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UCF announced Thursday that it will lead a new statewide collaborative project with the Florida Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work to support and reshape the workforce at the Florida Department of Children and Families.

UCF will enact a $5.3 million contract to train students studying social work across the state who would then become case managers and child protective investigators for the state. The overall goal of the project is to provide better protection for children under state care. UCF is one of 14 schools of social work that is part of this statewide partnership to protect children, according to a press release.

“It is truly an exciting day for the department of children and families,” said Bill D’Aiuto, regional director for the Florida Department of Children and Families and a UCF alumnus. “The project will help us ensure that we protect our most vulnerable across Florida, which is our most important mission.”

The project will provide for a stipend program to give baccalaureate and master’s students studying social work an incentive to work for either the Department of Children and Families or any of their other student-based care providers and subcontracted agencies. Students chosen for the stipend program will receive $6,000 for a year’s commitment, and each student can commit for up to two years, D’Aiuto said at the announcement, held at the Burnett Honors College.

“[The] social work stipend program helps us as the department to reach some of our top priorities, which is to ensure we have a world-class child welfare system across Florida,” D’Aiuto said. “A main part of that is to ensure that we have a world-class workforce.”

D’Aiuto also said that students who sign up for the stipend program must complete an internship as part of the process. Each school of social work has committed to embedding DCF’s pre-service training into its social work curriculum, and this pre-service training also fulfills the internship requirement.

“In essence, when students who have agreed to go through the stipend program and have agreed to come work for [DCF], they’re ready to hit the streets from day one to help the most vulnerable families,” D’Aiuto said.

Maggie Vera, a senior majoring in social work, applied for the stipend program when it opened up a few weeks ago.

“The partnership is exciting because I think it will drive out more people who have maybe considered social work as a profession,” Vera said.

Vera’s inspiration to get into social came from a role model she had in high school: her basketball coach who was also a social worker.

“She showed me social work,” Vera said. "I’m from an urban community ... so a lot of the girls on our team were looking for role models. [They] were looking for [positive] outlets from the streets and so she brought that. She brought family because a lot of them didn’t have mothers...that [is] what social work [is] to me.”

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Eric Gutierrez is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @atticus_adrift or email him at EricG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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