The group was the first batch of graduates to emerge from a partnership between the county and Widener University that's designed to provide higher education for county caseworkers. The program is unusual in that government agencies usually forge an alliance with a public rather than private institution.
The program was founded three years ago when Widener University began offering a master's in social work. Eileen E. Brumbaugh, CYS's administrator of staff development and community education, said the department had had difficulty in recent years hiring qualified caseworkers and wanted to offer the opportunity to obtain a degree while working for the county.
"It came out of a need for additional training for the child and welfare staff," Brumbaugh said. "Where it used to be largely master's level staff working on cases, over the last 10 years or so that has changed to where the line people have bachelor's degrees."
The program is offered to all caseworkers in the department who are accepted into Widener's program. Brumbaugh said the program can send four students to school every year for the three-year program. Positions in the program are offered according to seniority in the department, Brumbaugh said.
The county pays 25 percent of the tuition for its employees and federal money for employee training covers the rest. Brumbaugh said the students work full time, tailoring their class schedules to fit around their office responsibilities.
Currently, 12 CYS students are enrolled in the program.
Thomas M. Young, a professor of social work at Widener, said the program, normally two years, is covered in three by the county's students because of their work schedule. The first year is focused on classroom experience. In the second and third years, students work on counseling with individuals and
That counseling is a benefit to the county, Brumbaugh said, because normally caseworkers must refer clients to outside counseling. The county uses the students, under both county and university supervisors, for some of its counseling needs. The students often are videotaped so professors can later review their work. Young said all clients sign a release form before they are taped with students.
The courses paid off for Mary Cannon, who smiled in victory Friday as she received her new name plaque, with the initials "M.S.W." (Master of Social Work) after her name from Delaware County Council Chairwoman Mary Ann Arty. The luncheon was in honor of the seven 1994 graduates, one 1993 graduate who finished the program early, and two other master's graduates from Bryn Mawr.
Cannon, one of three students to give birth during her three years in the program, said she had wanted to return to school earlier, but financial constraints and other doubts prevented her from doing so.
"The courses gave me a lot more insight into, not just my professional identity, but my personal identity," said Cannon, a supervisor who handles protective services for children.
"A lot of times, the parents are blamed and the workers aren't getting the entire picture. I've been able to take what I've learned and get my workers to look at what happened to the parents, who often were abused or neglected. As a result, they are a little more understanding of the circumstances."