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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 Thirteen: Supervision, Consultation, and Support
Child protective services (CPS) supervisors are responsible for ensuring that the agency mission and goals are accomplished, and that positive outcomes for children and families are achieved through the delivery of competent, sensitive, and timely services. The supervisor is the link between the front-line of service delivery and the upper levels of administration. It is the supervisor who brings the resources of the organization into action at the front line-the point of client contact.167
The supervisor has two overarching roles: building the foundation for and maintaining unit functioning, and developing and maintaining staff capacity.168 These roles are accomplished through the following activities:
- Communicating the agency's mission, policies, and practice guidelines to casework staff;
- Setting standards of performance for staff to assure high-quality practice;
- Assuring that all laws and policies are followed, and staying current with changing policies and procedures;
- Creating a psychological and physical climate that enables staff to feel positive, satisfied, and comfortable about the job so that clients may be better served;
- Helping staff learn what they need to know to effectively perform their jobs through orientation, mentoring, on-the-job training, and coaching;
- Monitoring workloads and unit and staff performance to assure that standards and expectations are successfully achieved;
- Keeping staff apprised of their performance and providing recognition for staff efforts and accomplishments;
- Implementing safety precautions.169
This chapter examines the role of the CPS supervisor, including the supervisor's involvement in decision-making, clinical consultations, monitoring, and feedback. Finally, the chapter looks at the ways in which supervisors and peers provide support to caseworkers, prevent burnout, and ensure worker safety.
Supervisory Involvement in Decision-Making
Supervisors must be involved in any casework decision that affects child safety and permanence. The supervisor and caseworker should collaborate to reach consensus on decisions regarding safety and achieving permanence for the child. Since the caseworker is the primary holder of the information, the supervisor should review the caseworker's documentation and meet with the caseworker to analyze the information. The supervisor and caseworker work together to understand and arrive at the most appropriate decision.170 This approach requires that the supervisor respects the caseworker, works with the caseworker to gather thorough and accurate information from the family and collateral sources, analyzes the information thoughtfully, and draws reasonable conclusions (inferences and deductions). Ultimately, the supervisor is responsible for directing the activities of the worker and will share in any liability that results from the caseworker's action or failure to act.
Supervisory Involvement in Clinical Consultation
Caseworkers are not expected to have all of the answers. There are many avenues available to CPS workers for consultation on cases. Within the CPS unit, caseworkers often turn to their supervisors when they are unsure about how to handle a situation, when they need help with a particular decision, or when they need to discuss their conclusions or ideas with an objective person.
When to Consult Supervisors on Casework Decisions
Caseworkers must always consult their supervisors about the following decisions:
- Upon receipt of a report of child abuse or neglect, caseworkers must decide how soon to initiate contact. State laws typically dictate the time frame for initiating the investigation; however, the caseworker and supervisor must make a decision regarding which cases necessitate immediate contact with the child.
- During the first contact with the child and family, the caseworker must decide if the child will be safe while the initial assessment or investigation proceeds. Supervisors review the decision and approve or modify it.
- Upon conclusion of the initial assessment or investigation, and after the decisions regarding the validity of abuse or neglect and the risk assessment have been made, caseworkers and supervisors must determine whether the child will be safe in his or her home with or without continuing CPS intervention.
- If it is determined that the child is unsafe, the caseworker and supervisor must determine which interventions will assure the child's protection in the least intrusive manner possible.
- When the child has been placed in out-of-home care, the reunification recommendation must be made between the caseworker and supervisor.
- When the child has been placed in out-of-home care, the recommendation to change to another permanent goal other than reunification must be made between the caseworker and supervisor.
- At the point of case closure, the caseworker and supervisor must evaluate risk reduction and client progress toward assuring the child's protection and meeting the child's basic developmental needs.
