Challenges of Child-Welfare Profession Addressed Using Distance Learning


Newswise — Training workers is essential to the success of human service agencies and nonprofit organizations, but it costs time and money -- something agencies often lack. This dynamic especially is true for child-welfare agencies. Two University of Arkansas professors have combined their disciplines to develop an efficient and effective distance-learning model for training child-welfare practitioners.

Yvette Murphy, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, and Penina Mungania, assistant professor in the College of Education and Health Professions, have collaborated to develop a model for a university-agency partnership that aids the child-welfare system by addressing challenges related to training. The model uses distance-education technologies to help child-welfare practitioners strengthen their knowledge and skills via training. The two professors recently presented this model at the technology track of the Council on Social Work Education's annual meeting in New York.

According to Murphy, the federal government reviewed each state's child-welfare agencies in the mid-1990s to see if they were meeting prescribed outcomes for child safety, permanency, and child and family well-being. Every state failed the review and had to submit a program improvement plan. Staff training has been identified as one of the most critical areas needing to be addressed in order for the child-welfare agencies across the country to achieve the prescribed federal outcomes.

"Child-welfare professionals are busy people, and while e-technology is a valuable resource to the field, child-welfare practitioners and administrators often don't have the time or manpower to put something like this together," Murphy said. "With the proposed partnership model, human service agencies and nonprofit organizations can engage and leverage the resources of university partners to develop and deliver distance-learning training efforts."

Heavier workloads and higher accountability expectations, a decrease in resources and staff retention rates, and the geographical remoteness of staff members make it hard to effectively and efficiently train social workers.

"Training can be expensive in terms of dollars and human resource time," Murphy said. "Workers have to take time off and often have to travel to another city for a week-long intensive training workshop."

Distance learning is a broad term that includes any type of learning from a distance, whether through the use of videotapes, printed materials or electronic media. E-learning is the specific type of learning that involves electronic media. E-learning technologies would allow child-welfare practitioners to participate in training in a flexible manner. Because practitioners would not be restricted to face-to-face training, agencies would save time and money on training for their staff members.

"The use of e-learning has multiple benefits including the potential to reduce training costs, time and geographical limitations, and to standardize training," Mungania said.

Using technology to develop and administer training, content is easily updated and available to workers whenever they have time for it.

"One can access vast resources and embed links to resources that can be updated easily as need arises," Mungania said.

"Prior to e-learning technologies, whenever updates such as policy changes were made, training administrators had to make copies and send them out to targeted recipients, who then would update training manuals. Modifying this process is one benefit of incorporating learning technology," Murphy said.

Murphy and Mungania's framework also examines how collaborative efforts among social work education, state child-welfare agencies and human resource development could be expanded, setting the stage for a mutually beneficial partnership.

Murphy gained experience in developing child-welfare training curricula while employed with the Family and Children's Resource Program at the University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill School of Social Work, Jordan Institute for Families. When she came to Arkansas, she was excited about the opportunity to combine her background in child-welfare curriculum development and training with Mungania's experience in human resource development and e-learning technologies. Mungania has developed training programs using e-learning technology for other states.

Murphy and Mungania are seeking funding to use this partnership model to develop e-learning technology training for agencies and non-profit organizations in the state of Arkansas.

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