SDM® and TDM™ Models Support Each Other in Child Safety Work

SDM® and TDM™ Models Support Each Other in Child Safety Work

February 15, 2022 | Mackenzie Rutherford

Happy family

Imagine being a frontline social worker faced with whether to separate a child from their parents. Imagine the difficulties of making this decision daily. How would you know you are making the right choice? How would you know you have the right information to make the best decision?

What if you could bring together an engaged team of individuals to support you and help you make the decision in the most timely and equitable way? The blended use of the Structured Decision Making® (SDM) model and the Team Decision Making® (TDM) model has the potential to support workers in doing just that.

SDM® assessment tools support workers in making equitable, accurate, and consistent decisions. The tools help workers make some of the most difficult decisions that impact a family’s life every day. The TDM™ model has a similar foundation to support decision making. However, it allows the family, their network of supports, and community members such as service providers, spiritual leaders, and friends to join in the decision making.

Timing is key to the TDM model, which includes a facilitated TDM meeting that brings together the people listed above as soon as possible when a decision is required about moving a child from their home or current placement. This way the decision is made “live” and in the moment.

How the Two Models Support One Another

The SDM safety assessment focuses on answering: “Can the child remain safely in their home?” The safety assessment is completed very early in an investigation based on the information known by the worker at that time. As you can imagine, a holistic picture of the situation requires complex information gathering and the use of various sources. But when danger might be imminent, time is short.

The safety assessment can prompt an initial TDM meeting. The assessment offers an understanding of safety and thresholds for separation that supports workers in deciding when to call an initial TDM meeting. A TDM meeting has the potential to bring the family, supports, and other community members to the table to make a timely decision before going to court.

Language is important when working with families. The two models support the use of common language and increased understanding for families when used consistently. Families deserve to understand and have a voice in their child’s safety. The SDM safety assessment provides workers and families with concrete definitions and behavior-specific safety concerns that can be incorporated into TDM meetings. This overlapping dialogue is intended to engage families in building trust with their support network, community, and child welfare staff.

The world I asked you to imagine at the beginning of the piece can look very different when a team, rather than a single worker, is at the table. A team approach at this critical decision point offers the best possible understanding of the situation and the options to ensure a child is safe.

Mackenzie RutherfordMackenzie Rutherford is a program specialist with Evident Change. You can find more information about the SDM system and the TDM model on our website. Contact Heather Meitner, Child Welfare Practice & TDM Manager, at for more information.