The year is off to a fresh start and there’s still time to make a resolution. It’s the right time to plan for staff and supervisor training. The Administration for Community Living National Voluntary Consensus Guidelines for State Adult Protective Services Systems (Guidelines) recommend minimum qualifications and ongoing training at all staff levels. In particular, Element 6B of the Guidelines provide an in-depth outline of the basic orientation and core competencies to ground new workers .
Ongoing research highlights the benefits of strong training for both new and experienced APS staff. A Texas-based study found that a three-month new worker training increased confidence in the workers’ assessment abilities and general knowledge. Researchers Pi-Ju Liu, PhD and Leslie Ross, PhD, add that training improves APS investigation and increases substantiation rates as well as building worker knowledge, confidence, and skills. While the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the usual in-person training, these authors and other studies offer recommendations for creating successful trainings now and beyond the pandemic. APS staff are motivated to learn and build their skill set but agencies need to make it possible and overcome barriers to successful training.
Barriers and Facilitators to Training
Overcoming barriers and facilitating success, whether at the worker or agency level, is essential to effective training. Researchers Pi-Ju Liu, PhD, Alicia Neumann, PhD, Kate Radcliffe, and Anna Chodos, PhD, delved into these issues through focus groups of California APS caseworkers representing urban, suburban, and rural areas. Their findings reflect much of the discussion and research across the country.
One frequently mentioned barrier to training is time. Training takes time away from the increasing volume of caseloads, complex situations, and day-to-day work requirements. In-person training also involves travel time, which may be particularly high for rural workers. Another barrier is the ability to review and practice new techniques learned during training from basic interviewing to more complex screenings. One participant noted interest in reviewing new skills after training but no time due to high, complex caseloads. They stated “Sometimes you get some really cool techniques and they sound really fun and you’d like to review them and go through, but you don’t have time. You’re back. As soon as you hit the door, you’re running. Not only have we increased caseloads, our caseloads have gotten more complex.” (Pi-Ju et al., 2021, p.6). Lack of support from supervisors to implement new techniques or tools adds to this barrier. Inability to implement new skills learned during training can make workers less motivated to learn. Training that is a mismatch to workers was a third barrier highlighted. Workers didn’t value training if it was too simplified and did not match their experience level. Added frustrations come if the training does not align with their jurisdiction’s regulations and policies.
Despite the barriers, Dr. Liu and her colleagues note that caseworkers are eager to learn and engage in new skills when it is useful and new skills are supported by the agency. Experienced caseworkers are eager for in-depth content on topics such as legal and financial issues, scams, and self-neglect. Presenters with both strong presentation skills and content expertise are valued. Current practitioners are especially appreciated. Handouts and physical resources that caseworkers can refer to after training are important. Administrators and staff have noted that the ability to go back to resources such as conference recordings and handouts has been a benefit from shifts to virtual training due to the pandemic. Different training modalities are also important. In-person training may appeal to workers who like a hands-on engagement as well as new workers who need dedicated, experiential training. Others may prefer e-learning options that can be flexibly scheduled around a busy day. Across the nation, APS staff are eager and willing to learn when training is facilitated well.
Creating Valuable Training
Training should be a worthwhile effort for APS staff to take time from a busy caseload. The highlighted studies provide key recommendations for effective training programs that excite staff.
- Tailor Content - Content should be applicable to the experience level and position of the staff. The APS Guidelines Element 6B states that advanced or specialized training “should go beyond a mere ’overview’ and provide in-depth content” on the populations or topics addressed. Suggested topics from the research were legal and financial issues, self-neglect, self-protection, risks and prevention of infectious disease, and skill application. Cross-training with law enforcement or other partners can help improve communication and role understanding. Training does not stop at casework skills. The APS Guidelines Element 6C recommends that all supervisors receive initial and ongoing training. The APS Technical Assistance Resource Center’s (APS TARC) brief on training supervisors is a key place to start.
- Encourage Implementation - When APS staff spend time training, they should be encouraged to implement and use what they learn. If practice or policy barriers come up, agencies should discuss how the new knowledge, skills, or innovations can be adapted to fit their environment. At a leadership level, California is implementing an APS Leaders Institute to increase the capacity of the APS managers. Through regular trainings and peer discussions the program will increase their ability to coordinate, plan, and implement systems improvements. Peer-to-peer support can also encourage implementation and further learning. In the current virtual environment peer support could include space to debrief on difficult cases, a caseworker willing to be a resource to others, or a virtual leaders institute.
- Vary Format - An internet search for “effective training” will yield millions of results with a consensus that people learn in different ways. During the COVID-19 pandemic, APS programs have been looking at how to address training and take their efforts virtual. Even these can vary to meet your worker needs. In Alabama, supervisors in training have been provided with training slides in advance to be prepared for group discussion on the videoconference. Other states, such as Georgia, have a learning management system where topical trainings are available. The California APS Leaders Institute has shifted all meetings and trainings online. This shift has allowed the Institute to bring in trainers from across the nation. The Academy for Professional Excellence’s Adult Protective Services Workforce Innovations program offers e-learning for both basic and advanced topics. The Academy also offers off-line materials for in-person training. Agencies should consider the best format to address logistical challenges such as high workloads or transportation time.
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