Carol S. Cohen, Sharon Kollar, and Tara Bulin

Working with children and families in the framework of child welfare system is one of the most complex areas of social work practice. The purpose of the Real Cases Project is to expand knowledge and build awareness of students and faculty about social work practice in a public child welfare context. This Project will give students and educators already working in the field, an opportunity to bring their experience into social work classrooms as part of professional training. For those unfamiliar with child welfare, and those who may have considered it outside the profession, the Project will help reclaim child welfare as a historical and contemporary cornerstone of social work, and encourage students to consider it as a career path. The Project will expand faculty interest in child welfare and its potential as an arena for scholarly inquiry. All students will be able to develop new perspectives and professional sophistication for working with a wide range of settings, populations, and intervention methods, by using the real case-based, course-specific lenses and resources provided by the Project.

The three, real child welfare cases that the Project offers for integration into the foundation and advanced social work curriculum, demonstrate countless aspects and challenges of child welfare practice. Such versatile cases become excellent vehicles for bringing together the depth of academic thought with the sweat of real practice. These cases allow students of every area of social work, including generalist, clinical, direct practice, administrative, community and organizational-focused work, to find an individual niche in the field of child welfare, along with an opportunity to apply their knowledge and their passion.

On an important level, the Real Cases Project is an attempt by the New York City Administration for Children’s Services to open their books to the public, so aspiring social workers can see the children and families they attempt to help and the environments they seek to improve. As an example of community-education partnership through the New York City Social Work Education Consortium, the Project can be seen as a model for collaboration, presenting possibilities for replication, expansion, and adaptation in other fields of social work practice.

Faculty affiliated with seven social work education programs in the New York Metropolitan area, developed thirteen teaching guides that integrate these cases into teaching plans for specific courses, including common foundation areas, practice method/level courses, and key electives. Each guide integrates the cases with course-specific objectives and suggestions for teaching and evaluation. Administration for Children’s Services’ staff collected ten highly useful appendices to illuminate policies and practices relevant to the cases, expanding the issues in the cases and teaching guides. Our evaluation strategy encourages students and faculty to provide feedback on their experience and to explore the wider impact of the Real Cases Project.

Social work education attracts people with a special sensitivity for social ills, eager to be involved in a noble cause. Child welfare and especially child protection seem to be such a cause. Yet, social work graduates are not rushing by the thousands to join the Administration of Children’s Services. One of the reasons is the feeling that that large government agencies do not appear to be the right place to cure society’s tribulations. The editors and contributors to this work are determined to change this perception, to show the real life drama and critical social work practice opportunities in public child welfare organizations.

For many years in the past, the relationship between social work education and child welfare training has been off balance. While the Administration for Children’s Services was sending its frontline workers to social work schools, and the James Satterwhite Academy for Child Welfare Training was bringing social work expertise and philosophy into its training process, social work students who did not come from Children’s Services were learning about child welfare primarily from stories in newspapers, invariably frightening and hopeless. This project is an attempt to balance this relationship. In some ways, social work education brought social work into Children’s Services – now we are bringing Children’s Services into social work education.

New York City, with its cultural and linguistic diversity, as well as economic disparity, is a demanding place for child welfare workers. We hope that with this guide we will be able to show earnest and motivated social work students the full scope of the problems addressed and the thinking they themselves can utilize to ameliorate them.

The Real Cases Project is Copyright Protected: Materials are available for social work educational purposes without permission, but must include attribution to the Real Cases Project, including the Website address:, and Sponsors: New York City Social Work Education Consortium and New York City Administration for Children's Services. Website and hosting provided by Adelphi University School of Social Work.
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