Challenges and Strategies in Following a Community-based Approach
The grantee communities involved in the Improving Child Welfare Through Systems of Care initiative have confronted a number of challenges in the development of community-based resources. The strategies they crafted to address these challenges provide valuable information to other communities for implementing a community-based approach.
Identifying family members and community members to participate in meaningful ways
Challenges. While philosophical or verbal support often existed for engaging families and community members more directly in agency boards and committees, finding the right people to commit to the time and activities was challenging. Integrating former clients and community members into the agency also meant that new positions had to be developed, policies and procedures often had to be revised, and attitudes were forced to change. Training and orientation protocols were required for new participants as well as existing staff so working relationships could be defined and productive.
Strategies. The New York Administration for Children's Services endeavored to find meaningful strategies for integrating community perspectives into protecting children from abuse and neglect, as well as helping vulnerable families in need of temporary services and supports. In alignment with systems of care principles, the agency created the Community Partnership Initiative, demonstrating that neighborhood coalitions can be partners in the complex work of improving child welfare outcomes and promoting safe and stable families.
The CRADLE in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of New York City developed a comprehensive strategy to bring community supports to the agency. The grantee established a network of community-based agencies, service providers, and other community resources. At Lunchbox Spotlights hosted within the agency, caseworkers could eat and talk with four or five community-based service providers about available services or discuss a specific case. The agency also created a consultation protocol to receive notification of all cases involving children ages birth to 5 years in order to provide caseworkers with comprehensive information about supports available to children and families in their home community.
"The CPI [Community Partnership Initiative of the New York Administration for Children's Services] assumes that the core child welfare outcomes of safety, permanency, and well-being are best achieved when residents, agencies, and other local institutions work in conjunction with the public agency to address the needs of children and families." (Chapin Hall Center for Children, n.d., p. 1)
The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians grant team, one of the participating Tribal Nations of the Medicine Moon Initiative in North Dakota, applied the guidance of community elders and other traditional leaders by having them translate the system of care principles into the traditional values and language of the Chippewa. These translations were featured on a poster that was widely distributed throughout the community and increased understanding of the relevance of systems of care to community members.
The Contra Costa County Family Partner program supervisor interviewed child welfare workers to help identify possible family partners and hired several family partners who are now considered invaluable assets by those caseworkers. Job descriptions for family partners were created, and training and an orientation for all staff were held.
The Jefferson County system of care established a volunteer program with a variety of positions, including mentors, child care support, clerical specialists, donation coordinators, foster and adoptive family support, computer teachers, faith-based collaborators, and tutors. By diversifying the positions, volunteers were more easily and appropriately matched to the various responsibilities.
Agency policies that restrict flexibility in working with community members
Challenges. National evaluation data reveal that even when agencies embrace systems of care principles, considerable time and effort must be committed by child welfare agency administrators to bring staffing policies in line with those principles. Two grantee communities gained considerable momentum in using new family and community engagement practices, only to reach a plateau. Caseworkers could not keep up with existing responsibilities and the time-consuming demands of the new practices. Work outside of standard business hours often was required to meet families at times or places that were convenient for them. Sometimes, caseworkers had to use leave time.
Strategies. Contra Costa County developed a curriculum for family partners to prepare them for representing families on advisory boards. The family partner supervisor provided the regular feedback and problem-solving support that accelerated the family partners' contributions to the county's System of Care Advisory Board. Their contributions are valued by the other board members and offer a family and community perspective that previously was absent.
Alamance County, North Carolina, held a series of orientation sessions for family partners to prepare them for participation on advisory boards. Monthly meetings covered topics such as confidentiality, boundaries, and an introduction to committee work.
Changing a pervasive and negative sentiment about child welfare in the community
Challenges. Developing partnerships and fostering confidence in child welfare agencies among families most affected and organizations that serve them is a challenge because removing children from homes places agencies in an adversarial position. Sincere outreach and a genuine effort to partner must be followed by actions that support dialogue between the agency and those who can sometimes be the harshest critics.
Strategies. The CRADLE launched community forums where agency management and leadership shared information with community members and responded to their questions and concerns. The strategy was designed to clarify the agency's mission and legal responsibility to protect children from abuse and neglect and promote well-being and permanence in their living situations. The CRADLE's consistent demonstration of eagerness to partner with community members to help families prompted many people to join its outreach efforts as well as support vulnerable families.
Through a framework of system of care subcommittees, Locally Organized Systems of Care in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, constructed a community-based network of human service organizations, volunteers, local businesses, churches, mosques, schools, and local colleges to focus on prevention. The community network also supports formal child welfare agency staff by providing resources for families with immediate needs such as furniture for a new apartment, mentoring for youth, school supplies, leadership development opportunities for young people, and clothes. This community support for children, youth, and families led to the launch of New Beginnings Day Camp, which has evolved into an independent nonprofit organization that is fully supported by community-based institutions.
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