One On One: Questions and Answers with CWLA Staff

Donna Petras

Director of Models of Practice and Planning Development

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What was your background before joining CWLA?

I started out as a caseworker, and from there I moved into supervision of direct services. I later moved to the training office at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, where I helped write the first curriculum for child protection investigators in Illinois.

When I became the administrator for foster care for the state of Illinois, we looked at how to upgrade the quality of foster family care services in our state. We examined everything from our recruitment and preparation, decisionmaking processes, how we matched children with families, and how we could improve the quality of support services. We came to understand that we really needed a different system for developing our foster homes. I approached CWLA to work with us in developing a preparation and selection process for foster families. At that time I was president of the National Association of State Foster Care Managers, and I also talked to my colleagues there about the project. We eventually developed a 14-state alliance, which also included Casey Family Services and a few universities, to create what is now called the PRIDE program, a model of practice to develop and support foster and adoptive families.

After I developed PRIDE, I decided that I would make a career shift. I completed my doctorate in social work and joined the faculty at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I remained for about 12 years. I taught child welfare, but also more broadly I taught some children and family classes. During my time there, the college formed a partnership with Addis Ababa University in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to help them develop the first-ever graduate school of social work in the country.

What kind of work did you do in Ethiopia?

A small team of us were on the project. We helped develop the social work curriculum at Addis Ababa University and we traveled to Ethiopia on a periodical basis to teach courses. We were able to recruit faculty from all around the world to teach. We now have undergraduate, graduate, and PhD programs at Addis Ababa University.

One of the outgrowths of that work is the development of some social service infrastructure in the country, which it didn't have previously. I worked with one of the graduate students to initiate social services in the courts in Ethiopia. Over the course of the last four years, we got UNICEF involved and now they are on the way to providing social services throughout the courts in Ethiopia. Since the country doesn't currently have enough social workers, we developed a certificate program to train people to work in the courts. The certificate program includes child custody assessment, divorce mediation, and child visitation assessment.

We also set up a victim-sensitive interview room so that victims can be interviewed in a different room in the courthouse and the interview can be relayed by video camera to the courtroom. It's been really exciting to see how we've been able to branch out. I retired from the University of Illinois in 2007, but I continue to work on the project in Ethiopia as time allows.

What do you do in your new role at CWLA?

I joined CWLA last fall to build up the areas of curriculum development and training.

As one of the original PRIDE writers, it's exciting to be working with PRIDE again. PRIDE* is now in 30 states, 9 provinces in Canada, and about 17 other countries, and we're doing PRIDE trainings all the time.

Some people think of PRIDE just as a preservice preparation process, but actually PRIDE is a 14-step model of practice that first helps agencies think about their mission and goals, then explores how foster parents play a role in accomplishing those goals, then structures recruitment messages and responses to families into an integrated preparation and assessment process so that agencies and families can make well-informed, mutual decisions about whether fostering or adoption is right for a family. Once that decision is made and children are placed with families, we focus on the core competencies of how families should advance their skills in the first year or two of practice. Beyond that we have advanced, individualized modules. So PRIDE really looks at the long-term development and support of families, as well as the initial recruitment and preparation of families. One of the things that makes PRIDE so effective is that when we were initially developing PRIDE, we had an advisory committee of foster parents. This helped us understand exactly what skills are required to be a successful foster parent.

I'm also working with Eileen Pasztor, who has written a curriculum for caseworkers and their supervisors on collaborating with kinship caregivers. The curriculum looks at the differences between foster care and kinship care and helps staff develop the skills to relate to kinship caregivers, whose relationships with the family and the children are very different from foster parents. This is being done at a very appropriate time because the field needs assistance in this area. Not only are child welfare systems using kin more often as caregivers, but the field also needs to have an awareness of the needs of kin caregivers who never touch child welfare.

In addition to my curriculum and training work, I am the staff liaison to CWLA's Training Advisory Committee and our Kinship Advisory Committee. We're planning some really exciting things this year, including several webinars.**

* To browse PRIDE curricula, click here.

** For more information about planned trainings and webinars, click here.

If you are interested in holding a training, contact Donna Petras at

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