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Child Protective Services: A Guide for Caseworkers. 2003
Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau. DePanfilis, D., Salus, M. K.|
|Year Published: 2003|
Chapter Ten: Family Progress
Determining the extent and nature of family progress is central to child protective services (CPS) intervention. Monitoring change should begin as soon as intervention is implemented, and should continue throughout the life of a case until the family- and program-level outcomes have been achieved. This chapter explores caseworker decisions based on the collection and analysis of information on family progress.
Collect and Organize Information on Family Progress
The process of evaluating family progress is a continual case management function. Once the case plan is established, each contact with the children and family should focus on assessing the progress being made to achieve established outcomes, goals, and tasks, and to reassess safety. Formal case evaluations should occur at regular intervals, however, specifically to measure progress and to redesign case plans if appropriate. Caseworkers should evaluate family progress at least every 3 to 6 months by following these steps:
- Review the case plan. Outcomes, goals, and tasks are written in measurable terms so that they can be used to determine progress toward reducing risk and treating the effects of maltreatment. Many agencies have a review form that should be used to document the change process.
- Collect information from all service providers. Intervention and service provision are typically a collaborative effort between CPS and other agencies or individual providers. Consequently, the evaluation of family progress must also be a collaborative venture. Referrals to service providers should clearly specify the number, frequency, and methods of reports expected. The caseworker must also clearly communicate expectations for reporting concerns, observable changes, and family progress. It is the caseworker's responsibility to ensure the submission of these reports and to request meetings with service providers, if indicated. In addition, when the court is involved, it is appropriate to obtain information from the parent's attorney, the child's attorney, and the court-appointed special advocate (CASA) or the Guardian ad Litem (GAL).
- Engage the child and family in reviewing progress. Using the case plan as a framework for communication, the caseworker should meet with the family to review progress jointly. Family members should be asked about their perceptions of task, goal, and outcome progress. If these have been established in measurable terms, there should be agreement about the level of progress. Any differences in the family's and caseworker's perceptions should be clarified in the written evaluation. The caseworker should then discuss any need to revise the case plan. This is also the family's opportunity to identify any barriers to participation in the case plan or any new problems or concerns to be discussed.
- Measure family progress. Change is measured during the evaluation of family progress on two levels. The most critical risk factors (identified during family assessment) should be assessed. Specifically, what changes have been made in the conditions and behaviors causing the risk of maltreatment? The same criteria used to assess these factors during the family assessment should be used again to understand the current level of risk. The second level of measurement evaluates the extent to which specific outcomes, goals, and tasks have been accomplished by the family, caseworker, and service provider.
- Document family progress. Thorough documentation allows the caseworker to measure family progress between the initial assessment and current evaluation. This documentation provides the basis for many case decisions.
Analyze and Evaluate Family Progress
Once the information has been collected, the caseworker should analyze it to help determine progress and decide on further actions. The focus of the evaluation of family progress should address the following issues:
- Is the child safe? Have the protective factors, strengths, or safety factors changed, thereby warranting the development of a safety plan or a change in an existing safety plan? Safety should be assessed at specific times throughout the life of the case-minimally at receipt of referral, during first contact with the family, at the conclusion of the initial assessment or investigation, during establishment of the case plan, at the case review, and at case closure. Assessing safety requires caseworkers to identify and examine the risk factors affecting the child's safety. To re-evaluate safety, the caseworker examines the factors to determine whether there have been any changes in the family situation requiring the implementation of a safety plan, the change or elimination of a safety plan, or the taking of necessary action to insure the safety of the child.
- What changes have occurred in the factors contributing to the risk of maltreatment? Change is measured by comparing the conditions and behaviors identified during the family assessment to the current functioning of the family and individual family members.
- What progress has been made toward achieving case goals and outcomes? When goals and outcomes are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited, they can be used to determine the level of change. Goals should indicate what specifically will be different in the family when the conditions or behaviors contributing to the risk of maltreatment have been successfully addressed.
- How effective have the services been in achieving outcomes and goals? If ineffective, what adjustments need to be made to find effective services for children and families? The caseworker is responsible for assessing the extent to which services are being provided as planned and for determining whether services should be altered to enhance risk reduction. Specific questions that should be considered are:
- Have the services been provided in a timely manner?
- Has the family participated in services as scheduled?
- Has the service provider developed rapport with the family?
- Is there a need to alter the plan of service based on changes in the family?
- What is the current level of risk in the family? Based on the changes made by family members, the caseworker must determine the current level of risk of maltreatment to the children. The factors that were used to determine the level of risk of maltreatment during the initial assessment or investigation and family assessment should be applied again.
- Have the risk factors been reduced sufficiently so that the parents or caregivers can protect their children and meet their developmental needs, allowing the case to be closed? One of the primary purposes of CPS intervention is to help the family change the behaviors and conditions that will likely lead to maltreatment in the future. The caseworker should also be realistic about change. While it may not be possible to help a family reach optimal levels of functioning in relation to all of the conditions and behaviors contributing to the risk of maltreatment, it may be possible to help a family change the most critical issues so that the parent is able to provide sufficient care for the child. The criteria used to determine whether to close the case should be minimal, not optimal standards. If risk is reduced sufficiently and the child is safe, then the case should be closed. Ongoing support for the family and treatment for the child by other professionals may be needed, however, even after the case has been closed by CPS.
- Is reunification likely in the required time frame or is an alternate permanency plan needed? Assessment of the appropriateness of reunification or other permanent placement is based on whether:
- Current level of threats to safety have been reduced to a level that ensures that the family can protect the child in the home;
- Protective factors or strengths have been developed to respond to future threats;
- Social supports are available to sustain the strengths and prevent the return of threats to safety.157
After evaluating family progress, the caseworker must discuss with the casework supervisor the decisions made and the next steps. Chapter 13, "Supervision, Consultation, and Support," provides information on supervisory consultation.
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