Teaching teenagers how to balance a budget or make a healthy dinner may be simple lessons that parents teach their children in high school, but for children in foster care those lessons may never have come without the New Mexico State University School of Social Work.
The School of Social Work in NMSU's College of Health and Social Services teaches programs such as transition services for independent living for teenagers aging out of foster care. The programs exist because of a partnership with the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) as part of the Family and Child Welfare Training Project.
The partnership is a federally funded program through the Title IV-E Child Welfare Training Program of the Social Security Act. In Dona Ana County, there are between 120-150 children in foster care.
Tina Hancock, the director of the NMSU School of Social Work, said the practical application that NMSU students receive from working with CYFD is unparalleled.
"I think it's invaluable," she said. "Students take courses that provide the theory for practice, and then the actual hands-on skills. They learn in their internships in CYFD. They have supervision from our faculty as well as the staff of CYFD. They get a lot of attention and a lot of one-on-one skills training."
In addition to the independent living training, the School of Social Work provides trainings for adoptive and foster parents once a year. The partnership also has a Child Welfare Scholar Program, and its mission is to increase the volume of social work graduates who pursue employment in CYFD and to provide training for existing CYFD staff.
In the partnership, the School of Social Work offers skill-based child welfare training and supervisory training to about 1,200 participants each year.
"Research shows that social workers, who are trained in accredited programs of social work make better case workers," Hancock said. "They have better outcomes for children, they are in foster care for shorter periods of time and are reunited with their families a lot faster."
Trainings are created to develop and enhance the social workers' ability to promote permanency, health and security for effectively working with children and families in CYFD.
"For our students, they have a very rigorous curriculum that includes courses in identifying abuse and neglect and interventions that are designed to work with families and improve family life for children," she said.
The School of Social Work also has sponsored an angel tree since 2002.
"This is the product of a great collaboration between the foster care units in CYFD and the School of Social Work," Hancock said. "Through the School of Social Work, we open up the opportunity to the whole university so that faculty and staff throughout the university can come by and select an angel tag and buy a gift for a foster child. Foster parents are not wealthy people, typically, so it may be difficult to afford presents for many children."
Gloria Nunez, an event planner with the school of social work, has coordinated the angel tree since its inception. She said this year they expect to fulfill 185 angel requests.
"We try to put out the angel tags right after Thanksgiving," she said. "We try to give the community several weeks to bring their gifts in."
"We make sure they are age appropriate gifts," Nunez said. "We then sort by caseworker, and then we put them in large moving boxes. We transport them to the local CYFD office. From there the caseworkers come pick up their gifts, and then they deliver them to the kids a week before."
Hancock said she was grateful to the NMSU community for helping the School of Social Work provide gifts to local children.
"This has just been a fantastic year, she said. "We had more folks that wanted angel tags than we could keep up with."
From a bicycle under a Christmas tree to job-hunting skills, the partnership between the NMSU School of Social Work and CYFD is working to improve the lives of local children and families.