The Shepherd University Department of Social Work has received a $210,000 grant from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) to continue offering training to DHHR staff and potential foster parents. Shepherd has received the grant each year for more than 20 years, securing a total of more than $3 million in outside funding support for the program and the university.
The grant is funded through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act and provides money for ongoing training to staff and supervisors of the DHHR Bureau of Children and Families throughout a 15-county region of eastern West Virginia and other areas of the state.
Amy Garzon Hampton, Region III PRIDE coordinator, and social work faculty conduct the training and help develop and update the curriculum. Hampton said she and Craig Cline, assistant professor of social work, are currently putting together a new training program that will help DHHR employees better understand poverty.
"What we're focusing on is trying to help workers understand the difference between abuse, neglect and poverty," Hampton said. "No child is supposed to be removed from their home due to poverty, but it's really hard sometimes to separate what is the result of being impoverished and what is purposeful neglectfulness."
Other new curricula she and Cline have developed focus on working with LGBQT youth and helping workers understand diversity.
The grant also supports training for foster parents, called Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE). Foster parents are required to take 21 hours of PRIDE training. Hampton said the classes teach potential foster parents how to help children who've suffered from trauma, such as being removed from their homes or being abused. Hampton said the heroin epidemic has hit the child welfare system really hard.
"Many of the people taking the training are dealing with children who have been put into the system because of some sort of drug abuse or drug addiction on the part of their parents," Hampton said. "So we try to teach them what they can do for a baby, a toddler, and a school-age child who has been exposed to drugs, what to expect from these children, and what normal for a drug-exposed child is like, because these kids are different."
Hampton said another trend she's noticed is that more children are being placed in kinship care, which means they are living with a relative or close friend who has been involved in the child's life.
"So when these foster parents come to the training, they already have the kids in their homes," Hampton said. "We usually spend time in PRIDE talking about making the decision to foster or adopt. I don't spend as much time talking about that decision-making process when I have people in the room who are already doing it."
"We have been very fortunate to have a professional social worker with the credentials and experience of Amy Garzon Hampton to coordinate this program over the last 13 years since the PRIDE curriculum was instituted under the grant," said Dr. Geri Crawley-Woods, social work department chair and regional director of the PRIDE training program.
Crawley-Woods said this year an additional element of the grant that supports social work students with tuition assistance during their undergraduate education has been reinstated.
Shannon Knipple, a senior social work major from Falling Waters, is the Title-IV-E scholar. Knipple is completing a 600-hour internship in the youth services unit of the Martinsburg DHHR. Because DHHR is providing full tuition and a monthly stipend, Knipple will be required to work nine months at the agency's Bureau of Children and Families after she
"From the beginning, pretty much, I wanted to be at DHHR following my graduation, so this worked out perfectly for me," said Knipple,whose grandmother has worked at DHHR for 33 years.
Knipple said that Shepherd's social work program has prepared her well for the work she's doing at DHHR. Knipple likes working at DHHR because it offers a broad array of programs designed to help people and the opportunity to coordinate with outside agencies like Catholic Charities and the Board of Childcare. Knipple said DHHR is the point of contact for a lot of people when they're most in need.
"Part of the reason I love working in youth services is because I get the chance to show kids who have run into problems the opportunities they have available and how to get back on track," Knipple said.
"I get to help make a difference for a kid who wouldn't necessarily have those opportunities if they weren't involved in DHHR."