CPS supervisors are responsible for assuring that children are safe, their families are empowered to protect them from harm and meet their basic needs, and effective interventions and services are provided to families. Key aspects of supervision through which this is accomplished are case consultation and supervision or clinical supervision. Case consultation and supervision focuses on the casework relationship including any direct interaction, intervention, or involvement between the caseworker and the children and families. It involves the supervisory practices of review, evaluation, feedback, guidance, direction, and coaching. Specifically, case consultation and supervision focuses on:
- Rapport or the helping relationship between the worker and the client;
- A caseworker's ability to engage the client;
- Risk and safety assessment and the associated decisions or plans;
- Comprehensive family assessment and development of the case plan;
- Essential casework activities to assist the family in changing;
- Client progress review and evaluation;
- Casework decision-making.171
In individual supervision, case consultation should occur on an ongoing basis. It may also occur when problems or needs arise. The following case consultation format gives shape to the consultation so it will be focused, goal driven, maximize the use of time, and encourage sharing of expertise:
- Describe briefly why the family came to the attention of CPS.
- Identify the safety issues that need to be immediately addressed.
- Outline what the family wants, what CPS wants, and how the differences can be reconciled.
- Determine the inner resiliencies, strengths, or resources in the family that will provide the foundation for change.
- Examine the success of previous contacts with the family. For example, what was accomplished? What still needs to be accomplished? What has the caseworker contributed to the results, and what has the family contributed to the results?
- Identify the purpose of the next contact with the family. Examine how it ties in with where the family is in the intervention process.
- Assess the caseworker's relationships with each family member. Define what family members need in order to assure that the family is willing and able to experience the process of change and achieve the necessary goals to assure greater permanence, safety, and well-being for the children.
- Describe the specific strategies that will help family members accomplish their goals.
- Discuss what services the family says have been most helpful.
- Determine the level of risk within the family. Identify the risks, the strengths, or protective factors within the family, and how the agency will know when the risk has been reduced.
- Establish what needs to happen in the family for the agency to return the child and what needs to happen in the family to close the case.
- Identify the signs of success for the family.172
In addition to receiving clinical consultation from their supervisors, caseworkers can also consult other caseworkers in the unit. Experienced and competent CPS caseworkers may have handled similar situations and be able to provide suggestions, guidance, and direction.
Also, group case staffings involving the whole unit are extremely beneficial sources of consultation. In group case staffings, caseworkers present a problematic case. The supervisor and other caseworkers in the unit share their expertise and suggest actions, services, resources, or decisions. Many CPS agencies use case staffings to help with such major case decisions as the return of children to the home and case closure within the entire unit.
Professionals in the community are another source of consultation. Depending on the relationship between the caseworker or the CPS unit and the professional community, informal consultation on cases may be possible. Formal consultation in the form of an evaluation may be necessary, such as in a drug screening or developmental evaluation.
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires that every State establish a citizen review panel to evaluate State and local CPS agencies, their implementation of CAPTA, and their coordination of foster care and adoption services. The inclusion of community members can often bring a fresh perspective to the CPS case review process, as well as provide an opportunity for the community to better understand CPS. Citizen review of case plans in cases where the child has been placed in foster care can also be a source of information and assistance.
In addition, multidisciplinary case reviews are excellent resources for CPS staff. Not only do these case reviews provide consultation from other disciplines on a particular case, they also provide opportunities to address coordination and collaboration issues as well.
Supervisory Monitoring of Casework Practice
Since supervisors are ultimately responsible for assuring accomplishment of program outcomes and are accountable for what happens in each case, they must have systems in place to monitor practice. There are three methods that the supervisor can use to learn what caseworkers are doing with clients:
- Reviewing casework documentation
- Providing individual supervision
- Observing caseworkers with clients
Documentation is an essential part of casework practice. (See Chapter 12, "Effective Documentation," for a more detailed description of what and how to document case activities and what information to include.) Supervisors should review case documentation on a regular and systematic basis. Review of case documentation provides the supervisor with information about the frequency and content of caseworker-client contacts; the family's strengths, needs, and risks; the plan to assure safety; casework decisions; services or interventions to reduce risk; progress toward outcomes; and any changes in the child and family's situation.
As stated previously, supervisors should have scheduled weekly individual conferences with staff. Supervisors should have a monitoring system in place that assures that each case is discussed indepth on at least a monthly basis. This will enable supervisors to remain apprised of actions taken or needed in cases, progress toward change or risk reduction, and casework decisions. It also will enable the supervisor to provide consultation, guidance, direction, and coaching to caseworkers regarding casework practice.
