• Dec 2011/Jan 2012
  • Vol. 12, No. 9

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Site Visit: A Model for CFAs in Ramsey County, MN

Ramsey County (MN) Community Human Services Department (RCCHSD), funded through a 2007 Children's Bureau grant, is implementing a comprehensive family assessment (CFA) program to develop a more consistent, holistic, family-centered, and culturally responsive approach to in-home and out-of-home child welfare assessment. The CFA model is grounded in two practices: strengths-focused practice, whereby caseworkers help families identify and build on their strengths, and critical thinking and analysis, which caseworkers use to gather and assess information and design a case plan that is most likely to change behaviors.

From training to supervision to documentation, nearly every phase of RCCHSD's assessment program has been redesigned, incorporating the new CFA model in the following ways:

  • Intake staff receive ongoing training to conduct child safety assessments and develop safety plans that focus on the specific parental behaviors that must change to eliminate risk and ensure protection. Safety is assessed in several areas within the family, including physical and mental health, income and housing, parenting style, kinship supports, etc., which results in a more organized and thorough method of evaluation.
  • Program staff receive ongoing training to focus on the family's functioning to determine the underlying causes of behaviors that put the child at risk, and this assessment forms the basis for case plans—developed through a 10-step process in five stages—targeting parental behaviors requiring change.
  • Supervisors and coaches aid critical thinking and analysis that creates awareness and promotes responsibility so that workers can come to conclusions on their own, which enhances their competence.

RCCHSD's assessment of family functioning focuses on parents' protective capacities. These include the skills and resources on which the family can draw to keep children safe. Three types of protective capacities are assessed:

  • Cognitive Protective Capacity assesses parents' awareness and understanding of their protective roles and ability to assess threats and recognize children's needs. 
  • Emotional Protective Capacity assesses the relationship between parents' motivation to protect children based on the emotional bond and their connection with and compassion for children.
  • Behavioral Protective Capacity assesses parents' protective actions in the face of their own needs and/or physical capabilities.

RCCHSD recognizes that engaging families means responding to and building an understanding of varying cultural needs and sensitivities. More than 50 percent of families—and more than 70 percent of children—receiving services are persons of color. In order to be culturally responsive to all children and families, the CFA implementation team has embraced the county's antiracism initiative and developed core principles that foster an environment conducive to the multicultural backgrounds of its clients and workers.

Staff turnover, time constraints, documentation quality, and engagement with fathers are among the few implementation challenges; however, RCCHSD has reviewed details of each challenge and devised plans to address them through training. The many successful strategies of CFA implantation include, but are not limited to:

  • A gradual phase-in of the CFA model for Intake and Program workers before a formal training to provide workers with a foundation of key terms, concepts, and strategies, enabling greater retention of new practices
  • Increased information transfer between Intake and Program staff to allow for more cohesive case files and stronger case planning
  • Ongoing case planning to incorporate successes and progress as a direct result of family-centered case plans based on behaviors and family functioning over compliance  

For more information about this project, contact Dr. Jenny Gordon, Ramsey County Project Manager, at jenny.gordon@co.ramsey.mn.us

The full site visit report will soon be posted on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website:


The Model for Comprehensive Family Assessments is funded by the Children's Bureau (Award #90-CA-1753).This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from Children's Bureau site visits. 

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