Abstract: Child Welfare Workers' Perspectives of Early Implementation of the Florida Guardianship Assistance Program (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

533P Child Welfare Workers' Perspectives of Early Implementation of the Florida Guardianship Assistance Program

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Martie Gillen, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Florida
Morgan Cooley, PhD, Associate Professor, Florida Atlantic University, FL
Selena Garrison, MS, Doctoral Student, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Background: When children must be removed from their biological parents states are required to prioritize kinship placement in order to receive funding from the federal government through the Title IV-E program (CWIG, 2018b). Different degrees of resources are offered by child welfare agencies to kinship caregivers depending on caregivers’ level of involvement and/or special training or certification within the state, and policies can vary from state to state (CWIG, 2016). Child welfare workers are frontline employees who are both responsible for implementing state mandates and working with families, thus their perspectives are important in both the evaluation of practice and policy. This research examined child welfare workers’ perspectives of the initial implementation of the Florida Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP) in Florida.

Methods: This presentation will present mixed methods findings (descriptive statistics, content analysis) of child welfare workers’ responses to a statewide Internet survey (n=331 child protective investigators; n=612 case managers). Surveys were developed by a team of child welfare administrators, child welfare workers, and university researchers.

Results: Overall, 25% of child protective investigation staff had not previously heard of the GAP, but nearly all case managers were familiar with the GAP. Among those who had heard of the GAP, 43% of investigators and 46% of case managers reported not getting trained on the GAP. Strengths of the GAP noted by workers included provision of benefits to the caregiver/child (e.g., financial assistance, access to services), process/policy strengths (e.g., availability of licensing waivers to allow greater flexibility in placing children with kin), availability of a licensing option specific to kin, training for the caregivers, feeling that the caregivers are strong advocates for the children, and efficient and empathetic communication between the staff and caregivers. Common weaknesses included process issues (e.g., how information was disseminated to workers), concerns about the adequacy of the caregiver benefits, training issues for caregivers (e.g., lack of access to a computer or Internet), insufficient investigator and worker training, communication issues between caregivers and workers and between staff members, concerns the evaluation was too early in the implementation of the program, and the challenge of determining whether closing to permanent guardianship was better than adoption.

Conclusions/Implications: The findings highlight benefits of the program for kinship families, as well as a disconnect between policy and practice. The lack of statewide guidelines on the GAP and insufficient training for workers could hinders staff collaboration, resulting in permanency delays for children and sometimes the inability to close cases to permanent guardianship under the GAP. These challenges could lead to workers making decisions that could not only increase the risk of liability for the community-based care agency and the state but more concerningly, negatively influence children’s’ well-being. Policy and practice recommendations will be discussed highlighting the need for early communication among child welfare administrators and workers; formalized and accessible training for workers; and early dissemination of physical and informational resources by workers to families who are navigating decisions around permanent guardianship.