IU School of Social Work is headquartered on the IUPUI campus with locations on 8 IU Campuses. The school also has the Department of Labor Studies
New Bachelor and MSW Child Welfare Scholar graduates were told nothing else they undertake in their lives will be as important as the work they do with the Indiana Department of Child Services.
The new Director of the Department of Child Services, Mary Beth Bonaventura, got right to the point at her first appearance at a celebration ceremony for the students that will either join DCS or already work there.
“This is the most important work you will ever be involved in, in your life,” Bonaventura, a former Lake County Juvenile Court Judge, told the students. “This is the most important job anybody can ever have because of what you do or don’t do means life or death for children.”
Bonaventura said she wasn’t trying to scare the students. “Hopefully, you will have the heart, soul and stomach for this job. Most people who stay and are successful have a passion for it. I think you probably already recognized that in your educational process, so welcome to the Department of Child Services.”
Indiana University School of Social Work Dean Michael Patchner told the students the type of education and training they received reflects more than a decade of work on how Indiana addresses the issue of child services.
The dean explained when he arrived at Indiana University in 2000, the state’s child protective services system was in trouble. Indiana was considered to be one of the worst states in terms of providing child welfare services. Family case managers would start the job with a stack of cases, sometimes between 50 to 70. “They couldn’t do it. It was beyond anyone’s ability to do it. It was crisis management,” the dean said.
There were federal funds available for training at the time because there was such a shortage and a need for child welfare workers across the nation, he recalled. “There was a desperate need for highly-trained, educated people to take these jobs because as the judge said these jobs are demanding and extremely important.” The dean started discussions with the state about how to get a partnership going, but progress was slow at first.
A partnership, now called the Child Welfare Education and Training Partnership, started with handful of MSW students. That effort proved successful and the partnership, which is managed by the Indiana University School of Social Work, was expanded to include BSW students. The partnership also provides training to DCS employees. A leadership training academy to train future leaders of DCS was added by the partnership this last year.
Progress was made because the schools of social work in Indiana were able to partner with the state to address the complex need for workforce development, Dean Patchner explained. “The issue was how we get highly educated people into the workforce to do some of the most important work that exists in our state.”
The partnership, which former Gov. Mitch Daniels referred to as a model of how universities ought to partner with the state, has been able to do just that. Dean Patchner also credited Gov. Daniels for finding the funding to double the number of case workers after he took office in 2005 even though the state didn’t have the money to do it. As the number of case workers went up and the caseloads dropped, the outcomes were better, the families and kids were happier. “The workers were able to do their jobs and saved the state a lot of money because fewer kids were being removed (from homes) and placed in foster homes and institutions,” Dean Patchner said.
“You are going into the system and you will make a difference in children’s lives, in how we relate to children and families in this state. You will make a difference in the whole system of care because of the education you received.”
Jennifer Tackitt, an Executive Regional Manager with DCS received her BSW and MSW from the School of Social Work. She told the students some mornings she might wake up wondering why she does what she does with DCS. “The reason is we have a passion for helping families. We have a passion for social justice.” Those who go into the field of social work generally have strong moral compass, she noted. “What the social work program has done for me is to figure out how to articulate that moral compass.”
Tackitt, who started as a family case manager at DCS in 2005, said the School’s social work program taught her a lot of ways to look at systems. “I can now look at every portion of a family, an individual, a county, a region, the state and look at it as a system and how we can fill the gaps, what we can do to make it work.”
“The reason I do what I do is really the families,” Tackitt explained. To demonstrate how profoundly a family case manager can touch others, Tackitt read a letter she received from a mother she once worked with.
“I wanted to write you and update you about my family,” the letter started out. “It’s been a few years since we’ve seen you and a lot has changed. Not everything has been good, but I feel like I know where to find help now and I have the strength to handle things. I want to let you know you were the first and only person who listened to me and didn’t make me feel unworthy to get my baby girl back. You treated me like I already had it in me to do better and you knew I could do it. That meant a lot. You knew my addiction wasn’t me and that I still loved my kid even though I was really sick and I wasn’t making a lot of good decisions.
“You also made me see it was my job to get better. I have been clean now for over two years. It’s been a struggle, but I am still here. You were honest with me and treated me like a human being and I appreciate that. My daughter passed from leukemia this year. I miss her so much. I am grateful she got to spend the last years of her life with a sober mom and that we were together. I know you would say I did all my work and made all my changes. But I know you worked hard for me and I wanted to say thank you for that. I will always remember you.”
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