How does the Department develop a comprehensive training program to ensure that staff, both private and public, are proficient the skills needed to implement the best model of practice of child welfare?

Success in meeting the goals of safety, permanency, and well being for children in the child welfare system is dependent upon staff and providers who are current and proficient in the best practice of service delivery. Staff lacking fundamental or specialized skills cannot make informed decisions on the safety of a child or develop a service plan that will help a child achieve permanency.

The major challenge of the Clinical Services and Training unit is to assure that all staff have access to and are proficient in, current child welfare best practice. The Department must provide training for new employees entering the child welfare field, for veteran employees to keep them current with the latest model of practice and rules and procedures, for employees demonstrating performance below the desired outcome level, and for overall staff growth and development. The Department must also ensure that private agency staff receive training consistent with that of department staff.

Recent legislation (P.A. 90-608) required licensure for staff and supervisors which demonstrates a basic level of knowledge for public and private child welfare staff and supervisors in Illinois. Licensure will be required for more than 6,000 public and private agency staff. During FY99 a committee of public and private child welfare practitioners, administrators, and trainers developed and presented a list of basic competencies to the Child Welfare Education and Training Advisory Committee for review and approval. Pending that approval, work will begin on preparatory handbooks, training, and the licensure test. Pilot training and testing sessions are planned for November 1999 with all veteran staff and supervisors tested and licensed by January 1, 2001.

In addition to training staff, the Department is responsible for training those who will care for children when it is not safe for them to remain at home. The tens of thousands of licensed foster and adoptive parents receive instruction from DCFS both prior to and after becoming licensed.


The Department hires a high number of young workers who may have a good understanding of the child welfare system, but often have limited experience in the competencies of actual field work. To address this issue, the Department developed the Clinical Practice Training protocol, a skills competency-based training curriculum for new workers. The program teaches both client condition recognition and important clinical skills such as engagement, assessment, use of authority, and genuineness. The program is currently being tailored to address specific skills needed by child protection workers, to serve intact families, and to move children to permanency.

Changing practice makes it important to bring veteran staff up to speed with new models of practice and develop new skill competencies. As part of that effort, child welfare workers must attend a least 20 hours of in-service training every 24 months. A recent audit revealed the need to more closely monitor compliance. In-service trainings focus on new practice, a change in policy or regulation, an area of poor performance, or can focus on a specific local need.

The Department strives to maintain a professional staff. Staff who continue with professional development improve their ability to serve clients and supervise casework. The Department initiated the SWEP program to require and assist all supervisors and managers in earning their MSW. Through the advanced degree and education, management improve their ability to provide clinical support for caseworkers and are better prepared to support implementation on best models of practice. All supervisors and managers will have completed their advanced degrees this spring.

As 75 percent of all families under the care of the Department are served by private agencies, it is imperative that training be available private agency staff comparable to that received by Department staff. Private agencies are allocated funds for training embedded in administrative costs paid to the agencies for each child in care. Nevertheless, training may not be consistent with DCFS programs, and some private agencies do not have formal training programs or staff development coordinators.

The Department does integrate private agencies in some aspects of training. Private agency staff are invited to attend all regulatory training delivered by the Department. Training of trainers is provided to agency staff for some topic areas. Some private sector staff have attended clinical practice training for workers and supervisors.

While the Department would like the ability to directly train private agency staff, federal regulation makes it financially unable to do so. The Department receives federal reimbursement for 75 percent of training costs for public sector employees. Despite the fact that the clients being served are the same for the private and public sector, the higher reimbursement rate for training private sector child welfare workers is not available. For the Department to provide extensive training for private workers, funds would be pulled away from direct services for children and their families. Many other states are experiencing the same difficulty and are petitioning the federal government for a change in rule.

Foster and adoptive parent are required to meet certain standards in order to obtain a license to care for unrelated children. They must also build on their knowledge through a minimum of 16 hours of education or training activities every four years. The Department training for foster and adoptive parents has traditionally been combined prior to licensure, with separate training programs once placement has occurred.


The development of a model of best practice, improved child welfare competencies, approved curricula and in-service training programs is underway in Illinois. All Illinois’ child welfare staff and supervisors will be required to hold a license by 2001. New training programs will be developed around a standard model of practice with a focus on performance and outcomes. All training will be developed with the intention of including private sector staff required to deliver outcome-focused services based on a consistent model of practice. The Department will continue to seek higher reimbursement for this work.

Child Welfare Training Academy

A cornerstone in the evolution of Department training will be the development of the Child Welfare Training Academy. The purpose of the Academy is to provide a standard of basic training and employee preparation for all Illinois child welfare staff.

The training Academy will serve as a center to develop and provide child welfare services performance analysis, a common model of best practice, empirical-supported curricula development, skill-based training on effective clinical interventions, competencies needed to served specific client populations, consistent training content and delivery methods, and orientation on all required statutes, policies, procedures and new programs.

The services of state and private universities will be brought together in the development and operation of the state training Academy. The Education Partnership will focus on models of support for both private and public sector employees and well as further improve Baccalaureate programs in child welfare.

