Study: Team Decision Making Associated With Better Child Welfare Outcomes

Posted October 18, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Family of three, two adults and one child, sit outdoors, smiling, in front of a house.

Team Deci­sion Mak­ing™ (TDM ) — a prac­tice mod­el designed to help child wel­fare agen­cies build bet­ter safe­ty plans for kids — just passed its tough­est test yet. 

A mul­ti­year eval­u­a­tion by Child Trends found that, when agen­cies used the TDM mod­el, chil­dren were less like­ly to be removed from their homes and oth­er key stake­hold­ers — par­ents, fam­i­lies, case­work­ers and com­mu­ni­ty rep­re­sen­ta­tives — report­ed feel­ing sat­is­fied with the approach. 

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion devel­oped TDM in the 1990s, and the Child Trends eval­u­a­tion stands as the most com­pre­hen­sive and rig­or­ous review of the mod­el to date. 

Over the past two decades, research has shown the ben­e­fits of TDM,” says Suzanne Barnard, direc­tor of Casey’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group. Although encour­ag­ing, the find­ings from ear­li­er stud­ies lacked a con­trol group that would strength­en the evi­dence of the dif­fer­ence TDM made for chil­dren and families.”

The TDM Mod­el for Mak­ing Child Wel­fare Decisions

Child wel­fare agen­cies — and often lone case­work­ers — have the dif­fi­cult task of try­ing to bal­ance the trau­ma of sep­a­rat­ing that a child from their fam­i­ly with the risk of harm due to a safe­ty con­cern at home. TDM helps front­line work­ers make the most informed deci­sions pos­si­ble about child removal, change of place­ment, reuni­fi­ca­tion and oth­er per­ma­nen­cy plans.

READJOUR­NAL ARTI­CLE ABOUT THE EVAL­U­A­TION

In TDM, case­work­ers, par­ents, fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers meet to iden­ti­fy and assess both the risks to a child’s safe­ty and the family’s strengths and assets. A trained facil­i­ta­tor helps the group dis­cuss the child’s cir­cum­stances at home, explore solu­tions and agree on next steps. In ide­al sit­u­a­tions, this meet­ing takes place while a child is still liv­ing at home. In emer­gency sit­u­a­tions, a child is removed from their home for safe­ty rea­sons and their TDM meet­ing occurs after placement.

The Child Trends eval­u­a­tion exam­ined TDM’s effect on child wel­fare out­comes and on case­work­ers’ per­cep­tions of the prac­tice in two Mis­souri coun­ties from 2015 to 2019. The sam­ple pop­u­la­tion includ­ed 1,423 chil­dren, ran­dom­ly assigned to either a treat­ment group receiv­ing TDM or a con­trol group receiv­ing stan­dard inves­ti­ga­tion ser­vices only. Because Mis­souri lacked the resources to serve all fam­i­lies eli­gi­ble for TDM, ran­dom­iza­tion was feasible.

Find­ings From Child Trends’ Study on Team Deci­sion Making

Among the evaluation’s key findings:

  • When com­pared to their con­trol group peers, chil­dren in the treat­ment group were less like­ly to be removed from their home one year after a TDM meeting. 
  • There is no evi­dence that chil­dren in the treat­ment group were more like­ly than their con­trol group peers to expe­ri­ence abuse or neglect.
  • When com­pared to their col­leagues in the con­trol group, case­work­ers involved in TDM were more like­ly to report hav­ing suf­fi­cient infor­ma­tion to make a place­ment decision.

This study pro­vides need­ed evi­dence that TDM is a use­ful and help­ful prac­tice and one that is of ben­e­fit to the child wel­fare field,” the researchers at Child Trends concluded. 

In Jan­u­ary 2020, imple­men­ta­tion sup­port and train­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties for TDM shift­ed from the Casey Foun­da­tion to the Nation­al Coun­cil on Crime & Delinquency’s Children’s Research Cen­ter, now known as Evi­dent Change. Despite this move, the Foundation’s com­mit­ment to build­ing evi­dence for pro­grams aimed at improv­ing child and fam­i­ly well-being — TDM includ­ed — endures. 

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