September/October 2011Vol. 12, No. 7Idaho Soars to Success With PIP Completion
Using a teamwork approach that relied on the direct involvement and commitment of the State's regional offices and individual workers, Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) successfully closed out its second-round Program Improvement Plan (PIP) in May 2011. The PIP is a Federal requirement to improve child welfare services in areas identified by the State's Child and Family Services Review (CFSR). The completion of the process was celebrated in Boise with a profusion of kites that reflected the PIP theme of "Soaring to Success." Across the State, regions held similar celebrations, using "parties in a box" prepared by Central Office DHW.
Shirley Alexander, the State's Child Welfare Program Manager, cited the collaborative nature as the key to the Idaho PIP process: "We all knew where we were going, and we knew that the individual social workers would have to do the work to get there. It takes a person committed to changing their own practices in order to change the system. We asked them not to do more—just to do it differently—and we gave them a picture of what that 'different' would look like. It truly was a strengths-based process."
Idaho began its PIP process in tandem with the Statewide Assessment process, inviting many of the same 85 stakeholders and community partners, including social workers, foster and birth parents, law enforcement, university partners, contractors, youth, and more. At the kickoff meeting, small groups of stakeholders discussed the areas needing improvement from the recent Child and Family Services Review and were able to group the issues for PIP planning. Five themes emerged and were used as a framework for communicating common goals to regions and workers.
The five themes and some of the related PIP strategies included the following:
- Maintain children safely in their homes. To decrease the number of children removed from home by law enforcement, the DHW trained officers on safety and risk factors and developed a decision tree to help officers determine when children could remain in the home.
- Engage families. Focus was placed on increasing the quality and quantity of contact with families. Family Group Decision-Making (FGDM) was promoted; after realizing positive results with FGDM, use of this practice jumped from 40 percent to 90 percent.
- Promote placement stability. Working with the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections on concurrent engagement and family finding, DHW expedited its foster care licensure process for relative or kinship parents, which resulted in a spike in relative placement from 17 percent to 30 percent.
- Enhance child permanency. DHW worked with courts and the National Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues to develop a 90-day concurrent planning form as well as a legal representation team and court training for counties where a lack of consistent legal representation led to poorer outcomes.
- Provide organizational structure to support and implement practice changes. DHW used process mapping of the adoption and foster care licensing process to identify 22 items that needed to change, including evaluation of home studies, the need for a dual-licensure process, and the lack of a web-based application for foster parent applications, to improve timeliness to permanency.
For the PIP kickoff, Alexander and the Division Administrator met with the State's seven regional offices to discuss the five themes. Laminated cards listing the themes were issued to social workers to keep on their desks; as the goals were met, new cards were mailed out with four, three, two, and then one goal remaining. Every social worker always knew where Idaho stood in its PIP process. The DHW Central Office made more regional visits at the PIP midpoint, and regions that struggled with the goals received additional visits and training specific to their problem areas.
Throughout the process, data were available to all workers through a shared drive. Regional outcomes were displayed in green, yellow, or red as soon as a user accessed the Division's InfoNet. The high visibility promoted compliance and, more importantly, said Alexander, it "allowed regional offices to see that compliance was possible." When a regional office struggled to meet benchmarks, it was asked to develop a Regional Improvement Plan, a parallel process to the State PIP.
The quantity of data and the increased access to data reflected the self-evaluative nature of this PIP process. Compared to Idaho's first PIP, this second-round PIP concentrated more on local change and on involving regions and workers in tracking data.
This focus on collaboration with individual workers and regions and on tracking data to show outcomes paid off for Idaho. Many of the new strategies will be maintained because workers and regions have been able to document their positive improvements. Playing on the kite theme, Alexander commented that, "While workers know how hard it is to keep their kites in the air, they’ve also shown that willingness to adopt new methods and work hard pay off for Idaho's children and families."
To learn more about Idaho's child welfare programs, visit the Idaho DHW website:
Many thanks to Shirley Alexander, Idaho Child Welfare Program Manager, and Kathy Morris, Idaho Child Welfare Program Specialist, for providing the information for this article.