• November 2010
  • Vol. 11, No. 9

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Achieving Safety Through Collaboration

In 2008, the New England Association of Child Welfare Commissioners and Directors (NEACWCD) partnered with Casey Family Programs to launch a regional Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) on Safety and Risk Assessments with 22 teams from six New England States. The BSC is a quality improvement methodology that uses existing knowledge to test multiple ideas, measure results, and then implement new strategies and tools on a very small scale. The participating teams simultaneously share lessons learned and new initiatives with other teams so that successes can be quickly expanded.

Common Ground, the NEACWCD newsletter for New England child welfare professionals, provides a snapshot of the team experiences in its July 2010 issue. The selected teams were composed of staff at a variety of levels, youth, parents, and community partners from each participating jurisdiction. They all shared a common history of innovation and risk taking as well as previous participation in the Breakthrough Series.   

Common Ground
articles present highlights from the teams, such as:

  • The Malden Area Office of Massachusetts Department of Children and Families moved towards the implementation of an Integrated Case Practice Model (ICPM) as the framework to support the spread of the promising practices. The goals of improving safety and risk assessments and keeping families safe were set in motion through a process of "Plan Do Study Act," commonly known as PDSAs.
  • In Meriden, CT, the BSC allowed practitioners to explore new and creative ways to engage and deliver services to their families, while acquiring a better understanding of their strengths. Staff have particularly appreciated having a Parent Advocate as an equal partner. 
  • In Augusta, ME, the goal of the BSC was to improve the assessment of safety and risk throughout the life of a case and, as a result, increase the timeliness of reunifications. Through the collaboration with community partners, teams were able to identify an immediate unmet need and find a way to fill the gap.
  • Nashua, NH's BSC provided teams with a tool to review their practice and change it by creating and testing PDSAs. The fact that everyone could create or test a change in practice has made staff members feel empowered and able to better serve children and families.
  • As Vermont moved to a differential response system last year, the BSC was instrumental in providing the structure for change in St. Albans. This new process has enhanced staff's ability to assess their strengths and explore new areas for growth as individual social workers and as members of a team and their community.
  • In East-West Bay, RI, participation in the BSC has encouraged the collaboration between the child welfare agency, community providers, and families, while giving everyone equal input. Through communications with other States, staff have had the opportunity to gain insight into their agency's strengths and look at new ways to improve their practices.

The articles note that the BSC program effectively mobilized child welfare agencies to explore new ideas and enhance learning skills. Key recommendations focus on the importance of institutionalizing youth and parent engagement through policy and practice. 

Common Ground
, Volume XXV, Number 2, is available on the Judge Baker Children Center, Harvard University, website:

www.jbcc.harvard.edu/publications/cg/Common%20Ground%20July%202010.pdf (4.68 MB)

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