The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) Integrated Assessment Program (IAP) is an example of how one statewide child welfare system is implementing comprehensive family assessments using a dual-professional approach. With a 5-year discretionary grant in 2007 from the Children's Bureau, IDCFS took the IAP—which was designed for children entering foster care—and extended it to intact families in need of services from the Department. The demonstration project was designed to (1) evaluate the IAP serving children in placement and (2) to adapt, implement, and evaluate the IAP for serving intact families.
At the heart of the IAP is the partnership between the child welfare caseworker assigned to work with the family and the IA screener. IA screeners are licensed clinicians employed by one of three university or hospital institutions that contract with IDCFS for this program. The collaboration between caseworker and screener facilitates indepth and accurate assessment across medical, social, developmental, mental health, and educational domains. Together the caseworker and IA screener interview children, parents, and caregivers; assess family dynamics; conduct developmental assessments; review case documentation; and integrate the information to produce a thorough, written IA report with clinical observations and recommendations.
The IA report is then used by the caseworker and supervisor to develop a strengths-based case plan and coordinate with other providers and support systems. The front-end screening process yields a timely and comprehensive assessment of family functioning and allows workers to work with parents to address underlying issues and prioritize and engage with services that meet the family's needs.
The IA process for intact families comprises the following three steps:
- The Initial Assessment Phase begins after a report of maltreatment is assigned to a Child Protection Investigator to assess threats to safety, risk factors, and the need for intervention. Families that are determined to pose the highest risk factors for disruption are eligible for random assignment. If selected through a random assignment program designed and managed by the project evaluation team, an IA screener is assigned and participates in the hand-off meeting, during which the case is transferred from the investigator to the intact family caseworker.
- The Integrated Assessment Phase is highly collaborative and involves an IA team composed of the child, parents or guardians, stepparents, caregivers, caseworker, supervisor, and the IA screener and supervisor. Screenings and interviews are conducted using the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessment tool, the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, and other tools. Within 40 days, the caseworker and supervisor conduct a family team meeting to discuss IA recommendations and begin developing the service plan. The clinical screener remains available for 90 days to complete additional interviews if family composition changes or previously unavailable parents engage in the process.
- The Ongoing Integrated Assessment is the continuation of the collaboration among the case manager, the family, and service providers throughout the life of the case and after the screener is no longer involved. The service plan and the IA report are updated at a minimum of every 6 months to document the family's progress in completing services and addressing risk factors.
Field staff reported during the site visit that the IAP provides a number of significant advantages in their work with intact families, including:
- Earlier and better identification of services
- Coaching and mentoring opportunities between screeners and caseworkers
- Improved quality of information compared to standard interviews by one caseworker
- Improved family engagement because the family feels more comfortable with the screener and with the holistic nature of the questions
Other benefits noted in evaluation reports released thus far include increased engagement of fathers and better inclusion of educational experiences and considerations. These reports focus on the evaluation of IAP with families that have a child placed in foster care.
Reprinted from Children's Bureau Express, "Site Visit: A Model for Comprehensive Family Assessments in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services" (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov).