New Approach to Child Protection Investigations Yields Encouraging Results

Posted July 3, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Caseworker talks with a child as part of an investigation

Ohio’s Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Divi­sion of Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Ser­vices (CCD­CFS) has been work­ing to paint a clear­er pic­ture of how child wel­fare cas­es are mov­ing through its system.

Its metaphor­i­cal paint­brush for this work? Con­tin­u­ous Qual­i­ty Improve­ment (CQI) reviews, which expand the use of data, voic­es and view­points in the deci­sion-mak­ing process. By fill­ing in infor­ma­tion gaps, CQI reviews help agen­cies bet­ter sup­port staff efforts to improve poli­cies and practices.

In Ohio, this approach yield­ed encour­ag­ing results, includ­ing a sharp uptick in the per­cent­age of safe­ty assess­ments com­plet­ed on time, accord­ing to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion called Bet­ter Deci­sions for Bet­ter Results.

As we all know, child wel­fare has a lot of process­es and poli­cies,” says CCD­CFS Direc­tor Cyn­thia Weiskit­tel, But, unless you are active­ly ana­lyz­ing your cas­es to make sure they reflect those poli­cies, you have no way of know­ing if you’re actu­al­ly doing what you intend­ed to do.”

After eval­u­at­ing its case flow in March 2017, CCD­CFS learned that just 24% of safe­ty assess­ments were com­plet­ed with­in the required sev­en-day period.

Using CQI reviews, CCD­CFS elim­i­nat­ed delays and added staff train­ings focused on best prac­tices. By June 2018, 44% of safe­ty assess­ments were com­plet­ed with­in the required sev­en-day peri­od; by June 2019, 72% of assess­ments hit this mark.

CCDCFS’s approach involves a month­ly meet­ing where agency stake­hold­ers con­vene for a four-hour hon­est con­ver­sa­tion about the data, pol­i­cy and prac­tice. At each ses­sion, two units present their work and iden­ti­fy one spe­cif­ic case for dis­cus­sion with a lead­er­ship pan­el. More than 40 lead­ers from depart­ments across the agency — includ­ing legal and place­ment — can also par­tic­i­pate by sub­mit­ting questions.

These month­ly meet­ings uti­lize Child­Stat, a man­age­ment account­abil­i­ty and qual­i­ty improve­ment process devel­oped in New York City, which the Cuya­hoga team has tai­lored meet their spe­cif­ic needs.

Weiskit­tel — who serves on the lead­er­ship pan­el — notes that her role involves a lot of lis­ten­ing, pos­ing prob­ing ques­tions and striv­ing to con­sid­er the case work­ers’ per­spec­tives. Staff, on the oth­er hand, have grown quick­er to ask ques­tions and raise con­cerns about their work.

For a sys­tem to improve, there has to be a hard con­ver­sa­tion. But it also mat­ters how you have that con­ver­sa­tion,” says Weiskit­tel. It’s impor­tant for staff to see that their direc­tor may not always have the answer; to be open to hear­ing new ideas from staff at any lev­el and to show­case how hon­est con­ver­sa­tions and col­lab­o­ra­tive process­es can help cre­ate the solution.”

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