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The Influences of Coaching on DCFS Working Outcomes: What We Can Learn from LA County

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A rapid uptake in the use of coaching programs within child welfare agencies appears to be underway. These programs are designed to help staff with program improvements and with the implementation of new practices. Indeed, the interactions between supervisors and workers can serve as a cornerstone for the development of worker skills. In their critical role on the front lines of family contact, Emergency Response (ER) staff are an important worker population to support as they engage, investigate, and assess whether maltreatment has occurred. If agencies decide to invest their scant resources in coaching programs, the utility of these programs deserves investigation. As agencies better understand coaching, they are well equipped to build stronger programs.

The ER Coaching Program, a training and supervision program of the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), was designed to develop in-house coaches who have a passion for professional practice and a desire to transfer learned skills and attitudes to their ER colleagues. Staff were invited or volunteered to participate. The program consisted of three components: (a) the Academy for Coaching Excellence's (ACE) three-day training, "Skills for Leaders and Supervisors"; (b) the California State University at Long Beach (CSULB) Child Welfare Training Center's three-day training, "Coaching ER SCSWs Toward Excellent Practice"; and (c) ongoing monthly supervision and training from two CSULB master coaches for a period of six months.

Assistant regional administrators (ARAs) and Supervising Children's Social Workers (SCSWs) attended the training in order to fulfill the second component of the ER Coaching Program. Other ER staff--such as deputy directors, regional administrators, ARAs, and children's social workers (CSWs) with an interest in coaching--were given the opportunity to participate in a shortened, one-day ACE overview training, entitled "Masterful Coaching."

The evaluation was designed to better understand the relationship between the coaching program and worker outcomes. The coaching pilot was introduced in four groups of four to five offices, each between late 2010 and 2011. The evaluation utilized a mixed-method design and occurred in two phases. The first phase entailed focus groups composed of ten workers who participated in the training. The focus groups were designed to address associations between coaching and staff behaviors, as well as to inform Phase 2 of the evaluation: a web-based survey. This survey was administered to all ER staff in June, 2012, to address the question, How does the coaching program influence staff and supervisors' job satisfaction, attitudes, and behaviors? The staff survey also enabled the evaluation team to compare how staff experiences varied with the amount of exposure to these coaching concepts and skills.

Survey findings were varied. Staff spoke positively about the program and the changes that they observed in the quality of their workplace relationships. They described strategies used nearly daily, such as priority-setting, being sensitive to workers' caseloads, setting reasonable expectations, and seeing the unit as a team. At the same time, several staff described difficulties in applying the training content and requested concrete examples of how to use the strategies in the office. "I understand it, but how do I implement it? How do I relate it to my day-to-day tasks?," asked one worker. Within a broader organizational context, participants recommended training for staff at all levels, remarking that it led to more cohesion within their units.

To better interpret the findings, it is important to understand who completed the survey. Specifically:

  • 756 of 2,404 DCFS workers who were invited to participate in the evaluation completed the web-based survey (a 31% response rate).
  • 76% of the survey participants were female, 41% were Hispanic, 21% were black, and 21% were white; 59% were between the ages of 26 and 45; and 57% had earned at least a master's degree. Overall, these worker characteristics were comparable to the population of staff who handled an ER case during the period under investigation.
  • 87% of ARAs, 65% of SCSWs, and 8% of CSWs who responded to the survey indicated that they participated in at least one training component of the program. With the exception of the voluntary, one-day overview training, the program was not designed for CSWs, and as a result, the low participation rate of 8% was expected.

Taken together, the results of the program were mixed but promising (see sidebar below). Though the evaluation did not examine the direct effects of the program on child and family outcomes, its findings suggested that the coaching program may improve some aspects of job satisfaction and work conditions, which may better equip DCFS staff to address the needs of the families that are served in Los Angeles County.

Christina A. Christie is an associate professor and head of the Social Research Methodology Division in the Department of Education at the University of California, Los Angeles. Todd Franke is an associate professor and chair in the Luskin School of Public Affairs, Department of Social Welfare, and has 20 years of experience in conducting cross-sectional and longitudinal research in the fields of child welfare, education, and adolescent violence. Lyscha Marcynyszyn is a research analyst at Casey Family Programs. Anne Vo is a doctoral candidate in the Division of Social Research Methodology at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and co-editor of the American Journal of Evaluation's section on the teaching of evaluation.

Survey Findings

  • All staff. Descriptive analyses indicate that participants had more positive attitudes toward some aspects of job satisfaction (i.e., Nature of the Work, Contingent Rewards, and Communication) and Organizational Climate (i.e., Office Team and Extent of Multi-tasking) than non-participants. Controlling for differences between staff that might explain these differences, multivariate analyses revealed that participation in the training was positively associated with the Office Team and Contingent Rewards subscales.
  • CSWs. CSWs whose supervisors attended the training rated all four subscales on the Perceived Quality of Coaching Relationship scale (i.e., Comfort with Relationship, Effective Communication, Facilitating Development, Genuineness of Relationship) and the supervision subscale on the Job Satisfaction scale. Controlling for other staff characteristics, CSWs whose supervisors attended the training versus those who did not were significantly more likely to have higher ratings on the supervision subscale.
  • SCSWs. Counterintuitively, SCSWs who participated in more than one training rated their supervisor significantly lower on the Facilitated Development subscale, controlling for other characteristics.
  • ARAs. No significant differences in perceptions between the ARAs who did or did not participate in coaching training were detected. However, these results need to be interpreted with caution, if at all, due to the extremely small number of ARAs who did not participate in training.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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