EBCI Progress Update - Developing an Onboarding Program

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) established their Family Safety Program (FSP) in 2015. FSP is a multi-disciplinary unit and includes behavioral health and child welfare. They are a small agency with about 35-40 child welfare employees at any given time, including front-line caseworkers, case aides, supervisors, and a manager. Minimum qualifications for the caseworker role are rigorous, requiring a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work and/or years of relevant experience. They also seek to hire enrolled members of the EBCI, enrolled members of other federally recognized tribes, or those married to, or who are children of, enrolled members. Furthermore, they are located in a rural region of North Carolina, making the pool of qualified applicants relatively small.

FSP typically hires and trains about five new employees each year. In recent years, 30% - 40% of employees were enrolled members of EBCI. A significant challenge for the agency has been their ability to hire team members with a deep understanding of the Cherokee culture, knowledge of tribal laws and administrative rules, and experience with the complexities of child welfare.

Turnover has not been a significant problem for FSP but filling vacant positions and providing a thorough training for new hires has been a challenge as their team has grown. In the first years of operations, FSP provided new employees with a policy and procedures manual, which was reviewed independently after an employee was hired. The QIC-WD worked with EBCI to develop a more thorough onboarding process.

Onboarding, or the process of orienting and training a new employee, is not a single activity. It is a series of activities delivered over time to introduce a new employee to the job, organization, and culture of the workforce. Throughout 2018 and 2019, FSP and the QIC-WD have developed and refined a five-week onboarding process which includes:

  • Two manuals – one for new FSP workers and a companion manual for supervisors
  • Knowledge and reflection questions and practice notes to guide the new hire through review of the policy and procedures manual
  • A mock client case that provides an example of the various stages of work at FSP and provides a practical application of the information outlined in the policy and procedures manual
  • A series of three videos (one to orient staff to the FSP, a second focused on Cherokee history and culture, and third on working with Cherokee families)
  • A pass to visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian to learn more about Cherokee history and culture
  • An activity to create awareness about implicit bias
  • A debrief protocol for a cultural ambassador (an enrolled EBCI member) to discuss the cultural activities with the new employee and answer any outstanding questions in a safe learning environment
  • Shadowing of the five different teams that are part of FSP to build understanding of the roles and responsibilities and form relationships with all teams within the department
  • Discussion points for the supervisor and new worker to discuss at weekly meetings

Although the EBCI FSP onboarding materials and processes are being finalized, the team has learned a few key lessons as they have planned and developed the new onboarding process.

  1. Buy-in from supervisors is crucial to designing a high-quality onboarding program. Supervisors must invest time with new employees to meet with them regularly to discuss their onboarding experience. Supervisors must also understand the importance of having their new worker shadow all of the FSP teams prior to fully taking on their assigned job responsibilities.
  2. It is important to have an impartial cultural ambassador, someone whom the worker does not report to, as a resource for staff. Staff reported feeling more comfortable talking with someone other than their supervisor about cultural topics.
  3. Staff need to know what other people in the agency are doing. The revised onboarding process allows staff to shadow workers performing various roles throughout the agency (i.e., Adult Protective Services, intake and investigations, in-home care, court-involved, and Indian Child Welfare Act team members), regardless of their assigned role, to better understand what other people are responsible for and how the entire office engages with community members.
  4. There is a lot to learn for any new employee and it is challenging to distill information into a streamlined onboarding process that is manageable for new workers.

In 2020, EBCI FSP and the QIC-WD will finalize and pilot the onboarding program. Existing staff will preview and provide feedback on the videos and new hires are expected to experience the onboarding later this year. The QIC-WD team will evaluate the onboarding process using surveys and interviews to understand if new staff are:

  • learning the history, values, structure, and philosophies of FSP
  • understanding job expectations and practice guidelines
  • understanding the roles of all the FSP units
  • building connections with colleagues in all team units
  • understanding the history and culture of Cherokee people and practicing cultural humility
  • developing connections with enrolled members
  • developing habits of meeting with their supervisors

If these skills are developed, new staff should be socially integrated with their colleagues, develop a supportive relationship with their supervisor, and ultimately experience job satisfaction and stay in their job.

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