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National Technical Assistance and Evaluation Center for Systems of Care.
An individualized, strengths-based approach to working with families involved in child welfare is critical to creating a responsive child welfare driven system of care that will help ensure children's safety, permanency, and well-being. Child welfare administrators and policy-makers have the opportunity to enhance individualized, strengths-based approaches to families involved with child welfare as part of Program Improvement Plans that stem from the Child and Family Services Reviews. Senior administrators, program managers, and policy-makers can help child welfare agencies minimize or overcome potential challenges by implementing certain policies and practices.
"When you go in to work with a family, you have to get to know the family and get an idea of what their strengths are. But also when you're working within the family group conference, you're looking for strengths. Your initial [task] is to talk about what the strengths are within the family. And having been in those conferences, it's been exciting to see caseworkers identify the families' strengths." - Child Welfare Supervisor
Based on the experiences of the communities involved in the Improving Child Welfare Outcomes Through Systems of Care demonstration initiative, promising practices include:
- Consistent and ongoing training for child welfare staff and partner agency staff to change traditional child welfare agency culture and philosophy and to provide concrete skills and strategies for identifying child and family strengths and unique needs.
- Management and supervisory staff focus on workers' strengths, addressing unique career development needs, and rewarding staff for demonstrating an individualized strengths-based approach with clients (e.g., sharing success stories at staff meetings).
- Revision of assessment tools to focus specifically on identification of child and family strengths.
- Interagency collaboration, on individual cases as well as on a community level, to increase availability and family and service provider awareness of informal and community supports. Designation of one child welfare staff member as a community liaison or outreach coordinator can be instrumental for partnering with faith-based and other community organizations.
Discrete activities, such as training sessions, should not be confused with implementation of a comprehensive system of care. Thorough and ongoing evaluation of the systems of care infrastructure and services, system partners, and practices of caseworkers, supervisors, and administration can be helpful in monitoring whether activities are leading to intended and meaningful outcomes for families.
The activities of the nine grant communities in the Improving Child Welfare Outcomes Through Systems of Care demonstration initiative are laying an important foundation for the child welfare field's efforts to partner with children and families, with their unique strengths driving the help they receive. The work of the grant communities can have a significant impact as other communities nationwide change the way child welfare services are delivered.