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September/October 2011Vol. 12, No. 7From Placement to Permanency, Indiana's PIP Story

With renewed emphasis on keeping children safely with their families, Indiana's Department of Child Services (DCS) has completed implementation of its Program Improvement Plan (PIP). The PIP is a Federal requirement to improve child welfare services in areas identified by the State's Child and Family Services Review (CFSR). After achieving 133 PIP benchmarks, DCS celebrated with a ceremony to tear down the "wall," a poster listing PIP compliance steps on the office door of Deputy Director of Field Operations David Judkins. The ceremony was the most recent event in a process that began with the Statewide Assessment process in 2006, followed by the onsite portion of the CFSR in 2007, and the PIP approval in 2009.

One of the hallmarks of the Indiana PIP is the thorough collection and analysis of child welfare data. A SharePoint (or online repository) of helpful reports was developed and made available to all field staff that measures the six national standards as well as case manager visits, practice model compliance, entries and exits, and more. Among the myriad data collection efforts are:

  • Monthly Qualitative Service Reviews (QSRs). A QSR team of evaluators visits one of the State's 18 regions each month to interview stakeholders and review 24+ cases, which are scored against 22 indicators. At the QSR conclusion, a 2-day Ground Round meeting is convened to present results to staff and stakeholders, who use the data to develop strategies and goals for improvement.
  • Quarterly Reflective Practice Surveys (RPSs) and Quality Assurance Reviews (QARs). For the RPSs, supervisors assess each worker's case management skills by interviewing families, attending Child and Family Team Meetings, and observing each worker on one case every quarter. Supervisors use the results to communicate with workers about their abilities, strengths, and challenges. A QAR is conducted in conjunction with the RPS and is designed to evaluate systemic factors in each local office by reviewing for compliance with Federal and State laws, regulations, policies, and social work best practice.
  • Indiana Child Welfare Information System (ICWIS) Service Tracking. This program tracks the date when service referrals are made against the date when services are actually administered.
  • Monitoring Regional Services. A regional service council met quarterly to review data and discuss the services needed, available, and administered. The success of this particular data collection system led to the creation of a team of regional coordinators who now evaluate service providers on a quarterly basis.

These and other robust data systems were instrumental in helping DCS identify and launch a new initiative by pointing out the great number of children in out-of-home care. Deputy Director Judkins indicates that the success thus far has been because of innovative leadership, "Director James Payne always challenges us to improve, and we measure that by achieving better outcomes for children." 

In 2011, DCS implemented its Safely Home Families First initiative. "Indiana is nationally recognized for its foster care programs. We were doing a great job of something we shouldn't have been doing," Judkins said. "It was an 'aha' moment for DCS. We figured we could achieve better outcomes by keeping kids with their families." That's when DCS began the move toward increasing in-home services and relative care.
As explained by Regina Smith, CFSR Program Manager, "The implementation of the PIP along with the Safely Home Families First Initiative is helping to move DCS from being a placement system to a permanency system." Some of the features of the data-driven initiative include:

  • Strong reliance on early Child and Family Team Meetings to ensure that families are involved in case planning
  • Emphasis on finding and engaging fathers and paternal relatives
  • Documentation of caseworker visits
  • Training on strengths-based protective factors, the practice model, concurrent planning, Independent Living services, and more
  • Outreach to partners such as courts to let them know about the new initiative and its goals

Since the initiative's kickoff, relative placement has increased and removals have decreased. Also, the number of children in congregate care has reached a new low. 

In addition to its emphasis on data, Indiana's PIP incorporates many elements from DCS's Defined Practice Model, which was developed over 4 years and centers around staff training on five core skills: teaming, engaging, assessing, planning, and intervening (TEAPI). Angela Green, Policy Director, noted, "Our practice model is our goal for what type of practice we want in the field. The PIP works in parallel with the practice model and reflects where we were going anyway. That makes it easy to continue."

To learn more about Indiana's child welfare programs, visit the Indiana DCS website:

To view a presentation on Safely Home Families First, visit: (357 KB)

Many thanks to David Judkins, Deputy Director of Field Operations, Regina Smith, CFSR Program Manager, and Angela Green, Policy Director, for providing the information for this article.