Child welfare systems play a crucial role in protecting and supporting children who have experienced abuse or neglect. Unfortunately, unhelpful policies, burdensome paperwork, and low employee satisfaction pose big challenges in providing effective care. Our team has reached a new level of confidence in helping agencies identify and tackle systemic challenges so that practitioners can provide quality practice that leads to better outcomes for children and families.
Policies that are unclear, outdated, or contradictory can hinder effective practice and make it difficult for workers to make decisions in the best interest of children. For example, a policy that prioritizes family preservation over child safety may deter workers from removing a child from an abusive situation which could put them at further risk if there hasn’t been a rigorous safety plan co-created with the family and their network.
Time Spent on Paperwork
According to Lillis et al. (2020) child welfare workers spend 50% to 95% of their time on paperwork and administrative tasks. This can take away from the time that workers could be spending engaged with children and families to build working relationships and rigorous, demonstrated safety plans. Furthermore, this administrative burden is often cited as a contributing cause for burnout and high turnover rates among child welfare workers, further destabilizing the system. This brings us to our next challenge.
Due to high caseloads, limited resources, outdated tools, and exposure to traumatic situations, child welfare workers are at risk of burnout and compassion fatigue. All of this leads to turnover which causes instability and disruption in the system, making it extremely difficult to provide consistent care for children and families. Focusing on organizational culture is important as it’s a key factor in workers’ intentions of leaving the organization (Shim, 2010).
The Importance of Change
Changing child welfare systems so that they better support effective practice is crucial for ensuring that children and families receive the care and support they need. This can be achieved by implementing policies that prioritize child safety and well-being, reducing the administrative burden on workers, and increasing employee satisfaction. States that have implemented these types of reforms have seen significant improvements in their child welfare systems, including increased placement stability and reduced rates of re-abuse.
Our recent Practice Alignment Intensives have leveraged innovative technology to help staff at all levels of the organization examine their practice closely to uncover the specific systemic challenges practitioners face and to understand the implications on practice. During the first morning of an Alignment Intensive our consultants work with participants to identify indicators of the practice elements the agency has decided to study. Technology tools are customized and used by staff to review and analyze practice documentation based on the co-created list of elements and indicators. Unlike traditional case reviews or CFSR reviews, the process is specifically focused on identifying individual successes and systemic challenges.
The data being generated by the participants through their micro-review of several case examples is presented in a dashboard that allows them see patterns, themes, and nuances in the details of their agency’s work. Through discussion about their anecdotal learning and analysis of their data, the group identifies and prioritizes systemic challenges and/or opportunities for systemic change. During the final stage of the intensive, the group works in teams to set 3-year and 1-year goals, along with 90-day actions plans to move the system change process forward.
In addition to the goals and plans developed during a Practice Alignment Intensive, participants leave with a much deeper understanding of the practice that is, the practice they want, and the distance between. Practice Alignment Intensives have proven to be key in building the internal capacity of agencies to undertake a significant change process.
Here’s a bit about one organization that examined their work for indicators of “Hope” and “Clarity.” One aspect of their task was to read the documentation while imagining that they were the parent or caregiver, and another was to analyze key elements of their practice model. Here’s what they had to say…
The child welfare system plays a critical role in protecting and supporting vulnerable children and families. However, the system faces many challenges that can hinder effective practice and put children at risk. By changing policies and systems to better support effective practice, we can improve outcomes for children and families, reduce turnover among child welfare workers, and build a more stable and effective child welfare system.
Lillis, T, Leedham, M. and Twiner A. 2020. Time, the written record and professional practice: the case of contemporary social work, Written Communication 37(4). 431- 486
Shim, M. 2010. Factors influencing child welfare employee’s turnover: Focusing on organizational culture and climate, Children and Youth Services Review 32(6). 847-856