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March 2008Vol. 9, No. 2Practice Models in Child Welfare

With permission, the following article is drawn directly from a presentation and handouts developed by Angie Herrick Bordeaux from the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement, Dr. Roque Gerald from the District of Columbia's Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), and Dr. Midge Delavan from the Utah Division of Child and Family Services as part of the presentation "Understanding and Developing Child Welfare Practice Models" at the December 2007 Children's Bureau Conference for Agencies and Courts.

Effective child welfare systems are founded upon and driven by an overarching theoretical or conceptual framework that unifies all domains of agency functions. A child welfare practice model is a conceptual map and articulated organizational ideology of how agency employees, families, and stakeholders should partner in creating a physical and emotional environment that focuses on the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and their families.

The practice model contains definitions and explanations regarding how the agency as a whole will work internally and partner with families, service providers, and other stakeholders in child welfare services. A practice model is the clear, written explanation of how the agency successfully functions. The practice model should make an explicit link connecting the agency’s policy and practice with its mission, vision, and core principles. It is a framework to guide the daily interactions of employees, families, stakeholders, and community members connected to their work with the child welfare agency in conjunction with the standards of practice to achieve defined outcomes. Recommended elements of a child welfare practice model are:

  • Core principles, agency values, and standards of professional practice
  • Strategies and functions to achieve the core principles, agency values, and standards of professional practice
  • Plan for assessing service needs and engaging families
  • Strategies to measure family outcomes
  • Strategies to measure agency and worker outcomes
  • Plan for measuring and sustaining organizational success
  • Plan for supporting organizational and practice change

The National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement and the National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning proposed to team up to develop a Child Welfare Practice Model framework. The NRCs intend to have the Child Welfare Practice Model framework available for distribution by early 2008.

Practice Models in Washington, DC, and Utah

As part of the presentation, Dr. Roque Gerald from the District of Columbia's Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) and Dr. Midge Delavan from the Utah Division of Child and Family Services discussed their jurisdictions' development and implementation of child welfare practice models. Their examples illustrate the importance of models in effecting systems change.

In the case of DC's CFSA, the practice model was founded upon a core set of values that encompass goals for children and families. The values facilitate the articulation and use of leadership principles for supervisors and managers and a practice protocol for all workers. The CFSA practice model has been integrated with the development of a Family Team Meeting model for use throughout the agency to meet the needs of children throughout the life of a child welfare case.

In Utah, the practice model is a principle-based framework that identifies best practice principles and procedural requirements. The model incorporates principles, processes, skills, and outcomes for child welfare agencies and workers. As the link between training and outcomes has become clearer to administrators, trainings have been developed and refined to ensure that all workers are trained on the practice model. Annual Case Process and Qualitative Case Reviews assess how well agencies and workers follow the model.

For more information about this work on practice models, view the full PowerPoint presentation and access handouts [editor's note: this link no longer exists].

To download a brochure on DC's CFSA practice model, go to: (PDF - 3,666 KB)

To visit the website on Utah's practice model, go to: