Meet Our Staff – Raelene Freitag, Director of the NCCD Children’s Research Center

Meet Our Staff – Raelene Freitag, Director of the NCCD Children’s Research Center

June 4, 2013 | Debra Illingworth Greene, Editor, NCCD

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Raelene Freitag, PhD, MSW, LCSW, is director of the NCCD Children’s Research Center (CRC) and director of international projects at NCCD. In her 16 years with NCCD, Raelene has traveled the world, overseeing development of the Structured Decision Making® (SDM) model from Virginia to Alaska to Taiwan and Australia.

Raelene Freitag, PhD, MSW, LCSW, is director of the NCCD Children’s Research Center (CRC) and director of international projects at NCCD. In her 16 years with NCCD, Raelene has traveled the world, overseeing development of the Structured Decision Making® (SDM) model from Virginia to Alaska to Taiwan and Australia.

While the SDM® decision-support model continues to be recognized for its value to social service systems, Freitag said most of her current projects are related to integrating two other streams of thought into the SDM model.

The first is good social worker practice. “We are drawing a lot on work done by Sue Lohrbach in Olmsted County, Minnesota— in fact, she is now on our staff,” Freitag said. “We are learning a lot from Sonja Parker in Australia and Nicki Weld in New Zealand, among others.”

The other stream is implementation science. “We are very much inspired by the work of Dean Fixsen and his work at the National Implementation Resource Network, which is really helping to shape our ideas about how to affect organizational change that is sustainable and scalable,” said Freitag, who has been director of the CRC since 2005 and is also the director of international projects.

CRC is working on this integrated approach to the SDM model in Manitoba, Canada; and San Diego and Northern California. “Now, virtually every new place that we go we’re bringing those ideas together,” she said.

Also new to Freitag’s work: “As our work is spreading beyond the United States and North America and even beyond Euro-centric cultures, it is important that we learn from other countries and other cultures,” she said. “Each time we work in a culture other than our own it’s a partnership. We learn from them as much as they learn from us. We’re learning how important it is to go in humbly and listen first. We are learning that what might seem to be a barrier, when we build trust with each other, we find it is something that can be readily solved.”

An example she offered comes from Taiwan, where a worker survey showed very strong support overall for the SDM safety assessment after it was field tested. However, one glitch surfaced: the fact that a standard SDM safety plan document has a place for parent signatures. “It turns out that signing a document has a very different meaning in Taiwan, and it caused a barrier that was very easily solved,” Freitag said. “We asked, ‘What in your culture does the same thing as a signature does for us?’ We were looking for a sense of commitment toward working together toward child safety.  It turned out that a verbal agreement was what was needed.”

“We realize that with histories of oppression, the solutions aren’t always that easy,” she added. But in this case, it was. 

Another international project is starting up in New South Wales, Australia, where a consortium of six NGOs who provide prevention work will learn the same SDM system used by their statutory counterparts. “From early intervention to statutory intervention, the same tools, skills, and approach will be used,” Freitag said.  “I’m very eager to see how that project helps to bridge the gap between the non-government and government sectors. We have not worked in both worlds in the same jurisdiction. Families sometimes go back and forth between the systems. This way, the understanding of the framework for family dynamics will be the same.”

While she directs international projects for CRC, Freitag is quick to credit other staff. “With our staff of amazingly talented folks, each one of them is involved in many more projects than this,” she said. “All of our staff are working in so many places, bringing these three ideas together.”

Then she added two other areas where research has been burgeoning in the past five years and is at the point where the science can be practically applied.

“One area is the effect of trauma. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has so much to offer in this regard, and we’re doing some work to try to understand how we can leverage SDM assessments to help identify children and parents who may be dealing with traumatic stress,” Freitag explained.

“Second is the decision making in our brains, which continues to reinforce for me how important it is to have evidence-based decision-support tools for key decision points.”

Freitag emphasized the importance of incorporating evidence and research in all of CRC’s work. “Our field is easily caught up in waves of ‘the next big thing.’ Even vital concepts like trauma-informed practice can be diluted if we simply jump on bandwagons without critical review of the research, careful analysis of implications for practice, and unwavering commitment to implementation of one thing before running off to the next.”

On a personal note, and back to the international realm, Freitag said she loves to travel and has a goal of visiting each continent at least once before she retires. She has checked five off of her list and plans to visit Africa in 2015. “I’m saving Antarctica for something special like a 65th birthday,” she added. When she’s not traveling for work or pleasure, or working hard out of NCCD’s office in Madison, Wisconsin, Freitag is “really trying hard to play the mandolin.”

A former officer with the Milwaukee Police Department and a social worker in a variety of settings, Freitag received her MSW and a PhD in urban studies, social service systems, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Raelene Freitag can be reached via email or at (800) 306-6223.

Debra Illingworth Greene is an Editor at NCCD.