Stefanie is a child welfare leader who witnessed magic in a recent meeting involving a 15-year-old girl, Olivia, who had been found walking alone down a busy highway in Kansas.  She had been reported as a runaway and was refusing to return home, claiming that her mother was ‘emotionally abusive.’  Olivia had been placed in emergency shelter because her mother, Char, was reluctant to have Olivia back due to Olivia’s challenging behaviors.  Winsley, the DCF worker, scheduled a rapid response meeting (Team Decision-Making) and encouraged Char to invite supportive family and friends. 

Everyone could immediately feel the tension as Char, Olivia, and two extended family members gathered with the professionals to think through the situation and possible solutions.

Much to Winsley’s dismay, Olivia’s first words were, “Can I get my stuff from my mom’s house when I go to foster care?” This led to a rough start where Char and Olivia were placing a lot of blame on each other. Olivia said she “didn’t feel loved” and described her relationship with her mother as “beyond repair.” 

Sarah, the facilitator, knew she had her work cut out for her.  She skillfully navigated the tension using solution-focused questions and giving each person a chance to be heard.  As the meeting progressed, Sarah could see that Char and Olivia were bonded despite their recent disputes.  As Sarah leaned on the solution-finding frameworks she had learned through the new continuous learning program her agency was offering in cooperation with SafeGenerations, the defensive walls between Olivia and Char slowly began to come down.  When the time was right, Sarah asked everyone in the meeting to share what they saw as Olivia’s strengths and best qualities.  Olivia began to smile as she realized she has so much more support than the one similar-aged girlfriend she identified at the start of the meeting.   

Stefanie said it was magical the way Sarah’s skillful questions led Olivia and Char to take the first step toward healing their relationship.  The meeting ended in a unanimous decision for Olivia to return home to her mother with a solid plan for Char and Olivia to begin therapy, and for their extended family to provide concrete support when things get tough.

This experience captured and shared by: Sherry Amelse, LSW, Director of Implementation