New training program for child welfare workers in Minnesota now underway

Updated: July 02, 2019 05:53 PM

Their jobs are difficult and demanding. Now there's a push to give Minnesota’s child welfare workers better training.

Work began Monday on a new Child Welfare Training Academy, which will be rolled out over four years.

When four-year-old Eric Dean died while under his stepmother's care in 2013, it sparked an overhaul of the state’s child protection system. Gov. Mark Dayton’s Task Force on Child Protection developed more than 90 recommendations to fix the system.

The new training system is a product of that.

“What our role is, is to make sure those workers going into those homes are equipped to do the work and to do it well,” said Nikki Farago, DHS assistant commissioner of Children and Family Services.

The new program includes increasing DHS staffing and developing five regional hubs so that a child welfare worker can access training within 50 miles of where they live.

It will also require employees to undergo a certification program.

One of the goals is to reduce the backlog for training new employees.

“At our high point, we were seeing a six-month waiting list,” she said. “I think recently we've gotten down to three months.”

Federal law requires training within six months of hiring a new employee. Farago said the academy will reduce that even further.

“You need training day one of the job,” she said.

The delay in training is rooted in high turnover rates, she said.

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Farago told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that after Eric Dean’s death, caseloads skyrocketed because counties started receiving more reports and there were changes in policy.

She said the opioid epidemic also played a major role.

Turnover increased from five percent in 2013 to 20 percent in 2017, according to Farago.

“When that happens kids and families suffer,” said Traci LaLiberte, executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare.

LaLiberte is helping the state develop the new training curriculum.

“The more workers you have, the harder it is to work your case,” she said. “The harder it is to make gains that somebody can see over time, that gets communicated over time and results in reunification.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked LaLiberte what systemic gaps she hopes to address with the new program.

“One of the things we know in Minnesota is that we have horrible rates of disparities, of disproportionalities among communities of color,” she said. “Specifically African Americans and Native American kids and families in the system.”

LaLiberte said figuring out what is causing those disparities and identifying how to help those families will be a focus of the training.

She said there will also be an emphasis on trauma informed care.

“If we want good outcomes for kids and families, we have to do the foundational work,” she said.

The state is investing more than $4 million in the two years, and LaLiberte said there will be some federal funding as well.

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