Team Decision Making: A Better Way To Assess Child Safety

Posted May 24, 2017, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

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Team decision making (TDM) is a departure from traditional child welfare practice. Instead of a single caseworker determining what to do in a crisis that requires consideration of out-of-home care because of child abuse or neglect, TDM brings together parents, family, community members and others to assess the situation and determine how best to keep the child safe.

TDM enables those closest to a child to participate in problem solving. Is a child or teen safe at home, or should they leave for a time until safety can be assured? If they must leave, can they live with relatives or will a foster home be needed? Engaging a child’s entire network helps those involved identify the best solution and builds trust between those closest to the child and the child welfare agency.

Download Casey's infographic on team decision making

Many child welfare agencies endeavor to engage families in their work of keeping children and families safe. TDM takes that a step further, by involving in decision making families and communities, as well as the child or teen, depending on their age and abilities.

“My belief in Team Decision Making is growing with every meeting. Whether I'm facilitating or observing, the benefits I see are endless,” says Claire Vonallmen, a TDM facilitator in Springfield, Missouri. “TDM’s collaborative method is giving everyone at the table an opportunity to express their worries for harm or danger, recognize the family's strengths and successes, and create a plan with everyone's input to mitigate safety.”

Child welfare agencies that use TDM involve a variety of stakeholders — such as grassroots community partners, agency staff, service providers, coaches, teachers — who can contribute insight, guidance and support to help parents and the agency make critical decisions about a child’s future.

Research has indicated that the benefits of high-quality TDM include:

  • Increased likelihood that a child who enters care will live with relatives or foster parents from the start, not in a developmentally inappropriate shelter or group setting.
  • Increased likelihood that a child will reunify with a parent or family member within a year.
  • Decreased chances that a child will experience repeat maltreatment.

The Casey Foundation has supported the development of TDM for nearly 20 years. Based on promising research findings, Casey is pursuing an evidence-based practice designation for TDM to support its continued growth and expand the positive outcomes it can bring to children and families.

“TDM is a great tool. It puts the safety of children first and recognizes the important role families and communities play in a child or teen’s life and well-being,” says Tracey Feild, managing director of the Casey Foundation’s Child Welfare Strategy Group. “It also ensures more consistent decision making within agencies by analyzing data on how decisions affect children and families.”

Since January 2020, the National Council on Crime and Deliquency has managed TDM, and is working to expand the practice’s reach, impact and evidence base.

To learn more about TDM, read Casey’s 2014 case study, Engaging Families in Placement Decisions.

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