By MARTY LEVINE
While everyone has lost crucial face time with colleagues since the pandemic hit in March, perhaps no group of Pitt staffers misses the face-to-face interaction as much as those who form the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Resource Center.
The Resource Center, staffed by School of Social Work personnel, oversees trainings in all 67 Pennsylvania counties that help caseworkers and supervisors for children, youth and family (CYF) agencies learn how best to handle child welfare cases.
Their offices are in the center of the state, in Mechanicsburg, and they normally travel extensively to perform their duties of developing and overseeing the curriculum that trains those who train the frontline CYF workers.
“It’s important to have that face-to-face interaction to help an instructor grow in their role,” says Crystal Turner, instructor development supervisor at the Resource Center. After all, Turner says, under normal circumstances they will be training CYF workers for their own face-to-face interactions with children and their families.
“What the Resource Center is doing to really keep everybody connected and make sure everybody feels supported” has been crucial, she says.
Their work pivoted in March with the creation of the center’s COVID Connect group of staffers who transformed its services from in-person to remote in two weeks, so there was no lag in trainings, Turner says. “The pandemic doesn’t change the fact that people are still living their lives and things happen that still require investigation,” she says.
“If I sound proud, I am, because the group was able to do such an amazing job in such a short time.”
Kathleen Swain, the center’s assistant director, singled out Turner, Andrea Bowersox (curriculum and training development supervisor) and Jody Price (regional team supervisor) for their extra effort during this extraordinary era, but credited all the staff for their work.
“These three women each represent a piece of how the group made this work,” Swain said. “The certification training that we do for all county child welfare caseworkers across the state was recently revised to include … team-based learning and simulation-based training with standardized clients (actors who play typical CYF clients).”
The quick adjustments in March included “changing the actual curriculum (Bowersox’s group), preparing the instructors to deliver curriculum this way (Turner’s group) and supporting the counties in identifying participants and preparing them to be able complete training this way (Price’s group),” Swain said. “The logistics of this was pretty intense and many of our staff are involved in the effort ...”
By the time the trio spoke about their recent experience, they explained that Amber Snyder, who started at Pitt as simulation program supervisor just a month before the pandemic arrived, also was integral to planning the response to COVID-19.
The COVID Connect group still meets every Friday to keep adjusting support of trainings and instruction, Snyder says. “I didn’t know how much I would miss walking to a meeting or walking to the break room,” she says, just to have down time to think about her next action.
“We were in the office one day and the next day we were not,” Price marvels. “It’s been difficult to figure out how to support counties through all online services.” Some counties have had their CYF workers staying home and others have not, but the Resource Center was forced to curtail travel from the beginning, which has complicated their work.
Normally, Bowersox and another Resource Center staffer oversee a team of curriculum and instruction specialists who create all the materials for the trainings. Price, as a supervisor in the northeast region of the state, has charge of a team travelling throughout that part of the commonwealth. And Turner has more than 100 contracted instructors and spends much of her time working one on one with them.
Snyder’s work overseeing one of the baseline trainings for CYF workers — simulation trainings — has been essential as well, providing “a safe environment before they go into the field,” she says, to begin assessing the safety of a child’s home environment, for instance.
“We’ve seen some advantages” to remote learning, Price says — more people can attend each training — but it can get “very cumbersome to deliver everything online” at times, she adds, when trying to reach dozens of people per county. Still, the staff even held their annual Pitt–Johnstown retreat for foster youth transitioning to adult independence.
“We’ve really had to think about our delivery method of the curriculum we provide,” says Bowersox, “and make them as engaging and meaningful” in the remote world as they are in person.
Her team is used to working closely with subject matter experts across the state to make sure content meets the needs of CYF staff, she says. “We need to adapt to how we’re doing simulation online,” since part of the training is learning to see people’s body language, for example.
“We commit to give the most support we can to child welfare workers,” she says, “because it helps children, youth and families in Pennsylvania. We’re making sure we’re still meeting that need.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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