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Originally published Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 10:38 AM

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Universities will train DSHS social workers, foster parents, parents

The University of Washington and Eastern Washington University will now be responsible for training state social workers under an agreement with the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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For as long as the state has had social workers, their training has been handled exclusively by the Department of Social and Health Services.

But starting this year, all training for new and current social workers will be handled by the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University.

UW President Michael Young and DSHS Secretary Robin Arnold-Williams announced the partnership Thursday morning at the university's School of Social Work.

Denise Revels Robinson, assistant secretary at the Department of Social and Health Services' (DSHS) Children's Administration, said the change has been in the works since 2009.

In January, 30 DSHS social-worker trainers were transferred from DSHS' Children's Administration to the UW to create the Washington State Alliance for Child Welfare Excellence. The training program is linked to the schools of social work at the UW's main campus, UW Tacoma and Eastern Washington University in Cheney, according to DSHS.

In the past, prospective social workers, most of whom have an undergraduate degree in social work, were required to attend a state-run academy for four weeks.

Three of the weeks were spent in the classroom and one week was spent in the field, where candidates focused on child safety, assessment and relationship building with families, according to DSHS.

"It wasn't that training was bad in Washington. We could just do much more," said Edwina "Eddie" Uehara, who is dean of UW's School of Social Work. "This alliance permanently brings together the experience of the Children's Administration, the UW and Eastern Washington University. This will provide cutting-edge, competency-based, evidence-based training. There is so much at stake here."

Uehara said details of how social-worker curriculum will be handled is still being hammered out.

Theresa Tanoury, interim director of the Washington State Alliance for Child Welfare Excellence, said the partnership will be paid for by DSHS and federal dollars.

"By having the training done at the university (level), rather than ourselves, it gives us access to federal dollars," said Thomas Shapley, spokesman for DSHS.

Partners for Our Children, a UW-based public-private research organization aimed at identifying critical issues facing children in state care, is also part of the new effort.

"Although it's at the school, it's a partnership between the School of Social Work, DSHS and private-sector partners. Its whole focus is to bring research and policy know-how to our state's child-welfare efforts," Uehara said.

Andrea Hightower, spokeswoman for Partners for Our Children, said that "research we do will feed into the training."

The two schools, Partners for Our Children and DSHS have a 10-year training agreement, Uehara said.

In addition to social-worker training, the schools will offer resources for Children's Administration supervisors, managers and administrators.

There will also be university-based training for foster, adoptive and relative parents. Details of that training are still in the works.

Revels Robinson of the Children's Administration said the partnership "gives us access to training opportunities for our staff."

"For social workers, it expands worker training," Revels Robinson said. "We will actually have more ongoing professional development."

For foster, adoptive and relative parents, the new arrangement means more one-on-one time with child-welfare experts, especially in Eastern Washington. Revels Robinson said that in some parts of rural Eastern Washington parents involved with DSHS would have to rely on online training to learn about early-childhood development.

That, she said, will change because they will have access to programs at Eastern Washington University.

Officials at the UW's School of Social Work said that they plan to train nearly 6,000 foster, adoptive and relative parents over the next few years.

"We will prepare the workforce and these caregivers for what they're asked to do everyday. Hopefully this will be a continuum of learning," said Tanoury.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

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