UBC Okanagan workshop bridges gap between education, nursing and social work

Although people in the professions of nursing, social work and education often work together on cases concerning children and families living in at-risk situations, traditionally there is not much interprofessional training available to prepare students for these common scenarios.

But that's changing at UBC Okanagan.

On Nov. 3, UBC Okanagan hosts its third Interprofessional Issues in Child Welfare Practice workshop, which brings together more than 150 students in the social work, education and nursing faculties. Joined by more than a dozen practicing community professionals from these areas, the objective is to discuss ways they can support and learn from each other to successfully address issues involving children and families who live in at-risk situations.

"It appears to be fairly unique in Canada - we've tried to find other examples of child-focused interprofessional education but have not come across any similar Canadian initiatives, although we have noted some occurring in Great Britain," says Judy Gillespie, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Health and Social Development. "Ultimately, we hope children and families benefit from this training. That's the long-term goal. But certainly emerging practitioners benefit -- the students who are about to go out into practice and work with other professionals."

Sponsored by the Ministry of Child and Family Development and UBC Okanagan, the workshop is supported by School Districts 22 (Vernon) and 23 (Central Okanagan) and the Interior Health Authority. Darren Jones and Lina Dattolo, Child Welfare Social Workers with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, are members of the workshop planning committee.

"Our community partners have welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with us," says Wilda Watts, Instructor with UBC Okanagan's School of Nursing. "Employers are very supportive, so they obviously see this as something that is important to collaborative practice. The informal feedback from students is also very positive. The workshop has grown from 32 student participants to about 150, with more on the waiting list."

The Nov. 3 workshop uses case-based education in which students are presented with scenarios where children would be considered at risk. Community practitioners from the nursing, education and social work professions then discuss with students specific roles, how they can support others in their objectives, and what they require from the other professionals to do their job.

"It is about clarifying roles and determining best practices to ensure everybody involved is able to work together successfully," says Cathy Robinson, Instructor with the School of Nursing.

"Reports from countries including Great Britain, Australia and Canada have identified a lack of professional coordination as impacting the lives of at-risk children and families. At the same time, there is a gap in the literature examining preparation for collaborative practice in these situations," she says.

"Students from these different disciplines aren't normally brought together in their academics, but they will likely find themselves working together in professional practice," notes Robert Whiteley, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education. "We're providing them with an opportunity for exposure.  We push students beyond simply exposing them to the idea of interprofessional practice and put them in a situation where they are thinking about working together and practicing complex collaborative skills."

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