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University Relations

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Oct. 22, 2008
Contact: Brendan M. Lynch, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

KU program will strengthen workforce that protects welfare of Kansas children

LAWRENCE — Across Kansas, agencies that safeguard the well-being of children are challenged to find and develop skilled staff that can produce the best outcomes for kids. These social workers facilitate adoption, foster care and family preservation.

Now, help is on the way.

Funded by a highly competitive $2.5 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services, Alice Lieberman, professor of social welfare at the University of Kansas, is leading a five-year effort to build a statewide training program for child welfare workers and agencies. The program, called the Kansas Workforce Initiative, aims to create a steady and well-prepared labor pool of private, tribal and government child welfare workers and supervisors.

“The purpose is to expand and upgrade the child welfare workforce,” Lieberman said. “Western Kansas is extremely underserved, but frankly the entire state is underserved by social workers in child welfare. We want to train students who have an interest in child welfare to hit the ground running when they move into those agencies. We also want to do the things that allow agencies to retain their workforce for as long as they possibly can. We want to provide training and technical assistance to shore up supervisors’ skills. We also want to train workers in the best practices in their field, because when you feel competent you’re likely to stay longer.”

Participants in the Kansas Workforce Initiative include the Topeka-based Children’s Alliance of Kansas, an association of the private child welfare agencies that provide the majority of services to kids in Kansas, and the Kansas Family Action Network, an advisory group consisting of foster and biological parents who have had exposure to the system.

Additionally, the four tribes in Kansas that provide services under the Indian Child Welfare Act are critical actors in this initiative.

“The tribes have their own service provision networks,” Lieberman said. “But they also have child welfare issues on the reservations and there are child welfare issues with indigenous families that do not live on the reservations.”

Colleges and universities in Kansas that offer programs in social welfare also will participate in and benefit from the Kansas Workforce Initiative.

“We want to develop teaching and training modules that can be used at schools of social work across the state, not just at the University of Kansas,” Lieberman said. “And we also want to make sure that we have students who will receive stipends from this grant that are at schools on the western side of the state — because those students are the ones that are most likely to stay and that’s really the most underserved area.”

Because the state of Kansas has taken the lead nationally in privatizing many services for protection of children, Lieberman said, the workforce development initiative would focus on pressures specific to private providers, such as worker turnover, the inherent stress of the work, high caseloads and limits on time for ongoing training.

“Kansas was the canary in the coal mine,” said Lieberman. “We were the first state to privatize child welfare programs and we’ve been privatized the longest. Other states are now following suit. I think the federal government wants to support the state’s effort to be innovative.”

The Kansas Workforce Initiative builds on the School of Social Welfare’s 50-year history of improving the lives of people across Kansas. Students in the school give more than 10,000 hours of service annually to social service providers in the state each year.

“We’ve been in this business a long time and we are very proud of what we do,” said Lieberman.

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The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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