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An Innovative Method for Helping Children in the Child Protection System

After 18 months of intense work to improve 21 different local child welfare systems, the Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) on Safety and Risk Assessments wrapped up in October 2010. Using the innovative BSC Model for Improvement (PDF), local child welfare teams tested and refined small acts of practice change that transformed into system-wide improvements. The 21 teams, from rural, urban and tribal jurisdictions throughout the U.S., worked together in a collaborative environment, learning from each other and from staff and faculty, as they worked to improve how they assessed child safety and risk. Teams focused on furthering family engagement and culturally responsive practice within the context of safety and risk assessments. Throughout the project, the BSC Model for Improvement and the BSC methodology allowed teams to circumvent traditional bureaucratic barriers to agency improvement by encouraging those closest to the work (such as parents, youths and caseworkers) to be directly involved in system change. This opportunity for creativity and innovation allowed agencies to get back to the basics of child protection, focusing on working with families to keep kids safe. The project’s final report, written by American Humane staff and contractors, and published by Casey Family Programs, will be available on this website.

The BSC Methodology

The Breakthrough Series Collaborative methodology has five key elements:

  1. Teams composed of staff and consumers at a variety of levels from each participating jurisdiction
  2. A “change package” to guide the work of the participating jurisdictions
  3. Faculty who mentor and support the process
  4. The model for improvement, to lend structure to and accelerate the pace at which changes are tested and made
  5. A shared learning environment to ensure that successes and lessons learned are spread quickly

The American Humane Association and Casey Family Programs Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Safety and Risk Assessments change package consists of two downloadable documents:

  • The change package identifies the core principles and components that describe an effective system of safety and risk assessments and decision making.
  • Teams will use the measures to evaluate their improvement in the way they use safety and risk assessments and related decision making in their work with children, youth and families.

Leadership, Faculty, Consultants and Staff

The Breakthrough Series Collaborative leadership was a diverse group of experts with experience, knowledge and passion for their work. The collaborative was co-chaired by Zeinab Chahine, managing director, Strategic Consulting Services, Casey Family Programs, and Lewis “Harry” Spence, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Kennedy School of Government, and former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services.

The co-chairs worked closely with 11 faculty members:

  • Debra Conway, birth parent, Washington
  • Diane DePanfilis, director, Ruth H. Young Center for Families and Children, University of Maryland
  • Kathy Deserly, director, Indian Child and Family Resource Center, Montana
  • Maryam Fatemi, administrator, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, California
  • Ernestine Gray, juvenile court judge, Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, Louisiana
  • Suzanne Lohrbach, supervisor, Olmsted County Child and Family Services, Minnesota
  • Shantay Mines, youth, New Jersey
  • Barry Salovitz, senior director, Strategic Consulting Services, Casey Family Programs, New York
  • Damon Saunders, supervisor, Fairfax County Department of Family Services, Virginia
  • Tess Thomas, foster parent, Washington
  • Tamika Youmans, youth, Massachusetts

The co-chairs and faculty members came to the collaborative with a history of success in implementing or changing practice in safety and risk assessments and decision making. The leadership team was composed of key stakeholders in the implementation of safety and risk assessments and decision making, representing consumers, parents, youths, caregivers, workers, supervisors, administrators and community partners. Download short bios of all the team members.

Because the Breakthrough Series Collaborative methodology is built on an evidence-based practice framework, teams often want to hear “how this worked” in other sites throughout the country. The co-chairs and faculty members served as practice experts on the selected topic. They shared their expertise and experience in applying the framework’s best practices (from the practitioner’s or family’s perspective). This sharing often included data, stories that highlight a specific systemic shift and “lessons learned” in their jurisdiction.

The Breakthrough Series Collaborative leadership also played a critical role in supporting and mentoring teams -- helping teams learn the practice framework, understand the methodology, and brainstorm changes they will test. Faculty members facilitated communication within and between teams, building a culture of cross-team learning.

Co-chairs and faculty members also served as consultants to the staff and planning team. They identified team-specific issues that needed to be addressed, provide insight into how teams approached the change process, pointed out common themes and learning across teams, and served as a “think tank” to resolve problems.

Meet the Teams

Twenty-one teams representing state, county and tribal organizations across the country will participate in the Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Safety and Risk Assessments. Each team will embark on a quality improvement process to make small, rapid tests of change focused on safety and risk assessments and decision making. Successful small improvements will be sustained and spread, resulting in transformative, systemic change to improve outcomes for children and families. Throughout their 18-month commitment to the project, teams will be supported by series collaborative staff, faculty and fellow team participants. The selected teams are:

  • California:
    • Fresno County Department of Children and Family Services
    • Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services - Pasadena Office
    • Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services - Pomona Office
    • San Francisco City and County Human Services Agency: Family and Children’s Services
    • Stanislaus County Community Services Agency: Child and Family Services Division
  • Chippewa Cree Tribe
  • Colorado: Larimer County Department of Human Services
  • Florida:
    • Department of Children and Families in Collaboration with Community Based Care of Seminole
    • Department of Children and Families in Collaboration with Kids Central
  • Indiana: Department of Child Services - Lake County
  • Minnesota:
    • Carver County Community Services
    • Olmsted County Child and Family Services
  • Navajo Nation Division of Social Services:
    • Shiprock Region
    • Southwest Region
  • North Carolina:
    • Buncombe County Department of Social Services
    • Catawba County Social Services
  • Oklahoma: Department of Human Services
  • Philadelphia: Department of Human Services
  • Texas: Department of Family and Protective Services: City of El Paso: Department of Human Services
  • Utah: Division of Child and Family Services
  • Wyoming: Uinta County Department of Family Services

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