Building a Child Welfare Services System for the Future

Building a Child Welfare Services System for the Future

February 12, 2014 | Linda Shannon, Program Manager, Delaware Division of Family Services


The Delaware Division of Family Services’ (DFS) journey with the NCCD Children’s Research Center (CRC) began in September 2011.

The Delaware Division of Family Services’ (DFS) journey with the NCCD Children’s Research Center (CRC) began in September 2011. The adoption of the Structured Decision Making® (SDM) model was a result of recommendations made by a subcommittee of the statutory- and governor-appointed Child Protection Accountability Commission (CPAC),which is tasked with making legislative, policy, and training recommendations regarding DFS. DFS had used the same risk assessment since July 1987 with only one change: conversion in 1994 to an electronic format in the Family and Child Tracking System (FACTS), Delaware’s Statewide Automated Child Welfare System (SACWIS). After reviewing the literature and meeting with child welfare experts over a series of meetings in 2010 and 2011, the subcommittee recommended that DFS adopt the SDM® system.

While the initial focus for change was on implementing the SDM system on the report line (intake) to increase screening consistency, adoption of the research-based SDM assessments grew to incorporate the entire continuum of DFS services. On May 22, 2012, the screening and response priority assessments began on the report line. On February 12, 2013, the SDM safety and risk assessments came into effect. The final phase of SDM implementation will take place on March 31, 2014, with the family strengths and needs assessment, risk reassessment for in-home cases, and reunification reassessment.

However, the journey does not end with SDM assessment implementation, because they are actually one component of a major transformation of child welfare services in Delaware known as Outcomes Matter: Enhancing Practice and Transforming Lives.

Outcomes Matter is an exciting and unique collaboration of public and private agencies, foundations, and consultants that, in addition to CRC, includes the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the National Resource Center for In-Home Services.

Enhancing practice, specifically how to engage families better, is a critical part of the transformation process. Outcomes Matter includes seventeen initiatives, such as Team Decisionmaking, family search and engagement, differential response, and safety-organized practice (SOP). At quarterly intervals throughout 2014, CRC will conduct training-for-trainers sessions for early adopters (DFS and contracted partners) on the 12 SOP modules. Between sessions, DFS staff at all levels will be required to attend the SOP training modules conducted by early adopters.

The final, but perhaps most critical aspect, of the transformation is the sustainability of the practice changes. To that end, CRC conducted a three-day coaching institute in August 2013 for SOP early adopters and other management and line staff. A second three-day coaching institute is planned for April 2014 to target the remaining management staff.

Linda Shannon, MSW, graduated from the University of Delaware with a BA in sociology in 1973 and received an MSW from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work in 1997. Ms. Shannon took a job with the former Division of Child Protective Services in 1977 and was promoted to supervisor in 1983. In 1988, she was promoted to program manager for intake and investigation in the central office. In 2002, she was awarded the DFS Director’s Award of Merit for her work in implementing the detailed Child Protection Registry legislation within her agency, and in 2012, she received the Director’s Award for Excellence in Innovation.

To learn more about evidence-based practice in Delaware’s Department of Family Services, see Linda Shannon and others present on the topic at NCCD’s Conference on Children, Youth, and Families.