How the Texas Permanency Outcomes Project is meeting people where they are through creativity and innovation.
When COVID 2019 sent everyone home in early 2020, the Texas Permanency Outcomes Project (TXPOP) was just gearing up to start working directly with leadership and staff at child placing agencies to implement a new practice approach for children in foster care and their families across the state. “We had just selected our pilot study sites and had counted on working very closely with our implementation teams over the next few years,” says Dr. Jolynne Batchelor, PhD, LCSW-S, TXPOP Project Director. “The team had planned to visit and work with each site intensely through a series of multiple day visits and trainings. TXPOP is all about building strong relationships to strengthen the support network around children and their families with the goal of improving permanency and wellbeing outcomes. In a way, we had planned to do the same on the agency and system-wide level. We had to go back to the drawing board and figure out how we could develop these relationships virtually,” explains Jolynne.
As many did out of necessity at the time, TXPOP moved to a virtual training, consultation, and implementation format so participants from all of the sites could stay safe during COVID. “We initially thought this would be a huge challenge, but with some creativity, innovation, and teamwork we feel like we’ve been pretty successful,” says Brenda Keller, LCSW, TXPOP Program Manager and Director of Clinical Initiatives at the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services. “The nice thing about using a virtual environment is that our sites can easily collaborate with one another, and we can bring them all together at one time without travel time and costs.” The team used an array of tools that helped participants actively participate in the sessions.
To further facilitate learning in the virtual environment, the TXPOP team adopted case-based learning techniques to teach the material. This is an approach that engages learners in discussion of a specific scenario, typically a real world example. This method is learner centered and encourages intense interaction between learners. The team has built out a comprehensive case scenario in which participants learn how to use new tools and practices. “This approach really humanizes everyone in the system, especially families who have the least power. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on how the case based approach really lands for our learners. It also saves a lot of time because we all have the same reference point for discussion,” says Brenda.
In addition to conducting online meetings and training the team quickly adopted a learning management system. The platform provides an interactive experience for learners and assists facilitators in creating multimedia lectures. “We’ve been able to offer several self-paced, interactive online courses that have allowed for greater flexibility for our participants,” says Samantha Thompson, LCSW-S, TXPOP Lead Program Manager.
The TXPOP team will be using this same system to launch a Child Welfare Academy. The goal of the Academy is to address root causes of barriers that prevent timely and positive permanency and wellbeing outcomes for children. The Academy will offer a variety of courses across the entire state, and two certificate options for professionals working in child welfare. Foundational courses will be provided on topics like family engagement, child development, multigenerational trauma, social justice, and structural racism. After completing the foundation courses, participants will choose either the child welfare services track or the child protection track. Within each of the tracks, more advanced courses which are designed to deepen professional’s work with children and families will be delivered. Content will be completed both asynchronously through our learning management system and synchronously through in-person trainings. For both types of courses, interactive activities, videos, and case examples will be used so professionals can apply the learning to their work. “We want both the online and in-person courses to be engaging, creative, and beneficial to professionals’ day to day work. Our goal is for participants to use the knowledge they obtain during the trainings and apply it to their families to build better relationships,” explains Cassandra Mendoza, M.A., TXPOP Curriculum & Training Specialist.
In addition to developing online training and courses, the virtual setting has allowed TXPOP to engage stakeholders all across the state that might not have been possible before. TXPOP has three Local Advisory Groups and an Executive Advisory Committee with participants in different areas of Texas. “We’ve been able to get local attorneys, judges, DFPS representation, youth, families, and caregivers all in the same Zoom room” says Megan Ransom, TXPOP Systems Engagement Lead and Director of Community Engagement at the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services. “Texas is a large state and having the comfort and availability to pull together all our stakeholders from all over the state with more ease and convenience has only enhanced our ability to expand our reach and raise awareness about TXPOP.”
While nothing can totally replace the quality and authenticity of meeting and working in the same room, the Texas Permanency Outcomes Project has certainly adapted and learned how to creatively meet people where they are in the virtual environment. The team will be taking these adaptations with them as they continue to refocus child welfare practices, strengthening the workforce, and transforming how systems treat families and children within foster care.
*The Texas Permanency Outcomes Project (TXPOP) is a partnership between the Texas Institute of Child and Family Wellbeing at the University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work and the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services.