• September 2008
  • Vol. 9, No. 7

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South Dakota's Case Planning Approach

South Dakota participated in its second Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) in May 2008, and one of the outstanding strategies identified through the review was the State's revamped approach to case planning. Leaving behind an incident-based process that gave families little opportunity for active participation, South Dakota worked with the National Resource Center for Child Protective Services (NRCCPS) to develop and implement a new model focused on safety management and designed to promote family participation. Over the last several years, the State has trained supervisors and family services specialists in the new model, building up a network of expertise across all regions of the State.

The new model for case planning focuses on safety threats and is family-driven. When a report of possible maltreatment is received, a family services specialist conducts an Initial Family Assessment, working with the family to determine if there are immediate safety threats and, if so, to develop a protective plan. The case is then transferred to case management for the Protective Capacity Assessment (PCA)—a four-step case planning process with focused outcomes and services designed to address the specific conditions in the home threatening the child's safety. The four steps include:

  • Preparation, in which staff learn about the family
  • Introduction, in which the caseworker helps the family understand the PCA process
  • Discovery, which is a mutual process of exploring and identifying what must change to enhance diminished caregiver protective capacities
  • Case planning, involving the development of the behavior outcomes, along with a plan of activities and treatment services leading to the case plan finalization

Throughout the process, parents help decide how to best keep their children safe. Family services specialists encourage parent engagement through techniques that include reflective listening, reframing, and empowerment, and they pose questions to promote parental self-determination, such as:

  • What do you see as the problem?
  • What needs to be done to keep your children safe?
  • Who else in your family or community should be involved?
  • What would work best for you?

The resulting case plan is written to include parents'—and sometimes, children's—own words. For instance, a parent's goal may be, "I'm not gonna lose my cool anymore!" Using the exact words of parents validates their participation and strengthens their investment in the plan.

The new approach is already showing positive results, according to Merlin Weyer and Pamela Bennett of the State's Department of Social Services and the CFSR team. Parents in the child welfare system recognize the new model, and most appreciate the spirit of partnership that it offers them. Bennett, along with regional members of the workgroup, has spent considerable time in educating and sharing information about the new model with stakeholders such as treatment providers. Staff are enthusiastic about the process because it has given them tools and a solid framework for helping families. Finally, the latest data on reunification and maltreatment recurrence indicate that the PCA model is having positive results for children and families. According to Weyer, "The PCA allows us to work with families earlier on the real behaviors that are causing their children to be unsafe. We're not just checking off parents' class completion—we're actually working with parents toward specific behavioral goals, and that's producing positive results for children."

Bennett takes a broad view of the success: "The new case plan model is really just one part of South Dakota's larger systems change effort in child welfare. We're not there yet; we're still improving, but we know we're on the right track with this process."

Many thanks to Merlin Weyer, Assistant Division Director, and Pamela Bennett, Program Specialist, of the Division of Child Protection Services of South Dakota's Department of Social Services, who provided the information for this article.

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