• September 2018
  • Vol. 19, No. 7

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The Need for an Expanded View of the Child Welfare Workforce

Written by Jerry Milner.

National Workforce Month provides an opportunity to express gratitude for all who choose to work in child welfare. It is difficult and often thankless work, but it could not be more important. I sincerely thank everyone for their dedication to serving children and families. I believe it is critical to shine light on two incredibly important points: (1) the child welfare system is more than the child welfare agency and (2) the child welfare workforce is far more expansive than the social workers that populate the child welfare agency. The job of keeping families safe, together, and strong and promoting parent, child, and family well-being is simply too large and too important to belong to one agency and its employees alone. 

To be sure, the child welfare agency and its employees are absolutely invaluable components of the system, but the system must be recognized as broad, including all other agencies, branches of government, partners, and stakeholders that touch the lives of children and families. The child welfare system workforce must be viewed as a network of contributors with different, but complementary, roles. The courts, attorneys for parents, children and the child welfare agency, prevention partners, community-based providers, peer mentors and partners, substance abuse treatment providers, mental health providers, foster parents, and so many others are part of the workforce. Simply stated, we all have a role to play, although too often those roles occur in silos and do not come together in unison to support children and families as effectively as possible.

I invite the workforce to come together in a more coordinated way to harness our collective impact for good with a unified purpose of strengthening families. So much of what makes child welfare work difficult and contributes to stress and burnout is the fact that we are working with children and families after bad things have happened, and we are in a constant state of crisis management and remedial efforts to pick up the pieces. This is largely due to the way our system is funded and structured, but there are steps we can take to begin to realign. If we mobilize around helping families enhance their protective capacities to care for their own children, I believe we will have far more to celebrate. I also believe we will be successful in reducing the trauma that children, parents, and the workforce experience, rather than invoking protective activities after bad things happen. 

This effort requires a jointly owned vision across elements of the child welfare workforce and a joint commitment to seeking outcomes that focus on preserving and strengthening family health and resilience, the quality and strength of parent-child relationships, and the power of communities to support their families. I invite all to come together around the shared vision of primary prevention at the community level to help strengthen families and prevent maltreatment and unnecessary family disruption. It can be done.

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