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Minnesota Child Welfare Learning Center Hosted Open House This Spring

Published Monday, May 22, 2023

From left: Tracy Crudo and Traci LaLiberte
From left: Tracy Crudo and Traci LaLiberte

This spring the Minnesota Child Welfare Training Academy hosted an open house at the SMSU Learning Center on campus. Following the successful grand opening of the Twin Cities Metro Learning Center in September 2022, the Minnesota Child Welfare Training Academy (MNCWTA) hosted similar celebrations at their regional learning centers.

The Minnesota Child Welfare Training Academy (MNCWTA) is a collaboration between the Child Safety and Permanency Division at the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW) at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. The learning center at SMSU is housed in the Individualized Learning building.

Southwest Minnesota State University offers a bachelor’s degree in social work and educates the next generation of professionals in this high-need, high-demand field. Thanks to our established Social Work program, SMSU was the perfect fit to serve as the home to the Southwest Regional Learning Center which was completed in January 2023.

“In the past, child protection workers in the various counties went to the Twin Cities for training. There is a need for training every few months,” explained Dr. James Smalley, Associate Professor of Social Work at SMSU. “This will benefit the 18 counties in the Southwest Region by allowing those workers a more central and convenient training site.”

The open house included a listening session on New Worker Certification, lunch, and conversation with staff from each of the MNCWTA work teams, including leadership, Training Delivery, Cultural Responsiveness, Curriculum Development, Evaluation and Certification, eLearning and Learning Management System (LMS), Policy and Finance, and Communications; and finally, a presentation from Tribal Training and Certification Partnership (TTCP) provided information about who they are and what they do, followed by time for Q&A.

The MNCWTA was established by the Minnesota Legislature. Through testimony in the 2018 and 2019 legislative sessions, a Bill was sponsored by House and Senate members of the Legislative Task Force on the Protection of Children. The bill passed and was fully funded in May 2019. A Joint Powers Agreement to create the MNCWTA became effective in September 2019. In December of that same year, the U of M Regents approved a lease agreement for a new Central Training Academy located in Roseville, Minnesota. To provide training and support to child welfare professionals across the state, regional training centers have been established in four locations in Greater Minnesota: Detroit Lakes, Duluth, Owatonna, and Marshall. The purpose of having statewide regional learning centers is to improve access and deliver content that is regionally appropriate.

“The goal of the open house is to create and raise awareness about the regional training center at SMSU. The regional model allows us to make the training more accessible to everyone in greater Minnesota,” said Tracy Crudo, co-director of the Minnesota Child Welfare Training Academy.

“Circumstances for child and family welfare are more challenging and complex than ever. The profession used to be ‘child protection’ but over time many of the intersecting support services have been in decline forcing the profession to address child welfare in a comprehensive way,” said Traci LaLiberte, Executive Director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW) with the University of Minnesota.

LaLiberte explained that out of necessity, the child welfare worker has had to become an expert in mental health, substance abuse, disability, maltreatment, racial disparity, and so many more issues impacting children and families today.

The training centers provide support and resources to professionals in the region that was previously only available in the metro area. The field sees high rates of turnover due to the litigious nature of the work and the occurrence of secondary trauma to the child welfare workforce.

The learning centers provide education and development opportunities as well as peer support to help professionals in all stages of their careers. Many of them serve small communities and counties, often the only person doing this type of work. The ability to connect with others who understand their experiences.

SMSU is dedicated to educating new professionals but to provide ongoing support and advanced training. As a regional university, SMSU serves the professional development and continuing education needs beyond the four-year degree.

“Hosting the Regional Learning Center on campus fits well with the university’s mission,” said Smalley. 

“We have a child welfare program through our Social Work major,” he said. “We prepare students to work in child protection and child welfare, so the center is a good fit for our campus.”

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