The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Child Welfare Competencies, Program Characteristics, and Readiness for Child Welfare Practice

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 3:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 103A Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Robin Leake, PhD, Research Manager, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Kathleen Faller, Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Shauna Rienks, PhD, Research Analyst, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Cathryn C. Potter, PhD, Professor, Associate Provost for Research, Executive Director, Butler Institute for Families, University of Denver, Denver, CO

NCWWI traineeship programs worked together to develop a common and comprehensive measure of child welfare competencies in order to track student gains in their programs.  Research questions:

  1. What are the characteristics of the Child Welfare Competencies (CWC) scale?
  2. Do multiple raters have similar views of student competency?
  3. Do trainees report competency gains over time?
  4. What is the relationship between field characteristics, program characteristics, practice competencies, and readiness for work in the field of child welfare (CW)?


Using a one-group longitudinal design, analyses are based on 269 trainees who completed baseline, annual (end of traineeship), and/or follow-up surveys online (response rate = 77%).


  • Child Welfare Competencies (α = .96-.97 across student and field raters), 58 knowledge and skill competencies
  • Trainee Assessment of:  Field Instructor (6 items, α = .95); Field Placement Fit (4 items, α = .92); Instructional Content (6 items, α = .88); Program Instructors (8 items, α = .93) 
  • Public Perception of Child Welfare (29 items, α = .78)
  • Readiness for Child Welfare Practice (5 items, α = .93)


  1. Exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was conducted on the annual CWC using principal axis factoring and Direct Oblimin rotation (N=212). Parallel analysis indicated a 7-factor solution for competencies subsequently named: Relevant Federal Policy, Human Services Structure, Safety and Risk Indicators, CW Service Delivery, CW Assessments/Best Practices, CW Practice Skills, Ethical and Culturally Competent Practice (subscale α ranged from .84 to .97).
  2. Intra-class correlation analyses revealed low agreement among raters, ranging from .02 to .58 across raters and CWC subscales. Students and faculty liaisons had higher concordance than did students and field instructors. Students generally rated themselves less favorably than did instructors.
  3. Repeated measures ANOVA indicated a significant main effect of time for students’ self-reported competency, whereby students’ average total competency scores increased from baseline to annual (Ms = 4.90, 5.31; SDs = 0.67, 0.45, respectively); F(1, 133) = 57.30, p < .001, η2 = .30. When testing baseline to follow-up on the subsample with available data, analyses confirmed that, compared to baseline, CW competencies were significantly higher at annual [F(1,37) = 18.90, p < .001, η2 = .34] and remained higher at post-graduation follow-up [F(1,37) = 34.48, p < .001, η2 = .48.
  4. In sequential regression analysis predicting Readiness for CW Practice, field experience variables were included, followed by educational program variables, and finally Public Perceptions of CW Work and CWC.  The six predictors explained 36% of the variance, F(6, 202) = 19.25, p < .001.  Significant predictors of readiness were Field Placement Fit, Public Perceptions, and CW Competencies.


The CWC student-report measure demonstrated its utility as an effective tool for gauging competency gains. Lack of agreement between students and other raters of student competency presents a conundrum that will be addressed. Discussion will focus on the role of field placement, public perceptions of CW work, and competencies in preparing trainees to join the child welfare workforce.