Providing families, parents, and children services that support and improve family relationships, family dynamics, and individual responsibilities has always been a primary responsibility of the child protection system. This system is comprised of complicated, intricate, integrated, and interrelated parts, each of which must perform well in order to achieve the ultimate goal: supporting children and families. From the report of a suspicion of abuse or neglect, to the assessment, filing with the court, court hearings, and finally closure, every individual in the process must perform well.
Provision of Services
When the child protection system is working well, one of its most fundamental and important processes is the provision of individual and family services. Most often those services are provided through some arrangement, often a complicated contracting process, that obtains services by an outside organization or agency – public, private, not-for-profit, profit, single service, multiple service, etc. The conventional process of obtaining those services is through an RFP contracting process where the services are traditionally paid for on a fee basis – per hour, per session, per day, or some other fee arrangement – typically without measure of metrics or outcomes. Provision and attendance justify the payment.
Every jurisdiction has its own culture and practice regarding the provision of services for individuals and families. Some jurisdictions spend a great deal of time analyzing and contracting for services to meet those needs. Other jurisdictions may obtain services on an anecdotal basis by perceived need from some information or knowledge about a specific service or innovative practice. Still others have obtained services because some enterprising individual or agency, on its own, determines that the provision of a particular service is needed. Finally, some jurisdictions may obtain services using a combination of the above, or some other method.
While there are a number of ways a jurisdiction can obtain services, once a jurisdiction engages a family in its child protection process, it has an absolute responsibility to provide services that specifically and individually meet the needs of the family members. This responsibility has been recognized by the federal government as it engages in its Children and Family Services Reviews (CFSR). A part of that review measures the effectiveness of an agency by evaluating its array of services in the Resource Development section of “Systemic Factors.” Of the published CFSR reports as of March, 2017, every jurisdiction has received a “Not in Substantial Conformity, Areas Needing Improvement.”
Conducting a Service Delivery Review
Given the importance of service delivery upon involvement with a family, every jurisdiction should conduct a significant review of its service delivery process and implement steps to improve service capacity.
Here are eight key components that jurisdictions should consider in that review:
- Screening and Assessment. Upon involvement, the agency should arrange a timely screening and/or assessment of the individuals so that appropriate services can be arranged. Screening should be conducted first so that only those identified issues can be properly assessed. These processes must be engaged as soon as possible and arranged within close proximity by time and location. As in the medical field, presenting a diagnosis of ailments at the same time allows for proper understanding of the needs and coordination of services.
- Individualized Services. Services should be individualized so that they appropriately address the needs of the individual. There are many factors that affect service delivery -- age, addiction, family dynamics, job skills, housing, family dynamics to only name a few. In addition, adult learning styles dictate how effective services can be and services should be prepared to address all of these.
- Cookie-Cutter. Historically, there has been a tendency to order the same or similar services for every individual and family. This often is driven by caseload but is also frequently driven by the service array and availability of services. Individuals in supervisory or authority roles should ensure that recommended and ordered services are not uniform and repetitive from one family to another.
- Data. Most agencies categorize the type of referral initially made for a family in its case management system. Equally important is the accumulation of data regarding screening and assessment so that there is knowledge about individual needs and the opportunity to contract for identified services. The issues that individuals and families confront are constantly changing and data must be kept so that the array of services can meet those needs.
- Contracting Services. The process of contracting services must be developed around identified needs, timeliness of service delivery, and metrics or outcomes. Contracting for a service that is not available for three to six months is entirely unacceptable. Services must be scheduled timely by coordination of need and not by availability. The contracting process itself must be flexible and adaptable to the changing needs to ensure that all appropriate services are timely available.
- Continuum of Services. There must be a continuum of services within the jurisdiction so that the agency and individuals can receive the designated services. This means a full array of services including prevention, early intervention, intermediate intervention, intensive preservation and reunification family services, appropriate in-home services, foster care, intensive foster care, medical care, group home, residential services, relative and kinship services, concrete services. Services should be accessible in other state and local agencies such as alcohol and substance abuse counseling and treatment, housing, employment training, transportation, and other services identified through data collection screenings and assessments.
- Integration of Services. Identified and referred services should be coordinated so that all services are integrated as they are referred and available. Some services can be engaged in concurrently, but they should never be overwhelming and impossible to achieve. Assuming several services are required, and not concurrently, they should be integrated so that while one service is ongoing, another is not only scheduled but actually participates while the other is in process or concluding. Conflicting or competing philosophies and efforts are to be avoided at all costs.
- Wraparound Services. One of the most effective methods of providing services is to have a single agency wrap services around the family as doing so allows for timeliness, coordination, integration and consistency. One of the primary issues facing providers is the issue of trust and cooperation. Often services are undermined during the transfer of that trust from one program to the next. Wraparound Services, known by other names such as Systems of Care, provide many of the opportunities to meet the needs of an effective array of services program by providing many of the above mentioned steps through one agency.
Once a family and the individuals come to the attention of the child protection system, the array of services available to meet identified needs is one of the most critical elements for the family. Too often child protection systems assign services in a limited and sequential manner. Once those few services are completed, other services are referred. This practice can destroy trust with the family and individuals and make satisfactory closure a lengthier and less effective process. Providing a full array of services is not only the best thing to do, it is the right thing to do.