In an effort to better equip students studying social work at the University of Wisconsin, the School of Social Work is training and providing hands-on experience to students through a training program.

The Public Welfare Training Program uses Title IV-E funds to train both undergraduate and graduate students who wish to work in public child welfare by placing them to work in Dane County and surrounding counties. After earning their degrees, students join the public child welfare workforce in Wisconsin.

The program is a partnership between the Department of Children and Families, a state organization and the university, PWT program coordinator, Ellen Smith, said.

“This benefits the students because they get both free tuition and a monthly stipend to help them support their education so that they can really, fully embrace all of the opportunities the program has, both in classes and extracurriculars,” Smith said.

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Not only does the program benefit the students, but it benefits the families being helped as well, Smith said. The families are able to get social workers who are committed to them and the difficult work this career ensues.

During her placement in her first year of graduate school at the School of Social work, Katie Taber was in the Jefferson County Initial Assessment Unit. There, she took phone calls regarding people of cases with child abuse and neglect.

“[After the call], we screen those reports in or out based on whether or not there’s reason to suspect child abuse either has occurred or is likely to occur in the future,” Taber said. “When a report is screened in, we send out a social worker who meets with the family, conducts an assessment and provides any resources they can to help the families.”

This year, Taber is placed in Dane County Ongoing Services. In this position, she works with various families who need support from the state over a longer period of time.

The fact that students spend so much time in the field of social work is critical to be successful and useful in this field, Taber said. Having a supervisor and being directly under a social worker helps students become independent in the field upon graduation.

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“I don’t think that it’s reasonable to send people out into the field of public child welfare who don’t have any experience,” Taber said.

Students in this program also receive extra training and attend conferences important to their field and interests within the field, Taber said. These extra resources gives students opportunities to build themselves as a social worker by becoming more informed on their field and the people they may help in the future.

While students are responsible for finding their own job upon graduation, the program helps prepare students for interviews and inform them about job opportunities that are available across Wisconsin, Smith said. Students are also required do their work pay back time for the same amount of time they received the federal funding in the state.

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“In the state of Wisconsin, the Department of Children and Family Services has really felt that because this support is really coming to the students through the state of Wisconsin, the students should really give back,” Smith said.

Since the program is funded through the federal government, other states receive the same funding, but it’s up to the individual state whether or not they wish to have students work in the state and for how long, Smith said. States also have other requirements for the program but those choices are up to them.

Smith recognized that in this difficult and demanding line of work, it’s difficult to recruit and retain highly qualified individuals. The issues the families and the social workers face, however, continue to increase.

“I think the need for our program is going to continue,” Smith said. “I hope that our program will continue to expand across the state and i hope that we’ll be around for a long, long time.”