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UK PROGRAM HELPS PROTECT
KENTUCKY'S CHILDREN

By Selena Stevens

 

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"The state needs good professional people who can enter child welfare and protection confident that they can do the work and ready to hit the ground running. Child protection is the toughest job in the field, and that causes a lot of turnover."

-- Dinah Anderson, UK's coordinator of the program and a social work professor

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Nov. 2, 2001 (Lexington, Ky.) -- Linda Tackett's life changed when her father was disabled at work when she was a child. But what could have destroyed the family didn't, thanks to the help and support of social workers. Tackett's father went through vocational rehabilitation, earned college degrees in math and computer science and kept the family on its feet.

"He set a great standard for our family," Tackett said. "If the vocational rehabilitation and the help we received from social workers had not been there, I'm not sure what would have happened."

Tackett, a social work student at the University of Kentucky, is living up to her father's standard and planning to repay the help her family received. She is one of 24 students at UK and five at Lexington Community College participating in UK's Public Child Welfare Certification Program, a cooperative effort of the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children and 10 undergraduate social work programs around the state.

The program prepares professional bachelor's level social work students for employment in Kentucky's Child Welfare Services.

The program is funded by the cabinet through a federal grant and pays the students' tuition for up to four years and gives them $1,300 per semester for books, living expenses and travel.

"This is an enormous investment in our students by the state and by the participating schools," said Dinah Anderson, UK's coordinator of the program and a social work professor.

"The state needs good professional people who can enter child welfare and protection confident that they can do the work and ready to hit the ground running. Child protection is the toughest job in the field, and that causes a lot of turnover."

The program's genesis came in 1996 when Cabinet for Families and Children Secretary Viola Miller spoke to the Kentucky Association of Social Work Educators, telling the group of the state's need in child protection and welfare. Six universities, including UK, designed what would become the certification program to address the situation.

The program requires social work students take child welfare courses, participate in a practicum with a state-administered child protection agency, receive approximately 8.5 days of the cabinet's protective services training and attend semester retreats.

In 1998, each of the schools selected 10 students. Today, 137 students are participating in the program at 10 universities across the state.

Upon graduation the students are given priority consideration for employment with the cabinet and must work for the Department for Community Based Services for two years. The program's graduates also enter the work force at a higher level and pay than other social work graduates or people who have gone through state training to become social workers.

Anderson said the program helps give students a real-life look at the job of child protection agents, making sure this career's for them. In the end, students who complete the program are very dedicated to their job and have the skills needed to face many tough situations - the cabinet has dedicated, knowledgeable employees and Kentucky children have determined advocates such as Linda Tackett.

During the summer, Tackett did a 15 weeks of an eight-week practicum with Knott County Protection and Permanency. She learned about the teamwork needed to help children and experienced some of the heart-wrenching cases textbooks told her were out there. She saw happy endings, mistakes and helpless cases. She's determined to return when she graduates in May.

"I have a passion for children and for helping those who are less fortunate," she said. "I've had the experience and seen others who have had a rough life. I want to go into Eastern Kentucky and try to make a difference for children."

For more information about the program at UK, contact the UK College of Social Work, 627 Patterson Office Tower, Lexington, KY 40506; (859) 323-7484.


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