A case for good training

UofSC's Center for Child and Family Studies helps caseworkers help SC families

South Carolina’s Department of Social Services works with families in some pretty tough situations, but they don’t have to go it alone — thanks to support from USC’s Center for Child and Family Studies.

The social workers and policymakers at DSS rely on the longstanding USC center to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in caring for vulnerable adults, children and families.

“We don’t work directly with the families, but we do work with those who do,” says Cynthia Flynn, interim director of the center, which is housed on campus in the former Benson Elementary School.

A recent case in point: While training social workers to do intakes for adult protective services, center staffers recognized the need for an interview protocol to create a standard for determining when a vulnerable adult is endangered.

“We called attention to the fact that they needed a tool for structured decision-making,” Flynn says. “Then we looked to research for instruments that assess vulnerability. We used DSS’s maltreatment screening criteria, and we incorporated these into an interview protocol for intake.”

The center trained caseworkers on using the new tools, which are now used in intake hubs across the state, and will continue to help the agency evaluate how well the tool is working.

In another example, DSS asked the center to help design a curriculum to train their staff to better monitor the impact of psychotropic drugs on youth in foster care.

In many cases, these youth have suffered trauma, the symptoms of which can mimic the symptoms of other mental health issues that would benefit from medication.

“Our design goal was to create interactive training materials that would combine knowledge pieces with critical thinking but package it in a way that it could be successfully handed over to the agency’s clinical specialists,” says Beck Sullivan, manager of the center’s curriculum and instructional design team, which creates interactive online training materials, and produces print, video, web, multimedia and instructor-led training materials.

“In our training, we present them with scenarios that could be the basis for discussion among foster parents and health care providers,” Sullivan says.

Many of the center’s staff come from a social work background, including Brenda J. Amedee, whose team reviews cases to determine how well the child welfare system is functioning to help children and families.

“The team gathers and assesses a range of information through reviewing case records and conducting case-related interviews,” Amedee says.

The purpose of the reviews is to assess the quality of casework practice, and compliance with federal and state standards. As with all work that the center does for the state Department of Social Services, the center’s team adapts its work to what the agency needs.

“They come to us with needs and we help design solutions,” Flynn says. “We’re particularly proud of that.”

In addition to working with state agencies, USC’s Center for Child and Family Studies has partnered with other areas on campus, including the Office of the Study of Aging in the Arnold School of Public Health, to help make a training for home health aides more sustainable.

“They developed the training and we produced 13 learning modules they will use to teach personal care aides to recognize chronic conditions that could become acute,” Flynn says. “It will allow people to stay independent longer and give the older trainees a new career.”

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about