Project Overview



The department of human services has lost a large portion of its child welfare services staff since 2009 and is still working to rebuild with qualified experienced social workers.  Twenty-one per cent of the department’s child welfare services positions were eliminated during the 2009-2010 reduction in force.  By nature, child welfare services also experience attrition of its valuable workforce due to the intense and difficult circumstances under which child welfare services employees work.

The department will face a critical shortage of experienced child welfare services workers and leaders in the coming five years.  As of 2012, thirty-six per cent of the child welfare services workforce had twenty-one or more years of experience.  However, there is concern about impending retirements as more than thirty-six per cent of staff is fifty years of age or older, and almost thirty per cent of staff is in their forties.


The HCWEC Project was developed as a workforce recruitment and training program. The first HCWEC cohort was admitted in 1998. Between then and 2008, a total of 109 Scholars were accepted into the program with a 92% graduation rate. In 2016, the HCWEC Project was revitalized with 10 new Scholars.


Between 1998 and 2011, the Department of Human Services-Child Welfare Services branch, and the University of Hawaiʻi Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work successfully ran the Title IV-E Hawaii Child Welfare Education Collaboration.  The Hawaiʻi Child Welfare Education Collaboration (HCWEC) was a successful workforce recruitment and training program that provided a continuous stream of qualified social workers to fill vacant child welfare positions.  Each year, full-time and part-time students entered the program and received a specialized child welfare services curriculum, field integration seminars, and practicum placement in child welfare settings.  In 2008, the program expanded statewide through the school of social work’s distance education option.

One of the most promising workforce practices to address child welfare shortages is university-agency training partnership through the use of Title IV-E dollars (NASW, 2003).  According to the Council of Social Work Education, there were 147 programs in 35 states that accessed Title IV-E funds in 2010, but the number is shrinking “due to inadequate availability of funds to cover program costs, difficulty of identifying sufficient match to the federal funding as well as inconsistent policy interpretations” (SWPI, 2010).  In a survey from 94 programs (64% response rate), some of the benefits of the university and public child welfare collaborations are:

Agency-focused outcomes:

▹ Enhanced professionalization of the child welfare workforce and increased number of MSWs in child welfare.
▹ Increased number of agency administrators and supervisors who have a social work degree.

University-focused outcomes:

▹ Enhanced child welfare curricula
▹ Universities are more attuned to agencies’ needs.
▹ Social work education programs recruit more ethnically diverse students (SWPI, 2010)

“Studies show that people who have come through agency- university partnership social work programs tend to stay in child welfare longer. People come into the agency ready to do the job,” says Joan Levy Zlotnik, Executive Director of the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research (Michael, 2008).

The majority of educational partnerships have been operating for more than 15 years and 30% of the programs reported growth in the three year time period of 2007 to 2010.  Seventy percent of Title IV-E partnership during the same time period had remained the same or decreased with only five programs terminating during that timeframe (CSWE, 2011).  Reasons for severed collaborations have been due to difficulty identifying sufficient match to the federal funding, inconsistent policy interpretations and budget cuts resulting in hiring freezes (SWPI, 2012).

The HCWEC project is needed to help fill the current child welfare services position vacancies statewide and establish a future workforce of experienced child welfare workers The project will help keep Hawaiʻi’s children safe and increase the level of services for Hawaii’s families as well as meet federal and state authority mandates and avoid financial penalties.