A New Approach for Aiding Child Welfare Workers Has Surprising Roots: The Boxing Ring

Posted July 10, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog anewapproachforaidingchildwelfareworkers 2017

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion is explor­ing a new train­ing method called Shad­ow­Box that aims to help child wel­fare work­ers make the best deci­sions for kids and families.

Named after the box­ing prac­tice of spar­ring with an imag­i­nary foe before a big bout, Shad­ow­Box is designed to help peo­ple in high-stakes jobs — such as fire­fight­ers, mil­i­tary per­son­nel and nurs­es — think strategically.

Gary Klein, a senior sci­en­tist at MacroCog­ni­tion LLC, helped devel­op both the train­ing and the field of nat­u­ral­is­tic deci­sion mak­ing, which exam­ines how peo­ple react and per­form in demand­ing situations.

The Casey Foun­da­tion has worked with Klein’s team to pilot a Shad­ow­Box approach tai­lored for child pro­tec­tive work­ers in three sites: Jef­fer­son Coun­ty, Col­orado; Cuya­hoga Coun­ty, Ohio; and Alleghe­ny Coun­ty, Penn­syl­va­nia. The training’s goal? Pro­mote a prob­lem-solv­ing mind­set that empha­sizes going above and beyond rules and pro­ce­dures to ensure a child’s well-being.

There are a lot of com­plex­i­ties that case­work­ers need to con­sid­er when deter­min­ing whether a child is safe,” says Emi­ly New­some, a research asso­ciate and project lead for Shad­ow­Box. Our approach address­es the cog­ni­tive skills involved in those deci­sions, such as mak­ing sense of incom­ing infor­ma­tion and pri­or­i­tiz­ing com­pet­ing goals.”

As part of the train­ing, par­tic­i­pants review case-based sce­nar­ios and plan out what they could do — and would do — at crit­i­cal deci­sion points. The trainees then com­pare their cho­sen course of action to how vet­er­an inves­ti­ga­tors would respond and explore the ratio­nale behind the expert’s deci­sion. As trainees work through each sce­nario, their answers should increas­ing­ly align with those of a sea­soned professional.

The exer­cise sparks impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions among par­tic­i­pants about fac­tors that can influ­ence their work while also pro­mot­ing con­sis­ten­cy in deci­sion mak­ing agency-wide.

Child wel­fare staff are charged with mak­ing mon­u­men­tal deci­sions,” says Tracey Feild, who directs Casey’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group. We believe that Shad­ow­Box can help these staff mem­bers, par­tic­u­lar­ly those new to the job, make smarter deci­sions — and more con­sis­tent deci­sions — that best sup­port the suc­cess of chil­dren and families.”

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