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November 2009Vol. 10, No. 9Site Visit: Leadership Institute Helps in Implementing System of Care

The goal of the National Child Welfare Leadership Institute (NCWLI) is to build leadership skills in midlevel managers in public and Tribal child welfare agencies to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families. In a recent project called Embedding Lessons Learned, NCWLI worked with the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to help staff better understand the State's system of care reform.

DCYF experienced a problem with internal and external communications that came to the fore when, in 2005-2006, State executive staff implemented a system of care program as a component of the Rhode Island child welfare system reform initiative. DCYF line staff and midlevel managers, who had not been included in planning or developing this new model of service delivery, felt a lack of ownership and commitment to the new model—which created problems with implementation. Using the NCWLI model, DCYF staff learned how to effect successful system change in a process that included:

  • Accepting the need for change
  • Understanding what to change and how to change it
  • Committing to and practicing change
  • Applying, monitoring, and institutionalizing the change

The Rhode Island team and NCWLI staff identified gaps in DCYF staff knowledge of the system of care initiative, noted staff concerns, and developed a plan to increase staff knowledge and participation in the process. Together they discussed an element that had been missing in the original initiative: to help child welfare staff and midlevel managers see the system of care not as a threat but as a positive change that would improve services to the children and families and would make their jobs a little easier.

Among the lessons learned in the project was the critical importance of including the facilitators of systems change in the process of developing the change, giving them opportunities early on to offer feedback and input, and taking advantage of their expertise and knowledge of the community. The project developed several methods of communication, including an agencywide newsletter, all-staff emails, formal meetings, and informal brown-bag lunches and focus groups.

These communication tools and other key recommendations coming out of the project will be advanced and embedded in DCYF's policy and practice.

Visit the NCWLI website:

For more information, contact the project directors: Norma Harris, Ph.D.; Director and Principal Investigator,; and Raymond Kirk, Ph.D., Co-Principal Investigator,

The full site report will be posted on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website:

National Child Welfare Leadership Institute is funded by the Children's Bureau, CFDA #93.648.This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from Children's Bureau site visits.