Making Child Welfare Case Plans With Families

Making Child Welfare Case Plans With Families

April 21, 2015 | Heather Meitner, Senior Program Specialist


For child welfare social workers, case plans can often feel like an event that must be completed by a deadline so that we can get back to our “real” work. When case planning becomes a dynamic process that involves the family members and engages their network of support people, it can actually feel useful for everyone involved. By sharing a family’s risk level classification with them, you can create an opportunity for family members to make an informed decision on what they’d like to do to reduce the chances of their family being involved with child protective services in the future. This opportunity can motivate a family to try something different. 

For a case plan to have a meaningful impact on the family’s change process, the case plan and its tasks should evolve regularly over time, responding to those needs that are most pertinent to safety. The Structured Decision Making® (SDM) family strengths and needs assessment (FSNA) and child strengths and needs assessment (CSNA) remind us of how to prioritize the areas that are in need of change. The goal is to start by determining the top three things that will have the most detrimental impact if they stay the same. Then it’s our job to engage the family members and their support network in a rich discussion about how changes in those areas might look on a daily basis in real time.  

The plan we co-create with the family during our first month of working together should look very different six months later. If the parents are taking concrete actions to shift worrisome behaviors to ones that are protective—in other words, they are working on change, not simply complying with services—then we will be more likely to see progress sooner. Each home visit or meeting should involve reviewing these actions with the family. 

For example, which task description seems like it will be more likely to help this mother over the long term? Look for specific, concrete actions that are easy to understand and perform. 

  1. Mother will attend weekly therapy to address her depression and manage her emotions. 

  1. Mother agrees to use new coping skills learned in therapy and from her sister (who is also a parent of a toddler) to respond to her daughter’s requests, even when she is feeling sad. She will rate her feelings of sadness daily on a 10-point scale, and if she feels lower than a 4, she will ask her sister or another network member for help.  

Then, when you update the FSNA/CSNA at 90 days, you can celebrate the successes and help the family add new actions to continue the momentum. The key is to trust that growth, change, and healing happen gradually over time. Despite our time constraints, the process cannot be rushed, but it can be intentional and targeted so that none of the time feels wasted. Please know how vital your role is in the process. 

You can be the facilitator of the changes you hope to see! Families are resourceful and can significantly contribute to their own solutions, when given the chance and when we are specific about behaviors in our description of new actions. What strategies are you using to elicit ideas from family members and their network about how they can demonstrate protective actions each step of the way?