Supporting child welfare staff to use evidence: A Q&A with Susan Brooks
The California Department of Social Services supports four regional training academies for social workers; the Northern California Training Academy, run out of the U.C. Davis Extension Center for Human Services, is one of them. Since 2009, the Center for State Child Welfare Data, U.C. Berkeley, and the Training Academy have been working together to provide training opportunities to Northern California child welfare practitioners.
This month, we virtually sat down with the Training Academy’s director, Susan Brooks, to learn more about its purpose, goals, and partnership with the Data Center. To learn more about the programs she mentions, click the embedded links.
DC: To start, tell us a bit about the goals of the Training Academy?
SB: We look at child welfare practice and try to determine what it takes to support organizations in all aspects of their workforce development so that they can meet the needs of the children and families they serve. We are invested in helping child welfare leadership have a clear understanding of the people they serve, particularly as they follow trends in state and federal child welfare practice to develop interventions and programs. Looking at these factors together allows us to see where the field will need support—that’s the space we try to anticipate and put ourselves in.
DC: What motivated you to work with the Data Center to provide training opportunities for your region?
SB: Way back, I heard about an Advanced Analytics course taking place in California. I thought, “This is what we’re looking for, and it just makes sense.” The seminar helps people make meaning of administrative data. I worked my way in, sat in the back of the room, and determined that this was what we needed to do. When we realized we could also work with the Data Center on helping staff fold evidence use into the Continuous Quality Improvement process, it was huge. That’s ultimately been our goal – building a strong CQI system, both internally for our workforce as well as with our county partners. Without that, you find yourself repeating the same practices, whether or not they are effective. The stakes are so high for children and families, and money is so scarce—we need to be critical about what we provide and we need to be effective.
DC: How have your participants benefitted from the various offerings you and the Data Center have developed together?
SB: The Data Slam has been a key addition to Advanced Analytics. Advanced Analytics gives people new skills for interpreting administrative data—in the Data Slam, counties get the opportunity to think about—and use—what they learned, come back, and present that knowledge to a variety of audiences. From there we developed the online CQI series, which gives people the opportunity to learn that same material at their own pace and a resource to turn to when they need a refresher. Another big thing is the CQI leadership series; it weaves leadership, evidence use, and best practices together in a single convening. These training courses have had a huge impact in the north state, and the leadership training is truly unique to our Academy.
DC: I understand you have had a number of return participants to Advanced Analytics and other CQI trainings. Why do you think that is? What are people getting out of these opportunities?
SB: Particularly during the initial offerings of Advanced Analytics, participants came to class thinking they understood their data well, and they left realizing that they didn’t. However, there is a limit to how much people can take in during one course, so developing the online CQI series has been really helpful in allowing people to use Advanced Analytics to absorb what they can and then come back to expand on that when they are ready. Return participation is especially helpful for refining skills and understanding nuances; it also creates classes with mixed skill levels, making for interesting discussion between participants. As organizations integrate data into their internal understanding and decision-making, they start to expect that from their partners too, enforcing some accountability and growth within the field.
DC: Do you see an effect on the way participants practice after their involvement with Advanced Analytics and related CQI trainings?
SB: Yes, definitely. Participants’ language changes, particularly in reference to data. Their level and depth of discussion is deeper than it was in the past, reflecting a more mature understanding of their administrative data. The effects are less about what was learned in class and really about true integration in thinking and practice. Sometimes they don’t realize these courses are where they know the material or language from, but I recognize that they are, and that’s fun for me to identify.
DC: Of all the different opportunities we have provided together, which do you think has had the most powerful effect on county staff, and why?
SB: A consistent offering of Advanced Analytics, coupled with the Data Slam follow-up has been the most powerful. It really changed the way counties look at and develop system improvement plans because they now see how evidence plays a role in crafting and tracking those plans. It has moved them toward CQI and given leadership staff so much more ownership of their data. Regardless of county size, the response has been overwhelmingly the same that trainings are helpful, concrete, and provide skill sets that can’t be gained elsewhere. Offering Advanced Analytics was the first time we were able to concretely support counties in understanding their data and how it could be used to inform decisions in practice and workforce development. My vision for the Training Academy is to support the development and evolution of child welfare practice. Children and families deserve the best of our efforts, and the Academy has the responsibility of equipping people to serve them as well as possible.
Interested in learning more about the training opportunities discussed in this Q&A?
- Click here to read more about Advanced Analytics and read feedback from former students.
- Click here to learn about the Training Academy’s online CQI series, developed in partnership with our colleagues at U.C. Berkeley.
- For information about the Northern California Training Academy, click here.
- Contact us to learn more about the Data Slam, CQI leadership academies, and about how the Data Center’s analytics and CQI training programs can support your agency.