting vulnerable populations.

In December 2016, the center received $15 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families to study and test strategies for recruiting and retaining child welfare workers. The five-year project, now in its second year, is expected to inform national solutions for addressing the high turnover rate in child welfare jobs.