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September 2010Vol. 11, No. 7Mississippi's Child Welfare Practice Model

Mississippi's Department of Human Services (DHS) is rolling out a new child welfare practice model that is helping the State to meet stringent requirements as well as creating a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm among Mississippi caseworkers. The model was developed in response to multiple mandates, including the Federal Child and Family Services Review (CFSR), a legal settlement agreement, and the Council for Accreditation's (COA's) standards. While helping DHS meet those requirements, the model has also become a framework that workers, stakeholders, and parents can embrace because of its potential to improve outcomes for children and families.

Creating the practice model began in early 2009 when Mississippi partnered with the Center for Support of Families (CSF) to analyze the hundreds of requirements from the settlement agreement and COA standards, as well as practice-related issues in the CFSR. CSF conducted focus group meetings, distributed surveys, and held interviews with workers, stakeholders, families, and youth to gather additional data.

Drawing on the data and on best practices, CSF and MDHS identified six broad components of child welfare interventions to comprise the core of the family-centered practice model:

  • Mobilizing appropriate services timely [sic]
  • Safety assurance and risk management
  • Involving children and families in case activities and decision making
  • Strengths and needs assessments of children and families
  • Preserving connections and relationships
  • Individualized and timely case planning

Implementation of the practice model has been gradual—region by region—and has been tied to a new Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) process. This measured approach allows time for planning, staffing, and training. It also allows time to help workers in the field understand the practice model and make the connection between theory and practice, for example, the difference between the idea of involving children and parents and the reality of involving children and parents in making decisions.

Implementation also has been aided by a grant and technical assistance from the Atlantic Coast Child Welfare Implementation Center (ACCWIC). While primarily focused in two pilot counties, the grant has helped the State to conduct a statewide organizational health assessment to be used in supporting the rollout of the practice model.

Regions are initiating implementation of the practice model two or three at a time at 6-month intervals. Each region begins implementation with a kickoff meeting that includes community partners and an orientation to the practice model and CQI process. That is followed by a period of developing an implementation plan in conjunction with a regional planning team that includes agency staff and community stakeholders. A baseline CQI review is also part of the early stage of implementation. After the 6-month planning period, full implementation begins and includes training, coaching, and phasing in case activities over 12 months. The CQI review is then repeated, so that findings can be compared to the baseline.

A case review instrument modeled after the CFSR process but structured according to the practice model is being used to establish baseline data and determine successes and areas needing assistance in each region. Randomly chosen cases are being reviewed by teams of reviewers evaluating paper and electronic case records, interviewing the parties to each case—including parents, children, and caseworkers—and surveying foster parents, service providers, and other stakeholders. CSF is working on creating and validating indicators for each of the six practice model components, so that data can be mapped to the model.

Looking Ahead
Two regions are now in the full implementation phase of the practice model, while other regions are in earlier stages. Reactions from workers have been enthusiastic and have sparked conversations about best practices. Wade Williams, Social Work Supervisor for one of the regions that has experienced full implementation commented, "Staff feel ownership for the practice model, and they're empowered about ways to improve practice. They're also more ready to involve families in case planning."

DHS staff feel that the practice model has put them on the right track to meet their Federal and legal mandates, gain COA accreditation, and—most importantly—help Mississippi's children and families experience better safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes.

Many thanks to staff from Mississippi DHS and the Center for Support of Families (CSF) for providing the information for this article. They included Lori Woodruff (Deputy Administrator, Family and Children's Services, DHS), Jerry Milner (CSF), Mike Gallarno (Office Director, CQI Unit, Family and Children's Services), Rob Hamrick (Division Director, Evaluation and Monitoring), Viedale Washington (Regional Director for Region II-West), Wade Williams (Regional Area Social Work Supervisor for Region I-South), Mary Fuller (Special Projects in CQI unit), and Tamara Garner (Special Projects in CQI unit).