Education Partnership

The Department faces the challenge of vast dichotomies that must be taken into consideration when delivering services: urban and rural settings, a workforce with various educational background, and different needs in different regions of the state. In the past, the Department has consulted with experts in the field, including universities and individual schools of social work, when developing training programs based upon the Department’s need at the time.

To ensure that the Department has a work force that can achieve its mission, a statewide plan that takes in to consideration the regional variances for coordination and consistency in learning experiences is needed. The current partnership with the Schools of Social Work has six different programs working together on training issues. The Education Partnership has taken on the tasks of:

  • Providing support of the basic training program by presenting a series of integrative seminars that augment the classroom training and continue from the beginning of the Mentorship-phase through the certification period.
  • Providing practice reinforcement through the use of field teachers, coaching and role modeling at the field manager, supervisor, team and individual levels as indicated.

The use of a two-pronged approach, training on the central level and specialized to regional needs, provides a "custom-built" resolution to the varied performance gaps that may interfere with the achievement of performance goals. In addition, each partner can support the advancement of clinical practices through individualized programming.

An added benefit of the Education Partnership collaboration is the immediate review and impact consideration of research on current practice. The expertise of each partner allows for the development of curricula, design of delivery method and evaluation of outcomes.

The next steps for the Education Partnership involve the integration of the Education Partner in the analysis as well as the development and implementation of training experiences specifically designed for a region. This interface will occur through the participation of the regions’ training committee and the Regional Quality Council. All curricula and training will be congruent with the Department’s Best Practice.

Focusing Training on Staff Needs

As part of the move to the Education Partnership and the development of the Training Academy, more focus is being put on developing training and training curricula based on the needs of the regional field workers.

The implementation of Regional Quality Committees allows the regions and the Department to examine performance information and analyze the causes of poor performance, which not always stems from a lack of staff knowledge or skills.

Regions are developing Regional Training Committees as subcommittees of the RQC. These training committees will analyze the information about performance deficits and translate them into training programs that will be regionally appropriate and individualized. All training programs will be reviewed to determine that they are responsive to performance deficits or to efforts to improve staff skills which are key to achieving positive results for clients.

Attracting High Quality Workers

As a means to better prepare caseworkers, the Department is working with schools of social work through the Education Partnership to integrate child welfare curricula, including field work with practice and theory.

The Department conducts campus recruiting and provides the opportunity for those seeking a degree in social work to gain real life experience through internship programs with the Department. These interns may then stay on with the Department, giving the worker a full time job and the Department an employee with knowledge and experience with DCFS.

Developing a Professional Staff

The Department believes that as staff improve their education and skill levels, the Department benefits through higher quality work and the employee improves his or her capacity to rise within the agency. In support of this belief, the Upward Mobility Program and the Pena Professional Degree Program encourage further staff development through assistance in pursuing job-related higher education while working.

The Department will also be initiating two professional development/leadership identification programs in FY2000. The Staff Targeted for Advancement & Retention Program (STAR), with three sub-specialty programs focusing on Casework, Management, and Advanced Clinical Training to assist staff wishing to improve their skills and develop a career ladder to help improve retention. The second, the Supplemental Supervisory Skills program targets supervisors with degrees in fields outside of social work to remediate knowledge and skill gaps through course work and individual consultation. This program aims to give supervisors better skills for making critical clinical decisions.

Helping Others Care for DCFS Wards

Traditionally those wanting to adopt a child and not act as a temporary foster parent have been required to attend the full foster care training, with follow-up training tailored to the needs of adoptive parents. The Department recognizes that the skills needed to foster a child may differ from those needed for a parent who wishes to permanently adopt. Separate pre-licensure training sessions for "adopt-only" parents and foster parents have been developed as a result.

In addition, the Department has developed alternatives to Department delivered classroom-type training for licensed parents. During FY99, the Department piloted locally available materials in topic areas selected by foster parents, with the parents able to meet training requirements by reading books, listening to or watching a tape and/or attending a class or workshop other than those delivered by the Department. The Department hopes to expand these alternatives in the coming years.


  • Fully integrate the Education Partnership into performance-based quality improvement planning and implementation within DCFS, including integrating components of the Basic Training program into bachelor’s and master’s level curriculum.
  • Participate in the development and planning phase for a training structure that will bring together the public and private sectors of child welfare in the State.
  • Participate with the Illinois Association of Deans and Directors and other constituencies on the Director’s Child Welfare Education & Training Advisory Committee.
  • Include POS agencies in planning development and implementation of training as stipulated by CWETAC.
  • Implement the training Academy as developed through the action of CWETAC.
  • Within five years, develop a standard of clinical and administrative practice founded upon empirical research, practice wisdom, and state of the art models.
  • Develop models of basic, in-service training, and professional degree programs designed to increase knowledge and cultivate skills essential to improve performance and achieve outcomes.
  • Use training to address gaps in knowledge and skills needed to accomplish the various tasks/jobs assigned.
  • Target training to be more regional-based and individualized, focused on demonstrating performance gaps, and geared to the learner needs: one-size training will be seen as obsolete.
  • Use technology to simplify training and advance learning.