This is what support looks like: Getting to know the Child Welfare Education Collaboration

HandsLet’s be honest: working with people can be really exhausting. We’re all trying to juggle different personalities, leadership styles, organizational abilities, and opportunities for growth.

But what about when your day to day includes supporting youth and families that have experienced trauma? How do you develop the tools necessary to empower your clients while preserving yourself in the process?

Self-Care & Burnout in the Child Welfare Profession.

First off, it’s important to recognize that burnout is real in helping professions, especially if you work in the child welfare field. Recently, Texas state agencies have been trying to address caseworker turnover due to burnout. While CPS caseloads are lower, it can still be hard to remember to take care of yourself when a majority of your waking hours are dedicated to caring for others and working within a large system.

Learning to advocate for your personal wellness in a professional context is not something that necessarily comes easy for most of us, either. While it is not required for child welfare professionals to have a degree in social work, the degree certainly provides a valuable foundation for professional preservation. In fact, it’s for this reason that self-care is built into most social work BSW & MSW programs. It’s important to help students set boundaries and recognize the import of self-care routines in this profession. Sometimes, the best way to learn how to do this is to learn firsthand through a professional mentor that has had many prior years of experience in the field.

This is why the Child Welfare Education Collaboration (CWEC) is so important.

Cultivating Resilience

Created in 2009, this program works in conjunction with the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing and the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. Through an established scholarship program, CWEC is designed to provide financial assistance and supervision support to students seeking a social work degree. This mentorship begins while in school and continues after graduation. One branch of this scholarship is given to BSW or MSSW social work students who are interested in a career in Child Protective Service (CPS). The other branch of this scholarship is given to CPS employees who want to get their MSSW while employed.

“From the beginning of our work with CWEC students and employees, we have always worked to incorporate discussions about self-care in child welfare to help avoid burnout. Helping to reframe situations into something our students can deal with is a constant,” says Chris Johnson, LMSW, Director of CWEC. “It is essential for us to help students create a routine that promotes self-care during the semester so that it becomes a habit during their employment with CPS. When situations seem intolerable, we hear them out, help them process and find solutions.”

The CWEC program works with students during their field placement to build skills necessary to work with children and families in the child protection service field. In many ways, this program helps to cultivate foundational resilience. Some of the skills the CWEC program highlights include solution-focused interventions, self-care management, attachment work, and motivational interviewing.

CWEC’s Growth

For the last ten years, the CWEC team has formed valuable and productive relationships with their students, whom they still stay in touch with today. “Many of our former students have moved up the chain of command to supervisory, program specialist and program director positions,” says Jennifer Graham, LMSW, CWEC Student Program Coordinator. “We continue to visit and mentor them. We feel that these promotions and relationships are a testament to the success of CWEC, as they help present a positive perception of the program by all involved.”

Take Elizabeth Byrd, LMSW, for example: “When I graduated, my plan was to be at CPS for 18 months, which was the duration of my contract,” says Elizabeth. “Now, I’ve been here for 10 years. I can honestly say that I love what I do. The days that I get up and don’t want to go to work are few and far between.” Elizabeth graduated from the CWEC program in 2009 and still remains close to the CWEC team. She now serves as the Centralized Placement Unit Supervisor for CPS Region 7.

In addition to the scholarship program, CWEC spearheads a class at the SHSSW entitled “Social Work with Abused and Neglected Children and Families,” that takes place twice per year. This class is taught by a current CPS employee so that students are always learning about the latest in child welfare.

CWEC also provides 17 trainings for foster and adoptive families and 4 staff trainings each year. Foster/adoptive training topics include behavior intervention for children and youth, trauma-informed care, and transracial parenting. The program is also excited to announce that as of this fall, they will be providing LCSW supervision for selected CWEC graduates employed at CPS.

Mentors Make Life Better

In many ways, finding a mentor can be a powerful technique to help soothe burnout. As former CPS employees themselves, Chris and the CWEC team deeply understand this. By providing one-on-one mentorship that extends past graduation, CWEC strives to support its students by setting healthy expectations and boundaries before students even begin their first day of work.

“One of the gifts of the CWEC program is that I now have a vocation where I can help impact change in families, grow professionally, support child welfare workers, and find value in what I do every day,” says Elizabeth. “It is a rare gem when your passion, skills, and profession all intersect. The CWEC program gave me the tools to be a child welfare social worker for the long run—and that is a gift.”

To learn more about the Child Welfare Education Collaboration and self-care in child welfare, visit their website.