Vol. 12, No. 3 July 2011
REAP, Coaching, and You
In this time of budget cuts, it’s more important than ever that child welfare agencies use an important free resource available to them: the wisdom and creativity of their staff, clients, and community partners.
Coaching is an excellent tool for problem solving issues that come up as the state and counties work together to involve stakeholders in improving services to children and families. The NC Division of Social Services is working with national and state resources to introduce coaching training through the REAP initiative.
The Connection to REAP
Today REAP is being piloted in eight counties: Craven, Cumberland, Hoke, Pender, Pitt, Scotland, Union, and Wilson. During the pilot, a DSS staff person and a Division representative will lead local stakeholders through a community engagement and self-assessment process. (To learn more about REAP, go to http://tinyurl.com/5vgkclx.)
Coaching Skills Training
To support the success of REAP, the Division created a new two-day coaching training, which it provided for the pilot county co-leads. The goal of the training was to ensure those leading the pilot have the capacity for coaching and supporting both internal agency staff and external community stakeholders. What the course teaches, however, is applicable far beyond REAP.
A child protective services supervisor from one county engaged in REAP says she believes she benefitted from attending the new coaching training: “This is really what leaders do,” she said. “We want people to grasp our vision…but really make it their own.”
She added, “Coaching gives a person the opportunity to own it, to make it part of their own philosophy, whatever you’re asking them to do. It happened to be with REAP, but it really can apply to anything.”
Coaching and You
With strengths-based practice, workers are asked to operate from the mindset that families have the answers they need inside themselves. Coaching requires a parallel mindset: supervisors must believe their staff have the answers they need inside themselves. Workers and supervisors can also use coaching skills to strengthen partnerships with co-workers and the community.
Supervisors use a set of specific coaching skills to give workers the time, support, and framework for accessing those answers. That skill set includes active listening, asking exploratory questions, giving feedback, and creating mutual accountability for change.
“We tell supervisors that you can’t always use coaching,” said Deb Vassar, who teaches coaching for UNC’s Jordan Institute for Families. “Sometimes there is one right answer, or specific information they have to convey to their workers. And sometimes they have administrative duties they have to attend to. But having scheduled ‘coaching conversations’ with their workers can be one of the tools in their toolkit.”
One of the strengths of the coaching approach is that it’s relevant across venues and relationships, Caldwell notes. “We began thinking about this training to be sure that the relationship between the Division consultants and their county REAP co-leads was strong.” But pilot county leaders have realized that they also need coaching skills to gain buy-in and motivate their own staff as well as their community partners.
Once training participants understand how coaching works, the potential for it to enhance work with families becomes clear. As one supervisor put it, the training “reshaped our thinking to look at the other person’s perspective, to get at what they need to be able to buy into it. We spend so much time getting people to buy in to things. If we could eliminate that battle we could move so much more quickly.”
© 2011 Jordan Institute for Families