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UCF, FADD and DCF Team Up to Protect Children in Florida

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By Zenaida Kotala and Karen Guin

The University of Central Florida, in collaboration with the Florida Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work, will lead a new statewide project that will help reshape and enhance the workforce at the Florida Department of Children and Families to better protect children under state care.

UCF is the lead university that will implement a $5.3 million contract to train social-work students across the state who would then become child protective investigators and case managers for the state.

"This is a great moment when academia can fulfill one of its missions - to help make our world better," said Dean Michael Frumkin of UCF's College of Health and Public Affair, which is leading the effort. "Universities should be about helping solve real-world problems and we are pleased that UCF can work with universities across the state and with DCF to usher in change that will help protect some our most vulnerable citizens."

DCF received more than 190,000 calls about potential child abuse or neglect in fiscal year 2014-2015. There were more than 262,000 active investigations during that same time period.

The contract between DCF and UCF involves 14 public and private universities in Florida with schools of social work. The program will provide a maximum of $12,000 in stipends. Full-time undergraduate and graduate students are eligible for two annual stipends of $6,000 per year if they earn their degree in social work, take classes specifically designed to prepare students to work in child welfare and who pledge to work two years at a local DCF office, a sheriff's investigative unit or a community-based care lead agency or one of its subcontractors. Part-time graduate students are eligible for three annual stipends of $4,000 per year with similar work obligations. (Learn more)

"One of the agency's top priorities is to create a world-class child-welfare system through the development of a world-class work force," said DCF Secretary Mike Carol. "This project will assist DCF in that mission by helping child-welfare professionals develop the assessment skills necessary to ensure child safety and families across the state to realize better outcomes."

The new project meets one of the major goals outlined in the 2014 Florida Senate Bill 1666, which is for 50 percent of child-welfare professionals statewide to hold social work degrees.

The other universities involved in the project are Barry University, Florida A&M University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida International University, Florida Memorial University, Florida State University, Saint Leo University, Southeastern University, University of North Florida, University of South Florida, University of West Florida and Warner University.

Once students in the program earn their degree, the university will help them find work that meets the requirements of the stipend. Should the student fail to land a job within six months of graduation, they will be required to pay back the stipend.

"This partnership between the schools of social work in Florida and DCF provides the state with an opportunity to fundamentally transform child-welfare practice in Florida by improving the lives of the children and families we serve," said Bonnie Yegidis, director of UCF's School of Social Work and principal investigator for the contract.

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