Partnering to Improve Child Welfare in New Jersey

Published in Children’s Voice, Volume 29, Number 2

by Dawn Konrady and DuWayne Battle

A number of years ago, I walked from my office to the parking lot that was at the opposite end of campus. Standing there, I wondered about the role and responsibility a university has to engage with and contribute to its surrounding community. A quick survey of the two schools represented by the authors— New Jersey’s Stockton University and Rutgers University— reveals several important contributions made in this regard. In addition to preparing students for professional careers, colleges and universities provide interns, who in turn offer important volunteer hours and civic engagement back into their communities (Johnson, 2019). Universities with teaching hospitals, schools of nursing, health care centers, and counseling services also make direct impacts on the larger community (Knight et al., 2019; Liss & Persell, 2020; McNeish, Rigg, & Hodges, 2018); schools of public health and schools of public planning and policy are created to provide, by their very names, important contributions to the public (Palombi, LaRue, & Fierke, 2019). Likewise, research centers and STEM programs engage the community with cutting-edge research and technology (Hargrave & Rollins, 2020). This has been more apparent in recent months, where university labs, hospitals, and related centers have joined with community partners racing together to find reliable testing protocols and a vaccine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Omary et al., 2020; Buccino, 2020). Law schools provide community-based legal services, schools of business offer innovative business strategies, and workforce development centers are often seen as important aspects of university-community partnerships.

Additionally, agricultural, plant, and animal science programs make significant contributions to farming, nutrition, and food support within and beyond their communities. The importance of school-community partnerships has been documented (Valli, Stefanski, & Jacobson, 2018). These partnerships also include a wide range of educational programs, such as academic enrichment in K-12 education, college preparedness adult learning, and programs that focus on older adults (Munger, 2020). Universities also offer important recreational, athletic, and fitness programs to benefit people across the lifespan. Programs that are more directly tied to children include child care centers, child psychology hubs, developmental centers, and early learning programs. Schools of education provide student teachers in K-12 education, and schools of social work offer field practicums for students to practice social work in a wide range of community agencies and organizations. Like many schools of social work, both Stockton and Rutgers have faculty with a child welfare research focus. Additionally, Stockton has a Child Welfare Education Institute and Rutgers has an Institute for Families and an Office of Child Welfare Workforce Advancement.

The Baccalaureate Child Welfare Education Program (BCWEP) is one of the more important programs aimed at preparing social workers for tomorrow’s child welfare practice and is the focus of this article. BCWEP is a partnership among a consortium of eight New Jersey baccalaureate social work education programs, the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF), and the New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. This program aims to improve the quality of child welfare services offered to New Jersey’s children and families by recruiting, training, and retaining undergraduate social work students as caseworkers. This partnership was formally initiated in November 2005, when the project was funded by the New Jersey Office of Children’s Services (now the New Jersey Department of Children and Families) and led by Stockton University.

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Dawn Konrady, EdD, is the Director of the Child Welfare Education Institute (CWEI) at Stockton University, in Galloway, New Jersey. She manages three statewide programs: the Baccalaureate Child Welfare Education Program (BCWEP), Masters Child Welfare Education Program (MCWEP), and New Jersey Child Welfare Training Partnership-Southern Region (NJCWTP-SR).

DuWayne Battle, PhD, is an Associate Professor at Rutgers University School of Social Work, Director of the BASW Program, Course Coordinator of the Child Welfare Services & Practices course, and the Rutgers Camden and New Brunswick campus coordinator of the Baccalaureate Child Welfare Education Program (BCWEP), a consortium of New Jerseyʼs schools and departments of social work. He is also a member of the New Jersey Baccalaureate Social Work Educators Association (NJBSWEA), member of the NASW-NJ Continuing Education Program Committee, past president of the Association of Baccalaureate Program Social Work Directors, past president of the National Association of Social Workers— NJ Chapter, past president of the Southwestern Social Work Association, and serves on several other boards and committees.