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Program Prepares Social Workers for Relevant Issues

By Lisa Stratton
UW-RF University Communications

FEB. 3, 2006-- The Wyman Education Building at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls plays host to a program that positively affects children and families in 24 Wisconsin counties.  

The Western Wisconsin Partnership, created in 1998, has trained more than 400 social workers already in the field to increase their knowledge about current issues and best practices. The partnership consists of western Wisconsin social service agencies, UW-RF and the Wisconsin Division of Children and Family Services.

Jennifer Borup, director of the project, has been with the program since its creation. She was approached by one of the members of the original partnership located at UW-Green Bay about creating a new partnership and finding a university to house it.   Borup, a certified independent social worker with a degree in social work from UW-Madison, looked to UW-RF to be the site of what would become the WWP.

"I loved the idea of the university being linked with the community," says Borup.   "I think it fits well with the mission of the university."

The Western Wisconsin Partnership is funded by both the state and the county, as well as a federal Title IV-E grant. This year it was awarded a continuing grant of $521,477 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program works by recruiting highly qualified supervisors from county agencies to lend their knowledge to area social workers.  

"They have to have a real interest and be good at teaching what they know," says Borup.

Other trainers come from around the nation as experts on specific topics. Each trainer is extensively prepared before giving a workshop, and usually a supervisor is paired with an expert to co-present the program.

Workshops are varied in topic, and a few planned for this spring include "Bridges Out of Poverty," "Ethics and Boundaries," and "Working With Non-Offending Parents in Child Sexual Abuse Cases."   The programs are held locally so that the attending social workers do not have to allow extended absences at work to travel.

Borup says that the largest industry trend that is being discussed in workshops is budget cuts.

"Worker caseloads are increasing, while resources are decreasing.   There's a definite crunch," says Borup. "The future holds more cuts, and we're seeing bigger and more complex cases."

According to Borup, problems with drug dependencies, especially methamphetamine, are contributing heavily to the caseloads of county social workers.   She also says that she's seeing more children with serious mental illness, a growing concern in the area of social work.  

UW-RF faculty and students also attend workshops created by the Western Wisconsin Partnership. Faculty members are then able to take materials back to their classrooms, while students get their "metaphorical feet wet." Borup says that UW-RF social work alumni are a common sight at the seminars.

The counties that participate in the partnership are: Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Buffalo, Burnett, Chippewa, Clark, Douglas, Dunn, Eau Claire, Iron, Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, St. Croix, Taylor, Trempealeau, and Washburn. Five tribal nations also used to be involved in the partnership, but have recently formed their own.  

"We really liked the counties and tribes working together," says Borup.   "It allowed us to get to understand each other's perspective.   We hope to collaborate in the future."

The Western Wisconsin Partnership will continue to offer numerous innovative workshops, benefiting students, faculty, social workers, and above all, the root of our community: the family.

"Nothing else works if our families don't work," says Borup.   "It's hard to think of a better place you could spend your time."


Last updated: Thursday, 22-Apr-2010 16:07:01 Central Daylight Time

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