Finally, supervisors do not truly know a caseworker's effectiveness in working with clients unless they observe caseworker-client interaction directly. Regular observation should be conducted with all caseworkers. There are many opportunities for observation, including:
- Home visits
- Office visits
- Court hearings
- Supervised family-child visits
- Case staffings and reviews
- Family group conferences or meetings
The observations can be structured in a number of ways, depending on what is negotiated between the caseworker, supervisor, and family. For example, the caseworker may feel "stuck" in a case and, with the family's permission, would like consultation from an objective observer.
Based on the review and evaluation of the caseworker's efforts with families, the supervisor recognizes the caseworker's efforts and accomplishments and provides positive feedback on the specific casework practices that he or she is doing well. Areas and skills needing improvement also are addressed, as well as ways to do so.
Since any CPS case has the potential for unexpected confrontation, supervisors and caseworkers must work together to ensure worker safety. Difficulties may occur at any point in the CPS process, but threats and volatile situations are more likely to occur during the initial assessment or investigation, during crisis situations, and when major actions are taken (e.g., the removal of the child).
The first step in ensuring caseworker safety is to assess the risk of the situation before the initial contact. Before caseworkers conduct an initial assessment, they need to assess the risk to themselves. Questions caseworkers should consider include:
- Is there a history of domestic violence?
- Does the complaint indicate the possibility of a family member being mentally ill, using drugs, or being volatile?
- Are there firearms or other weapons noted in the report?
- Is the family's geographic location extremely isolated or dangerous?
- Is this a second or multiple complaint involving the family?
- Is the initial assessment scheduled after normal working hours?173
If the answers to the first four questions are "yes," law enforcement may need to be involved in the initial assessment. If the answers to the last two questions are "yes," two caseworkers may need to conduct the home visit.
Peer Support and Burnout Prevention
Providing child protective services is a complex, demanding, and emotionally draining job. Making decisions that affect the lives of children and families takes a toll on caseworkers. Because working with families experiencing abuse and neglect is difficult, it may elicit multifaceted feelings. In order to maximize performance and minimize burnout, support systems must be developed within the CPS unit to provide caseworkers with opportunities to discuss and deal with feelings that may range from frustration and helplessness to anger and incompetence. Opportunities to discuss these feelings openly in the unit are essential. However, it is important that when support groups are established they do not degenerate into "gripe sessions," where caseworkers leave feeling worse than when they came to the group. A certain amount of discussion of feelings is cathartic; a positive outcome, however, must result for caseworkers to benefit from the discussion. In addition, whenever crises occur in cases (e.g., a child is reinjured or a child must be removed from his or her family) the caseworker involved needs extra support and guidance.
Effective supervision is one of the key factors in staff retention. An effective supervisor demonstrates empathy toward the needs and feelings of CPS staff. In addition, the supervisor should facilitate the development and maintenance of a cohesive work team. Group cohesion provides emotional support to staff, as well as concrete assistance in carrying out case activities.
Taking Care of Yourself
CPS caseworkers need support in order to find a balance between their professional and personal lives. Due to stress inherent in CPS work, it is important that workers find effective ways to unwind and relax. It is important to:
- Be aware of the potential for burnout, stress, and trauma that can occur in child welfare work;
- Identify and use social supports to prevent burnout and stress while working in the child welfare system;
- Look to supervisors, peers, and interdisciplinary teams to talk about difficult client situations, including fatalities and serious injury situations;
- Be alert to signs of vicarious trauma and take steps to seek help when these signs endure and affect the quality of practice.
Working with CPS is usually challenging for all involved—children and families, professional and citizen partners, and caseworkers. Children and families are often fearful of and upset by CPS involvement in their lives, particularly due to the uncertainty associated with the process. Professional and citizen partners sometimes struggle with initiating and identifying their roles in addressing child maltreatment issues. The CPS caseworker must walk a fine line between following the legal mandate to protect maltreated children and recognizing parents' rights to rear their children as they deem appropriate. Additionally, CPS caseworkers are consistently confronted with numerous and multifaceted problems that affect many of the families involved with CPS, such as substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, and poverty. This manual is intended to address the concerns of these various audiences, as well as to serve as a practical and user-friendly guide in addressing and effectively responding to the ever-changing demands in the child welfare field.
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