Focusing on the unique opportunities presented by rural child welfare, partners from the University of Alaska and Portland State University in Oregon teamed with Oregon's Department of Human Services and the Child Welfare Region centered in Bethel, AK, to develop training for State and Tribal child welfare caseworkers, foster parents, and community partners. The resulting training project, "Training for Excellence in Child Welfare in Rural Oregon and Alaska," serves as an affirmation and celebration of rural child welfare practice, boosting the recognition and importance of rural and Tribal child welfare staff and their work.
The project addresses the special benefits and challenges of working in rural communities. As noted by the project's principal investigator, Dr. Katharine Cahn, rural child welfare practice differs from practice in other localities in three major ways:
- Remoteness, which affects budget, time, and workload, as workers cover long distances and find creative ways to deal with technological challenges
- Resources, which may be limited in a formal sense but plentiful when community networks, family, and cultural networks are tapped
- Relationships, which take on a greater importance in areas where workers may regularly come into contact with families in the community, and collaboration among service providers and partners is the norm
Representatives from child welfare and Tribal staff, the State agency liaison, training staff, and an evaluator formed a steering committee for the project, often holding meetings via teleconference. As its first task, the committee conducted a training needs assessment by visiting pilot sites in Oregon and Alaska and reviewing Child and Family Services Review data. As a result of the assessment, the committee launched an ambitious training program, developing a variety of training materials and methods for delivery, including:
- A 3-day institute, "In Celebration of Rural Practice," that offers face-to-face training for child welfare caseworkers (and has been held in both Oregon and Alaska)
- WebCT (course tools), which offers 5-week, college-level classes and credit for rural child welfare staff and includes real-time and self-paced training
- NetLink distance training for child welfare caseworkers and caregivers, offering training on specific topics through a virtual classroom
- Creation of a casebook of rural family case studies and community scenarios that can be used in a variety of trainings
- Adaptation to meet cultural learning needs and training of trainers for the Tribal Risk and Safety Training offered by the National Resource Center on Child Protective Services
- A newsletter, Rural Express, available online and in hard copy for wide distribution (www.rtg.pdx.edu/newsletter.html)
Anecdotal reports from the more than 900 caseworkers and supervisors who participated in trainings have been very positive, indicating that training objectives were accomplished.
Adapted from Children's Bureau Express, March 2008, "Child Welfare Training in Rural Oregon and Alaska" ( http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov/index.cfm?event=website.viewArticles&issueid=92§ionid=1&articleid=1510).