Abstract: Do Child Welfare Caseworkers with a Social Work Degree Report Higher Quality Interprofessional Collaboration? (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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196P Do Child Welfare Caseworkers with a Social Work Degree Report Higher Quality Interprofessional Collaboration?

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Elizabeth Jurczak, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Connecticut
Jon Phillips, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut, Harford, CT

Background: Interprofessional collaboration (IPC) is considered a vital component of child welfare practice as families receive better services when caseworkers, treatment providers, and GALs/CASAs work together well (Carnochan et al., 2007; Green et al., 2008). Child welfare caseworkers with a social work (SW) degree may be better prepared for IPC because of their training in systems theory, engagement, groupwork, and care coordination. Moreover, IPC is emphasized in SW education (CSWE, 2017) and an ethical responsibility of social workers (NASW, 2017). However, no studies have examined if caseworkers with a SW degree collaborate better than caseworkers without a SW degree. To begin to address this gap, this study examined the following research question: Do caseworkers with a SW degree report higher quality IPC than caseworkers without a SW degree?

Methods: A secondary data analysis was conducted using data collected for a workforce improvement project implemented in all child welfare agencies in two states and one urban county. The sample was limited to caseworkers (n = 1,401) who reported that they interact at least monthly with service providers (e.g., mental health therapists and substance abuse counselors) or court professionals (e.g., GALs/CASAs and attorneys). Agency staff completed a survey with questions and scales pertaining to demographics, education, and job characteristics.

Quality of IPC (outcome variable) was measured with a 7-item, 5-point agreement scale (α = .92) that captured key components of IPC, including communication, respect, shared goals, understanding of roles, and conflict resolution. Respondents completed the scale for service providers and court professionals separately. Respondents reported if they held a BSW and/or MSW. Dummy variables indicated the highest SW degree held (independent variable): No SW degree, BSW, or MSW). Linear regression models tested if caseworkers with a BSW or MSW reported better IPC with service providers (model 1) or court professionals (model 2). The models controlled for gender, race/ethnicity, job function, caseload, and tenure.

Results: Regarding IPC with service providers (model 1), caseworkers with a MSW had significantly lower quality IPC compared to caseworkers without a SW degree (b = -.23, p = .001); caseworkers with a BSW also indicated lower quality IPC, but the p-value was on the cusp of significance (b = -.10, p = .050). No difference was found between caseworkers with a BSW versus MSW. Regarding IPC with court professionals (model 2), no significant differences were found between caseworkers with a MSW, BSW, or no SW degree.

Conclusion: Contrary to expectations, caseworkers with a SW degree reported worse IPC with service providers than caseworkers without a SW degree. Perhaps caseworkers with SW training had higher expectations for IPC which were not met. Having a SW degree was not linked to IPC with court professionals, which may be related to the fact that, overall, IPC with court professionals was rated lower than IPC with service providers. The findings challenge the assumption that SW training prepares caseworkers for IPC and indicate a need for future research which explores why caseworkers with a SW degree reported lower quality IPC with service providers.