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August 2012Vol. 13, No. 7Mapping Change in Child Welfare

In 2009, the Osage Nation in Oklahoma applied for assistance with practice model implementation to the Mountains and Plains Child Welfare Implementation Center (MPCWIC). The Tribe and MPCWIC embarked on a 3-year project to infuse the Osage Nation's practice model into its child welfare practice utilizing process mapping and developing an automated data system.

As for readiness, Lee Collins, Osage Nation Social Services (ONSS) Director, said ONSS and its staff stood on solid ground. The seven-person staff had nearly 100 years of combined child welfare experience, a Tribal court had been in place for 20 years, Tribal government support and permission for the project had been secured, and a memorandum of understanding was signed with MPCWIC. The Tribe also touted its steering committee as a readiness asset. The committee is composed of members from State, Tribal, and local entities across the child welfare continuum, and it meets every 8–12 weeks. Susan Ferrari, MPCWIC Project Coordinator, said ONSS had a practice model in place, but it wasn't written down and it wasn't always evidence based.

Beginning with intake, MPCWIC and ONSS developed process maps that defined every step and every stakeholder's role and responsibility through the child welfare system, which took 13 months to complete. Recognizing that child welfare work does not occur in a vacuum, ONSS invited its external and internal partners to provide input on processes, ensuring a comprehensive set of maps. One hundred percent participation by all ONSS staff members was also required.

The maps had to reflect the process. Collins said, "If we weren't using evidence-based best practices, we changed our practices. Each person had to be there as we talked through each map, each step in the process. We learned who does what and who has what information. It truly strengthened our team."

When they were complete, agency staff, the steering committee, and other stakeholders received a copy of the practice model and maps. Ferrari said this helped mitigate fidelity issues: "Giving everyone a copy of the model made it more than just a report. It meant that every member of the system, the committee, and stakeholders would be held accountable for following the model."

Stacie Hanson, MPCWIC Evaluator, added that standardizing practice provided child welfare professionals with greater support. "Workers reported that they felt backed up. If a family was upset about a decision, or if the Tribal court questioned a decision, a worker could point to the process maps and the practice model. They felt supported in their work with families, and it brought the staff together as a team."

Mary Iannone, MPCWIC Implementation Manager, noted that process mapping ensured a culturally based approach. "We worked hard to ensure the maps didn't reflect traditional western child welfare models. The Tribe reminded us how their values and worldview were different, and how and where those values fed into the system. It resulted in maps and processes that reflected the Tribe's way of doing things."

The next phase was using the practice model to guide the development of a data system and move ONSS from a paper system to a paperless system. ONSS and MPCWIC collaborated with Three Affiliated Tribes and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota, who were also in the process of implementing systems change. The distance between each project location required some creative implementation. Each month, MPCWIC, the three Tribal agencies, and their partners met via the online meeting system Webex. Consultants also conducted five 2-day onsite trainings at each location. Iannone said the semi-virtual implementation was a first: "It's never been done in Indian Country before. I don't know if it's been done across counties before. It's certainly never been done across States. It was groundbreaking."

Iannone said the staged roll out of the data system, with coaching, was influential in its success. "From the first stage of implementation, we incorporated automated case notes. Everyone in the office was exposed to the system early on and trained and coached along the way. I had never done that before and, personally, I will always recommend that approach."

The new data system offered drastic changes for Osage Nation casework. "When a call comes in, there's a need to look at whether the family has a history with the system. This automated system makes intake easier and quicker. Staff can search for providers, too. The response time is shorter, which means there is better preparation for better response time. It's a significant improvement," Iannone said.

The implementation project will end on September 30, 2012, and the final release of the data system will take place on September 15. During the transition phase between September and December, MPCWIC will provide ONSS with coaching, data system trouble shooting, and other assistance to support sustainability. While the project created positive systems change, Collins said September 30 will be a sad day: "Susan and our consultants have been with us for 3 years. To let them go will be very hard."

Special thanks to Lee Collins, Osage Nation Social Services Director, Susan Ferrari, MPCWIC Project Coordinator, Stacie Hanson, MPCWIC Evaluator, and Mary Iannone, MPCWIC Implementation Manager, for providing information for this article.