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APSU generates student interest in child welfare system

September 2, 2003

As a new federal investigation into each states child welfare system gets underway, Austin Peays department of social work is creating programs to improve students knowledge and expertise of the Tennessee Department of Children Services (DCS) while securing jobs for its students in that area.
September 2, 2003

As a new federal investigation into each state's child welfare system gets underway, Austin Peay's department of social work is creating programs to improve students' knowledge and expertise of the Tennessee Department of Children Services (DCS) while securing jobs for its students in that area.

As news circulated that Tennessee was ranked among 32 other states failing the federal government's new Child and Family Service Reviews, Austin Peay's department of social work created a program in which students are taught a specific course on child welfare by a DCS representative and are given the opportunity to work at DCS as part of students' senior field placement requirement.

As part of the program, those who attend the course on child welfare and choose DCS for their senior field placement are guaranteed a job with DCS upon graduation, along with a $4,000 pay raise.

Glenn Carter, social work program director, professor of social work and author of the grant that funds the program with DCS, says it's an excellent opportunity not only for APSU students receiving their degree in social work but for DCS itself, which is in need of more employees with social work degrees.

“Eight weeks of training at DCS with a degree in history or sociology behind you is no substitute for four years of coursework, including a course on Child Welfare, training in social work and a semester of experience as an intern working eight hours a day, four days a week at DCS,” says Carter.

“Individuals coming from these other backgrounds don't have the training, values and skills necessary to serve our clientsthe children of Tennesseein the way they need.”

Not having employees prepared for the exhausting job of being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, dealing with parents, foster parents, sibling separations and young emotions, is one of the reasons the state has been ranked so low over the years.

Proper training and more funding, says Carter, would help alleviate some of the problems currently hampering the system. He isn't the only one to think so.

Three years ago Tennessee was sued, along with six other states, in a class action lawsuit known as Brian A. for what was seen as neglect of its clients. Part of Tennessee's settlement in that lawsuit was that attorneys wanted DCS to hire only those with degrees in social work.

“That was an impossibility at the time,” says Carter. “First, there are not enough people graduating with degrees in social work. Second, not all those who did wanted to work in children services, as it can be a physically and emotionally draining job.”

Thanks to Austin Peay's new program, students seem to be taking more interest in social work as a career. Enrollment in social work and in the child welfare class in particular is up at Austin Peay. Carter believes the proper training with DCS, both in the classroom and in the field, combined with job certainty with child welfare services after graduation, is what has sparked the interest.

After such training, students know what to expect before receiving caseloads and are better equipped to deal with the stresses of the job and the needs of their clients.

“It's an excellent program,' says Carter who is trying to make the DCS internship a paid one at $100 a week. “DCS doesn't have the money to do this with every university, though it should. There are lots of students in the class who are interested in this area. We need to educate more of them.”

For more information regarding APSU's social work program with DCS, telephone Carter at 7728.