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October 2010Vol. 11, No. 8West Virginia Implements Integrated Safety System

West Virginia's Bureau for Children and Families (BCF) is implementing a new child protective services (CPS) model that makes child safety the primary consideration in child welfare decision-making. The West Virginia Safety Assessment and Management System (SAMS) is based on a comprehensive safety intervention model developed by ACTION for Child Protection, Inc. ACTION for Child Protection consulted with West Virginia to define and adapt intervention concepts, criteria, and processes that are intended to establish structure and standardization for practice and decision-making during CPS involvement with families.

West Virginia BCF partnered with the National Resource Center for CPS and the Atlantic Coast Child Welfare Implementation Center (ACCWIC) to plan and support systematic implementation of SAMS across the State.

Advantages of SAMS
SAMS represents a significant change in how West Virginia's CPS workers respond to reports of child abuse and neglect. BCF staff knew that a meaningful change in approach was necessary, especially after the State's two Federal Child and Family Services Reviews (in 2003 and 2008) indicated that West Virginia's child welfare practice did not meet the standards for child safety. In addition, the State had a high acceptance rate for reports made to CPS and a high repeat maltreatment rate.

As an evidence- and research-based model, SAMS offers a number of advantages over the previous CPS approach:

  • It provides workers with consistent standards and tools to help them collect appropriate information from families.
  • It offers guided decision-making so that workers can make more objective decisions based on the safety of children and the protective capacities of caregivers.
  • It emphasizes supervisory involvement and oversight.
  • It is a family-centered approach designed to respect families and to engage them in decision-making and problem-solving.

Implementing SAMS
After an extensive planning process, West Virginia is implementing SAMS in a staged rollout that began in 2009. Dr. Sarah Kaye, Director of Research & Evaluation for ACCWIC, notes, "West Virginia's approach to SAMS implementation is grounded in implementation science and brings best practices from other fields to public child welfare. The State is focusing on organizational structures and supports as well as staff competence to increase the likelihood of sustained practice change." 

The four family assessments are being introduced individually, so that workers have time to fully learn and incorporate each new process. "Special Forces" teams—composed of program managers, supervisors, child welfare consultants, and trainers who are experts in SAMS—are embedded throughout the State to provide training and mentoring to staff and supervisors. The work of Special Forces is supported by technical assistance and consultation from the National Resource Center for CPS.

Commissioner Jason Najmulski and Deputy Commissioner Louis Palma are active and visible champions of SAMS. The State is aligning policies, procedures, data systems, and quality assurance to provide the infrastructure to support SAMS. Stakeholders and collaborative partners have been engaged at the State and local level to promote community support. 

West Virginia is one of five States that was selected as an ACCWIC implementation project in 2009. ACCWIC provides technical assistance and has helped in developing a Fidelity Monitoring System to collect SAMS fidelity data during clinical case consultation that is used to inform the implementation process. Eventually, fidelity data and Federal outcome data will be integrated into data dashboards that all BCF staff across the State will be able to access.

SAMS and Workers
Both workers and stakeholders have had generally positive reactions to the new model. Amy Lawson Booth, Statewide SAMS Implementation Coordinator, explained, "Because of SAMS, we're really getting a chance to practice social work. We've moved away from investigative work, and we're intervening with families when and how we should." An online newsletter, SAMS Horizons, keeps BCF staff across the State informed of the implementation progress, provides regional news about SAMS, and spotlights an outstanding SAMS worker in each region.

Looking Ahead
BCF staff expect to see full implementation of SAMS in the fall of 2011. Besides the staged rollout, the State is making changes to its Families and Children Tracking System to be able to incorporate SAMS data. SAMS implementation is also having a big effect on the State's Program Improvement Plan (PIP) process, and staff look to SAMS to contribute to improved practice, more appropriate services for families, fewer entries and reentries into the child welfare system, more emphasis on family-centered practice, and, of course, improved safety for children.

Learn more about SAMS and access the extensive materials on the SAMS website:

Many thanks to Amy Lawson Booth, Statewide SAMS Implementation Coordinator, who provided the information for this article.