LEND interview with DJ Strons on disability and child welfare.

Fellows from the Institute on Community Integration are contributing to a podcast series that delivers on-the-go training and insight to child welfare workers. The current and former fellows are from ICI’s Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (MNLEND) program, an interdisciplinary leadership training program that brings together more than 16 disciplines across the University of Minnesota. 

Jenny Tessmer (MNLEND, 2019–20) created two of the podcasts, which focus specifically on helping workers better understand disability issues within their caseloads. The first featured an interview with Derjaun Strons (MNLEND, 2017–18), who works in child protection services for Hennepin County.

“Every child welfare agency should educate their workers [about disability],” Strons says on the podcast. “I wanted [the LEND training] as a tool in my toolbox.”

Tessmer also interviewed Gail Meyer, a longtime foster parent, about her experiences trying to get services for children with a variety of diagnoses, including fetal alcohol syndrome.

“This project really aligned with my passion and my career,” said Tessmer, now a mental health therapist with Family Enhancement Center in Minneapolis who works with clients referred through the Hennepin County child protection services unit.

The series is part of a broad training initiative created by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW).

“Child welfare workers have to be experts in child development, domestic violence, substance abuse, maltreatment, disabilities, and so many other issues. Most days are overwhelming,” said Traci LaLiberte, executive director of CASCW. “We’re always thinking about ways to reach them in a better format. And because social workers spend a lot of time in the car going to investigations, and going to court, we started to think about capitalizing on that time with some training in manageable chunks that could be accessed on their phones.”

The result is a wide-ranging series of podcasts, helping social workers navigate the challenges of the pandemic, and learn more about research, policy, and practice topics.

MNLEND fellows in this year’s cohort are working on future disability-focused podcasts LaLiberte said.

“One will be focused on trauma and how child welfare workers need to understand the additional layers involved when working with kids with neurodevelopmental disabilities who have also experienced trauma,” she said. Others explore different cultural views of disability and how that impacts the child welfare process.

“It’s about getting people in the field to talk about what they are doing and what their challenges are, so others can learn from them,” she said.