Social work students screen video that showcases child welfare 'first responders'


Paul Atkinson

The School of Social Work hosted the debut of a new video to promote social work careers with the Department of Child Safety, also known as DCS. On hand at the Westward Ho were dozens of social work students and alumni who are current employees of the child welfare agency.

School of Social Work director James Herbert Williams welcomed students, alumni and leadership of the state agency to the Concho room of the Westward Ho.

“The School of Social Work has a long history of partnering with DCS and hopefully a history that has been illustrious and wonderful with the opportunity to train future practitioners to work in the area of child welfare,” said Williams.

Since 1988, the school and state agency have had a collaborative program that prepares students for careers in child welfare. Undergraduate and graduate students can get their social work tuition and fees paid for through a federal grant, but must agree to work one to two years for the Department of Child Safety. The job is not easy, something that DCS director Greg McKay referred as he talked to students and DCS staff.

“So I often say that DCS is like the infantry of social work,” said McKay. “This is the most gritty, the most down and dirty world experience of social work that there is.”

McKay spent more than 20 years in policing, mostly working on crimes against children. He called child welfare social workers “first responders.”

“Yet nobody reveres social workers as such which is something that we are trying to change here in Arizona, frankly,” said McKay. “I love teachers. I love firemen. I love cops. They’re all first responders. But nobody goes as deep into the lives of people as the people in this room. Nobody.”

That’s why the department set about creating a video that accurately portrays the job of a DCS case manager. Produced by a Tucson filmmaker, the five-minute video shows a social worker investigating a child neglect call. The scenario is all too real. A mother is accused of neglecting her kids after becoming addicted to opioids following a car accident. The video shows the case manager, played by DCS program specialist Chanetta Curtis, investigating the allegation, removing the kids and working with the mother to get clean and regain custody of her children.

“It portrays a realistic view of what it's like to work for DCS,” said Judy Krysik, an associate professor in the School of Social Work and director of the Center for Child Well-Being. “So the video shows the balance between working with families and sometimes being put in a position which is difficult and having to remove children from families.”

Krysik says it's hard to understand the role of a D.C.S. worker if someone has never been in that position. She believes the video portrays what it’s really like.

“This is an extremely important line of work that somehow I think can easily be misunderstood,” said Krysik. “It's not about removing children. It's about helping families. It's about working with parents.”

Krysik and her team at the Center for Child Well-Being work closely with DCS to help the agency develop new training with the goal of better supporting the workforce and increasing the level of professionalism.

"I think that's one thing that this video helps to show is that the social workers are not out there on their own and there's a huge momentum towards professionalizing the child welfare workforce,” Krysik said. “Students, when they're considering a position in DCS, are worried.

“They're worried about the caseload. Will they be able to handle it? Will they be able to deal with the level of difficulty? And the important thing for them to know is that they are not out there alone and that there is really a momentum towards positive change through the very front line all the way up to the leadership of DCS.”

At the conclusion of the event, attendees were treated to an ice cream social with vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries, colored sprinkes, syrup and whipped cream.