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About the 3Voices Conference

Preparing for Critical Practice in Child Welfare - advancing social work education and practice in child welfare

A Partnership between McMaster University and the Child Welfare Sector

McMaster University has partnered with six child welfare agencies to pilot test a child welfare specialization as part of a Bachelor of Social Work degree (BSW). The specialization is called the Preparing for Critical Practice in Child Welfare (PCPCW). Involved in this initiative is the McMaster University School of Social Work, and the following agencies who have funded the initiative: Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton, the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton, Niagara Family and Children’s Services, Brant Family and Children’s Services, the Children’s Aid Society of Haldimand-Norfolk, and Waterloo Family and Children’s Services. As well Ogwadeni:deo (Six Nations Child Welfare) and the OACAS (Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies) have played a role in advising the initiative. 

The Need

The Province, the public, and the child welfare sector have recognized a need for the child welfare system to change and adapt to evolving societal needs and realities. The need for change is not just an Ontario phenomenon, child welfare systems across Canada and around the world are being challenged to change and adapt. 

The child welfare sector cannot change alone—the social work academy has to change too—the Ontario child welfare agencies mentioned above asked the McMaster University School of Social Work to be a part of this change by offering BSW students the option of a “pathway” in the school’s BSW degree that focuses on preparing for critical practice in child welfare (a PCPCW pathway). 

The PCPCW Curriculum

The PCPCW curriculum was developed by drawing on the knowledge of the families and youth receiving child welfare services (service users), the agencies and workers delivering it, and McMaster’s own academics who research this field. The PCPCW involves one introductory child welfare class and two advanced classes, along with an enriched final placement in a child welfare setting. Coursework brings child welfare service users into the classroom to teach students based on their experience and to help evaluate student progress, as well as child welfare managers, workers, lawyers and others involved in the child welfare system. As well, the classroom goes out into the community to visit sites where innovative approaches to child welfare are being used.

The Desired Outcomes

The overarching desired outcome the PCPCW seeks is to better prepare BSW students for long-term careers and eventual leadership in the child welfare sector. The specific outcomes desired have been set by service users, the child welfare sector, and the McMaster University School of Social Work. These outcomes include the development of enhanced practice and human relation skills in a child welfare setting, developing an understanding of the issues families and children involved with child welfare face, including an understanding of the broader societal inequalities that compound and sometimes cause the troubles that result in the need for child welfare involvement. As well, the PCPCW focuses on developing an in-depth critical understanding of types and approaches of child welfare policy and practice that service users and their communities, the child welfare sector, and research, all confirm as effective and desirable.

Although the PCPCW curriculum focuses on an Ontario context, it also draws on international knowledge about child welfare, and focuses on the knowledge and theory that inform the practice of child welfare in Ontario (and elsewhere) rather than just examining the ways these principles are operationalized at the local level. As such, it attempts to create graduates who can work inside the Ontario system, as well as any other child welfare system around the world, yet who have the capability to also imagine and utilize innovative thinking and ideas from outside those systems.

The Research Project

The PCPCW pathway is a 3-year trial with a research project underway that evaluates the PCPCW with a longitudinal comparison of PCPCW student outcomes with a control group of non-PCPCW students. If this study demonstrates effectiveness, we will look for ways to expand this model across Ontario, across Canada, and elsewhere. 

For more information, contact

McMaster University:  

Dr. Gary C. Dumbrill, School of Social Work,

            (905) 525-9140 ext. 23791,


Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton

            Rocco Gizzarelli, MSW (other titles)

            (905) 525-2012