Abstract: Diving in: Exploring the Role of Social Work Education for Transformation in Child Welfare in Canada (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

322P Diving in: Exploring the Role of Social Work Education for Transformation in Child Welfare in Canada

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Hedges, PhD Candidate, Lecturer, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Background/Purpose: Child protection workers are increasingly responsible and accountable to provide a variety of services that require a vast array of knowledges and skills related to complex individual, family, and community situations. The overrepresentation of Indigenous children and families in the child welfare system in Canada is alarming and there is an urgent need for more culturally appropriate responses. Although there is evidence that systemic racism and poverty are connected to child maltreatment, these broader issues have gone unaddressed. Despite social work being a predominate profession in child protection, there is a significant gap in the research on how social work education programs are preparing social workers to make a difference and be effective in this field of practice. The purpose of this research is to help understand social work education as a platform for critical transformation in child welfare practice and policy.

Method: Twenty-eight in depth, semi structured interviews were conducted with three main groups: front line child welfare workers who have social work degrees, social work educators teaching courses related to child welfare, and key informants in leadership and administrative roles related to child welfare delivery systems. Interviews were transcribed and analysed using constructivist grounded theory.

Results: Data analysis revealed the complexity of child protection work and the need for social work education to reflect this reality. Findings suggest that teaching methods and experiences that prepare students for day-to-day practice as well as social change are necessary. Participants described transformative experiences in the classroom through experiential learning, peer learning, self-awareness, and critical thinking. Participants highlighted that learning multiple perspectives, having realistic portrayals of the field, learning in safe spaces, having a commitment to life-long learning, and understanding personal wellness are elements that facilitate transformative learning. Findings also revealed opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and collaboration between social work education and child welfare agencies.

Conclusion/Implications: Child protection services present unique challenges for social workers between helping and controlling. Barriers continue to exist between anti-oppressive frameworks and practice. The findings provide a framework for social work education to promote and deliver transformative learning experiences that help students deconstruct oppressive perspectives and paradigms and learn alternative more culturally responsive approaches to child welfare. Numerous recommendations for social work educators and child welfare services are offered.