In Colorado, Making Smarter Decisions About Child Welfare Investigations

Posted April 1, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Child welfare staff use better data to make more supportive decisions about children involved with the child welfare system in Colorado.

Work­ing with the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, Jef­fer­son County’s Divi­sion of Chil­dren, Youth, Fam­i­lies and Adult Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices has enhanced deci­sion mak­ing at its ear­li­est pos­si­ble point: When chil­dren are referred to author­i­ties because of sus­pect­ed abuse or neglect.

In 2010, 51% of chil­dren who were referred to author­i­ties in Jef­fer­son Coun­ty, Col­orado, required an inves­ti­ga­tion. In 2018, this same deci­sion point result­ed in an inves­ti­ga­tion just 37% of the time.

Real­iz­ing this change requires staff and sys­tems to change, accord­ing to Jef­fer­son Coun­ty Intake Pro­gram Man­ag­er Alysse Neme­cek. In Col­orado, staff devel­oped new skills and process­es that enhanced their abil­i­ty make crit­i­cal child pro­tec­tion deci­sions. This evo­lu­tion included:

  • Cre­at­ing RED teams (RED stands for Review, Eval­u­ate and Direct), which are groups of three to five social work­ers, super­vi­sors and man­agers who con­sid­er each refer­ral together.
  • Posi­tion­ing data as a crit­i­cal tool for RED teams and sig­nif­i­cant­ly increas­ing the data resources that these teams uti­lize in their deci­sion-mak­ing processes.
  • Lever­ag­ing the pow­er of data analy­sis. Track­ing and ana­lyz­ing cur­rent cas­es and inves­ti­ga­tions enables the agency to spot pat­terns, anom­alies and lessons that can help improve indi­vid­ual deci­sions, poli­cies and practices.

The new data-enriched approach allows us to have a dia­logue that wasn’t hap­pen­ing before,” says Nemecek.

Staff are also using the data to iden­ti­fy and devel­op new solu­tions. For instance: The coun­ty exam­ined a vari­ety of fac­tors — sub­stance use, home­less­ness, lack of super­vi­sion, men­tal health sta­tus and more — to bet­ter under­stand what divid­ed chil­dren and fam­i­lies who returned to the agency’s atten­tion from those who did not.

One way to reduce repeat refer­rals, accord­ing to the data, is to require two face-to-face con­tacts month­ly, includ­ing a vis­it to the fam­i­ly home. Cross-sec­tor col­lab­o­ra­tion is also get­ting eas­i­er, with RED teams often includ­ing mem­bers from oth­er areas, such as edu­ca­tion and health care.

The keys to the approach, says Neme­cek, are shared respon­si­bil­i­ty and a sense of con­tin­u­ous learn­ing. It brings the entire agency into the con­ver­sa­tion so that we can make the very impor­tant deci­sion of whether we have the right and the author­i­ty to inter­vene in a family’s life.”

Read more about Jef­fer­son County’s approach

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