How the Team Decision Making® Model Could Have Helped My Family

How the Team Decision Making® Model Could Have Helped My Family

May 31, 2022 | Deanna Jones

A group of people sitting in a circle, having a discussion.

Can you remember where you were 30 years ago? Fashion has changed a bit since then—some things are even back in style!

The field of social work has also changed, due in part to a transformative meeting process that was created 30 years ago to benefit all parties at the table. The meeting process made families feel engaged, respected, and part of the process from the beginning. It enabled workers to share decision making with the family, a support network, and other professionals. It involved community members for the betterment of the community.

Can you imagine such a framework? That meeting process still exists! I’m talking about the Team Decision Making® (TDM™) model.

I was in foster care when this model started being used. Looking back, I can imagine the benefits my family missed by simply NOT being afforded a TDM meeting. Through a meeting we would have had an avenue with strategies to engage my father, who did not have a reason for not caring for us. We could have provided support to the family members who were available but could not take my two siblings, plus my two children and me. We could have better planned my transition out of care through placement stability meetings.

Fast-forward to 2007. I am starting out as a caseworker, entering the world of child welfare—to be the support I wish I had—and I encounter the TDM model. I was floored. As an alum of foster care, I was ecstatic to see the possibilities of the TDM model. It is an intentional, guided meeting framework to ensure that every avenue is assessed and that the family is aware, involved, and making connections at the table. I could not have foreseen a better meeting framework.

Now, in 2022, some US jurisdictions have a semblance of the TDM model, but they are not strictly adhering to the key elements that make it the powerful, effective framework it is. And that’s a shame. As a program specialist with Evident Change, I see this framework from yet another lens: not only as a child of foster care and a social worker but now as a technical assistance provider supporting jurisdictions. This leads me to say that TDM meetings are needed now more than ever.

Both the foster child and the caseworker in me advocate the use of the TDM model. It builds on the Structured Decision Making® model, a suite of assessment tools that increase consistency and equity in child welfare decision making.

Data tell us that any placement move has an impact—even “positive” moves. I can speak to how that feels. With every move a part of you shuts down, and it takes longer and longer to open up to new people. Every move is likely to increase the feeling of being unsafe or unstable. Every move contributes to your lack of interest in connecting because you don’t know when you’ll move again. Every move impacts your ability to advocate for yourself because decisions about your life are made without you at the table.

My lived experience has shown me that the TDM model is necessary in engaging families and collaborating with them in those hard places.

As you do that work, I encourage you to use strategies and tools that empower, engage, and motivate families. Inviting the family to the table is great! Once they get to the table what happens? TDM meetings ensure we are making the least-restrictive placement decisions as possible; we are not removing a child unless we have no other option; and we are providing the family with services in a respectful manner by holistically assessing them and their needs. Can you think of a better model for that? Don’t children and families deserve our best?

Deanna Jones headshot  Deanna Jones is a program specialist with Evident Change.