ASU partners with Department of Economic Security to improve child welfare

In the midst of budget cuts, hiring freezes and skyrocketing caseloads, a new partnership between ASU’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy and the Arizona Department of Economic Security is providing optimism and excitement among assistant program managers within the Division of Children Youth and Families.

The new partnership already is seeing improvements in child welfare with an eye towards curbing abuse and neglect.

Assistant program managers serve as regional managers for the state’s Child Protective Services and oversee 175 supervisors and 970 specialists throughout five regional offices across the state. These staff are responsible for recording and investigating approximately 35,000 reports of abuse or neglect each year, managing 11,535 children in out-of-home care, and more than 5,000 families with children who remain in their homes.

Twelve of these assistant program managers (APMs) recently completed a yearlong program of study and were certified on June 28 in a ceremony on ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus. They represent the first cohort of new leaders who graduated from the ASU Child Welfare Leadership Academy.

The ASU Child Welfare Leadership Academy was developed by Judy Krysik, associate professor at the School of Social Work, and Catherine Eden from the Bob Ramsey Executive Education Program. The Certified Public Manager program is a nationally recognized continuing educational program for professionals working in public sector agencies, such as health care, local governance, public safety and child welfare. Participants receive a thorough assessment of their leadership skills, interact with a coach to assist them in professional and workplace development, and work with a seasoned and experienced leader, serving in the role of mentor.    

Tracey Everitt, a long time Phoenix employee with the Division of Children Youth and Families (DCYF), says she was drawn to the Leadership Academy based on feedback from co-workers and support from her supervisor.

“I knew two people in higher levels of management who had finished their CPM [Certified Project Manager], and they told me that the information they learned from this program and its application to management was probably more helpful than their master’s degree,” Everitt said.

Sue Smith, a co-worker in Phoenix, agreed: “I was new to this position and thought that the timing was perfect.”

The investment in both time and effort was significant, said Mary Megui, who drove to Phoenix from Yuma a few times a month for almost a year to participate in back-to-back, full-day classes. What made the program possible for long-distance commuters was unconditional encouragement from their department managers so they didn’t feel like they were skipping work in order to attend.

“Gradually, we all quit checking our email every 10 minutes,” Megui said. “We came to understand the value of being in this program, and what a great opportunity it was.”

Interaction with fellow DCYF colleagues were one of the bigger benefits participants noted. Coming from a rural setting helped Megui develop an understanding of urban challenges, which are unique even though all participants have the same job with the same agency. Reflecting on the new sense of cohesion between her and her Phoenix counterparts, Megui said that "just being able to pick up the phone and call someone who’s going to understand is huge.”

Smith had a very positive experience with her mentor: “She had held high positions in state work, and learning from her experience, at her level, was a great opportunity. Talking with her was a breath of fresh air because she challenged me, but at the same time she was such a good listener. I came away feeling like I was on the right track.”

Many participants said the information and skills they acquired aligned with many of the other initiatives under way in the Arizona Department of Economic Security, under the leadership of director Clarence Carter. Even decades-long employees said they had never before felt as excited by the possibilities.

The Child Welfare Leadership Academy represents one of a number of partnerships between ASU’s Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy and state governmental agencies such as the Department of Economic Security.

“Programs such as the Child Welfare Leadership Academy reflect ASU’s commitment to being a force for change across our state as we meet the challenges facing the families and communities of Arizona,” said Michael Shafer, the center's director, in his recognition of the academy graduates.