August 2012Vol. 13, No. 7Safety Assessment and Management in WV
In 2009, West Virginia's safety outcomes were poor, and the practice model used by the Bureau of Children and Families (BCF) was not working. Acceptance rates for reports to child protective services were high, as were rates of repeat maltreatment. That same year, the State was one of five States selected by the Children's Bureau's Atlantic Coast Child Welfare Implementation Center (ACCWIC) for a funded project. The project focused on the implementation of a new practice model that shifted the decision-making approach from risk to safety. Three years later, outcomes have improved, staff remain committed to the model, and implementation continues to bring about positive change.
BCF and ACCWIC collaborated to implement the safety model Safety Assessment and Management System (SAMS). SAMS consists of four family assessments, which were rolled out in two phases of two assessments each. This approach allowed BCF to evaluate the first phase and make changes accordingly. Because each assessment in SAMS builds on the previous assessment, a staged rollout allowed staff to build proficiency and develop skills. The sequential assessment, however, also proved to be a barrier. "There was some disconnect," said Susan Richards, Director of BCF Training and SAMS Project Director, "between the initial assessments and family assessments."
Richards said paying attention to readiness issues upfront is the key to practice model implementation and success. BCF conducted several initial readiness activities, two of which were the most fruitful: (1) careful choosing and training of Special Forces members—program managers, supervisors, child welfare consultants, and trainers who provide SAMS assistance to staff throughout the State—and (2) thoughtful selection of the order in which districts would implement the model. "The districts with strong leadership and a Special Forces presence were implemented first. Additionally, leadership was educated prior to implementation, and there was communication between the supervisors and field staff to prepare them for the upcoming changes in practice." She also said that strong leadership to drive and support staff is essential: "Staff won't develop these skills overnight. Motivation and encouragement are necessary to keep them vested in the process. We changed the implementation plan halfway through the process to place more emphasis on supervisors. We also added a supervisory proficiency assessment that focuses on the supervisor's ability to consult with their staff on the model."
SAMS data were incorporated into the State Automated Child Welfare Information System, FACTS. FACTS features Federal outcomes data, and fidelity data is currently being integrated into the dashboards. Due to budget constraints, the dashboards are accessible only to managers; however, managers can and do share the data with their supervisors and staff. Richards added that FACTS is currently used in the field for the intake assessment, but systemic issues have delayed the implementation of the Family Functioning Assessment. Additionally, BCF is working to resolve issues with software and broadband access.
As for fidelity, data from the second round of fidelity reviews on the first two assessments show that fidelity has remained the same from the first review to the second. Fidelity reviews for the second two assessments will begin this fall. Outcomes, especially repeat maltreatment, have shown great improvement. The national average for absence of maltreatment recurrence from 2008 to 2011 was 94.60 percent. West Virginia's rates have aligned more closely with the national average over the past 3 years.
- In 2008, West Virginia's absence of maltreatment recurrent rate was 89.28 percent.
- In 2009, the absence of maltreatment recurrent rate was 91.54 percent.
- In 2010, the absence of maltreatment recurrent rate 95.60 percent.
- In 2011, the absence of maltreatment recurrent rate 97.62 percent.
In 2008, nearly 72 percent of case referrals to child protective services were accepted. By 2012, West Virginia's referral acceptance rates dropped to 51 percent.
To ensure sustainability, West Virginia is undergoing a sustainability planning process with the assistance of ACCWIC. A planning team was formed and consists of BCF and SAMS leaders, who are examining all the strategies used to implement SAMS, prioritizing them, and making decisions about whether to carry them forward or make modifications. Richards said the planning process should be completed by the fall.
As a final lesson learned, Richards said maintaining a positive attitude is crucial for achieving positive change. "Keeping a positive attitude has to be conveyed from leadership to supervisors to workers. When workers begin to have successes in this process, it tends to raise their personal self-awareness of why these changes were implemented and the positive impact this process has on the families with whom they work."
Many thanks to Susan Richards, Director of Training and West Virginia SAMS Project Director at the West Virginia Department Bureau of Children and Families, who provided the information for this article.
Children's Bureau Express highlighted West Virginia's implementation of SAMS in 2010 in the article "West Virginia Implements Integrated Safety System" (October 2010).