Saint Leo University joins a new statewide project to increase the number of social workers trained in child welfare. The program creates $12,000 cash stipends for students who commit to positions in public child welfare services.

For child welfare professionals charged with helping young victims of abuse and neglect find safety and help, the stakes couldn't be any higher.

Yet, high caseloads, administrative burdens, limited resources, and stressful work environments not only make their jobs challenging at best, but impede the recruitment and retention of additional qualified professionals.

Recent news from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), however, shines a ray of hope on this seemingly insurmountable situation – the launching of a project aimed at better protecting children under state care by strengthening the child welfare workforce.

Led by the Florida Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work, 14 public and private universities in Florida with accredited schools of social work – including Saint Leo University – are partnering with the Florida DCF in the Title IV-E Child Welfare Stipend Program.

As a result, full-time students in Saint Leo's social work programs – the Master of Social Work (MSW) program and the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program— may be eligible to apply for Child Welfare Stipends worth $6,000 a year for a maximum $12,000 over two years.

In return, students take courses specifically designed to prepare them to work in child welfare and pledge to work for a child welfare organization for the same number of years that they receive the stipend.

Title IV-E Child Welfare Stipend Program

Title IV-E represents the most significant source of federal funding allocated to support state and local child welfare programs and the children and families served by these local programs. The goal of the Child Welfare Stipend program is to educate well-qualified professional social workers to focus on the much need area of child abuse and neglect in the state of Florida.

Saint Leo received 12 stipends from the state for the upcoming year, in addition to funding for a new social work professor to teach the courses in child welfare, manage the program, and oversee field placements.

Dr. Lisa Rapp-McCall is the graduate social work professor at Saint Leo who led the university's program application effort, developed the new courses in child abuse and neglect and in children's services, and is coordinating the selection process of the first stipend recipients.

"It's fantastic to be able to offer some incentive to students who are willing to go into one of the most difficult fields in social work," she says.

In addition to being eligible to receive a $6,000 stipend per year for up to two years, Saint Leo social work students who are selected for the program will:

  • Be prepared to take the certification exam and earn a certificate in child welfare practice.

  • Have access to faculty mentors with extensive child welfare experience.

  • Fulfill most of the pre-service employee training course required by DCF.

Program requirements

Child Welfare Stipend awards are competitive and based on the quality of both the written application and the interview. In addition to meeting all of Saint Leo's requirements for acceptance into the BSW or MSW programs, to qualify, applicants must:

  • Be a full-time upper division (junior/senior) undergraduate student or a full or part-time graduate MSW student. (Part-time MSW students are eligible for three annual stipends of $4,000 per year.)

  • Maintain minimum GPA requirements.

  • Complete a background clearance, application and interview.

  • Successfully complete two child welfare courses and field placement with a grade of B or better.

  • Commit to work, post-graduation, for the DCF of Florida, a sheriff investigation unit, or a community-based care (CBC) agency in Florida for one year for each year the stipend is awarded.

  • Complete field placement requirements with DCF of Florida, an approved CBC, or another child welfare agency focusing on child abuse and neglect as approved by Saint Leo.

Prepared to make a difference

"The child welfare system in Florida, like systems across the country, is stretched beyond capacity – and it's taking a toll on social workers who are trying to serve the most difficult and complex families," says Rapp-McCall.

A clinical social worker who worked for years as a child therapist providing guidance to child welfare agencies, courts and families, Rapp-McColl understands what it takes to be effective in the child welfare field.

"Early intervention in the life of a child provides the best chance for that child to grow and mature in to a fully functioning adult and not perpetuate the same behavior he or she experienced as a child," she says.

According to Rapp-McColl, the students who are interested in the stipend program are already committed to helping save children's lives and plan to enter the child welfare field.

"They want to do some of the most important work in our country today. They realize the consequences of child abuse and neglect and they also understand that the system, itself, needs assistance.

"But even the best of intentions is not enough in this difficult field. To be effective, child welfare professionals need the knowledge and skills that they can acquire through accredited and rigorous social work programs such as we have here at Saint Leo."

Current Saint Leo students interested in applying to the Child Welfare Stipend Program may contact Dr. Rapp-McCall for more information. For more information on the university's online MSW program, contact Mary Martinez-Drovie at 800-707-8846. For information on the university's undergraduate social work program, contact Undergraduate Admissions at 800-334-5532.

Photo credits: Pavel L Photo and Video on and Lisa Rapp-McCall