Within the broad purpose of increasing focus, content, and study of public child welfare in social work education programs, the Planning Committee established the following key objectives for the Real Cases Project:
- Increase student and faculty ability to implement and adapt direct and indirect practice strategies to changing organizational conditions.
- Expand student and faculty identification of innovative practice models used in public child welfare that can be incorporated into work in other fields of practice.
- Enhance student and faculty ability to connect classroom and field learning environments, particularly for students involved in public child welfare as well as those without experience in this field of practice
- Expand student and faculty understanding of the dynamics of a large public organization, and how external and internal systems affect practice.
In 2003 the Curriculum Project Committee of the New York City Social Work Education Consortium was convened with a charge to develop curriculum materials that focused on social work practice in child welfare bureaucracies. The committee included Children’s Services administrators, Consortium staff and interns, and social work faculty from the New York Metropolitan Area’s social work education programs.
The Committee conducted an extensive assessment, including focus groups with current students and Social Work Schools graduates working for ACS, as well as a review of the curricula of the social work education programs in the Metropolitan New York area. This process led us to focus on developing curriculum materials, centered on case studies from Children’s Services’ practice that could be used across the social work curriculum, rather than crafting a single course.
Based on our assessment, our expectation is that the Project’s case studies will bring a real life perspective to each course, while enriching connections between course-specific subject matter and child welfare practice in an organizational context. We believe that broadly integrating real child welfare cases will bring attention to child welfare practice; while teaching guides and resources will suggest methods to use the cases to meet particular course and curriculum objectives. We will conduct an extensive campaign to engage faculty in using these teaching guides.
On a wider level, the Real Cases Project addresses significant concerns about recruitment and retention of workers in this essential field of the profession (APHSA, 2005; Strolin-Goltzman, Auerbach, McGowan & McCarthy, 2008; Westbrook, Ellis & Ellett, 2006), and builds on over 100 years of case study learning in social work education (Cohen, 2002; Reynolds, 1965; Richmond, 1897; Towle, 1954; Wolfer & Scales, 2006).
Developed through a long-standing and extensive collaboration among social work educators and child welfare professionals in a large metropolitan area, the conditions influencing the project’s development provide a model of community engagement and collaboration (Strand, Carten, Connolly, Gelman & Vaughan, 2009).