SDM® Model Update Leads to Bigger System Change in Michigan

SDM® Model Update Leads to Bigger System Change in Michigan

July 29, 2021 | Evident Change

A smiling baby looks over an adult's shoulder at the viewer.

What started as a request for Evident Change to develop an intake assessment tool has become much more for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). Community involvement in developing the tool has been diverse and far-reaching, and a large group of community stakeholders created a vision and values statement during the project kickoff.

“On its face, the project looks like just an SDM intake assessment, but it’s also helping Michigan state their values to guide their Centralized Intake redesign work,” said Karen Meulendyke, senior program specialist at Evident Change and the project manager.

The Children’s Services Agency (CSA) of MDHHS has used the Structured Decision Making® (SDM) system of assessments for many years but never had an SDM® intake assessment. The current project includes a redesign of some older assessment tools, plus an intake assessment to help MDHHS Centralized Intake make screening decisions.

Community stakeholders are helping along the way, from assessment development to evaluation. This workgroup includes MDHHS workers, representatives from Tribal nations, mental health care providers, attorneys, parents and young people with lived experience, resource families, school staff, substance use professionals, and medical professionals. In addition, the project team has been joining MDHHS leadership in their meetings with Tribal nations between each workgroup, and the tool will be reviewed by multiple entities who have interest in the potential impact of the assessment, including Michigan’s Child Welfare Improvement Task Force and MDHHS’ Anti-Racism Transformation Team. The tool will also be reviewed by MDHHS’ legal team and CSA leadership prior to finalization.

With more than 60 people involved in the project kickoff, getting started could have gotten complicated. However, Meulendyke said, “they came out with this beautiful vision and values statement.”

Every family is treated fairly. 

  • Every effort is made to keep families together. 
  • Children are protected from abuse and neglect.
  • Explicit anti-racism principles are embedded in decision-making processes and policies. 
  • Centralized Intake staff are trauma-informed, strengths-based, and culturally sensitive when responding to calls.  
  • Centralized Intake staff’s work is supported with tools and a supportive work environment.  
  • Children’s Services Agency is invested in cultivating positive relationships with families and communities and understands the communities’ varied needs, resources, and cultures.  
  • Communities have a preventive mindset and the resources to assist families they are concerned about.  
  • Prevention opportunities are offered at intake.

As part of its vision statement, the stakeholders committed to decisions at Centralized Intake that:

  • Uphold anti-racism principles; 
  • Do not confuse poverty with maltreatment; 
  • Are consistent across counties and families;  
  • Are based on the information available for the concern and balance relevant history; and  
  • Comply with statutes and laws. 

“The intake assessment is needed in Michigan, and the assessment will operate closer to values centered around children and families because of the diverse stakeholders who had a part in the process” said Meulendyke. She also would like to see this kind of work in other jurisdictions—and the team at Evident Change is ready and willing to facilitate that.