Vol. 4, No. 3 May 2003
Cornerstones Series Promotes Family-Centered Practice
In North Carolina is embracing family-centered practice in child welfare like never before. It is doing so because it believes this approach, which is based upon the notion that identifying and developing family strengths is the key to solving family problems, will lead to greater child safety and better long-term outcomes for families.
Our State also hopes the family-centered approach will help fix many of the problemsfrom inconsistent interventions to staff turnoverthat plague child welfare agencies here and across the country.
Consequently, North Carolina has undertaken an all-out effort to ensure its child welfare system is family-centered. This effort can be seen in the many changes in childrens services policy and practice being pursued across the State right now. Chief among these are the new Strengths-Based Structured Intake form that, as of June 1, 2003, became the standard tool for screening reports of child maltreatment, and the development and evaluation of the Multiple Response System (MRS), which is expected to become the standard approach to child welfare in North Carolina in 2005.
But theres a catch. You see, even though the family-centered approach is the best way to work with families, it cannot be mandated.
True, structural changes like the ones we are making can encourage family-centered practice. But family-centered practice itself cannot be prescribed because when you get right down to it, family-centered is a philosophy, not a methodology.
Thats not to say that the family-centered approach is merely an attitude. Indeed, there are many specific techniques, such as the Miracle Question, the Exception-Finding Question, and other strategies associated with Brief Solution-Focused Therapy, that are used by most family-centered practitioners.
But to succeed with these techniques, workers must believe families are capable of creating solutions to their problems. To identify and build on family strengths, workers must believe the strengths are there to begin with.
The Cornerstones Series
Making this shift in thinking is easier said than done, especially for individuals working in agencies with policies and organizational cultures that are not particularly family-centered.
To promote family-centered practice and prepare counties to implement the Multiple Response System, the N.C. Division of Social Services and its partners have developed the Cornerstones of Family-Centered Practice. This training series consists of:
Principles of Partnership
Though they offer a chance to learn about and practice different family-centered techniques, each of the courses in the Cornerstones series is built around six principles of partnership:
Developed by Appalachian Family Innovations (part of Appalachian State University), these principles are designed to promote and guide supervisors and workers in their pursuit of family-centered practice.
See below for an example of how one of these principles (Judgments can wait) might come into play during an exchange between a supervisor and a social worker. For more on the thought behind these principles, click here.
Child welfare social workers and supervisors from county departments of social services interested in the Cornerstones of Family Centered Practice series should visit "N.C. Social Services Professional Development" <http://www.ncswtrain.org>. Here they can learn about the courses offered by the N.C. Division of Social Services, identify course times and locations, and register for training events.
Try this scenario on for size.
You are a child welfare supervisor. In your office is a CPS worker trying
to serve a family struggling with domestic violence. Hes come to
you for advice because hes stuck.
Youre not surprised. You know the pressures these families face are often difficult to evaluate and address. On top of this, you know many social workers grapple with their own beliefs and reactions to domestic violence.
Thats where you think this workers challenge lies. Even though he understands the mother in this family is not the reason for the batterers violence, he clearly feels intense frustration at what he sees as the womans failure to shield her children from exposure to the abuse. He complains to you about her lack of concern for her kids and blames her for not leaving the batterer.
From your perspective, this workers ability to serve this family is being compromised by his rush to judgment. Put another way, you think he is not following the fourth principle of partnership: Judgments can wait. Because he believes he understands the situation, he unconsciously looks for and finds evidence to support his perspective. As a result, you fear he may overlook signs of the mothers concern for her kids and strengths she has demonstrated while coping with the domestic violence.
As a supervisor, what do you say to this worker? Parallel process tells us that, if they want workers to delay judgments when working with families, supervisors need to model this behavior in their interactions with workers. Thus, rather than assuming your assessment of the worker is correct, demonstrate to him you have an open mind by asking the worker questions such as:
Use the workers answers to address his concerns and help him develop strategies for his next visit with the family. Child welfare supervisors can help workersand familiesby teaching and modeling a family-centered approach to social work practice.
This scenario was developed based on information contained in Cornerstone Two, What's Good for Families Is Good for Workers, a training for North Carolina child welfare supervisors.
© 2003 Jordan Institute for Families