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Vol. 14, No. 1
April 2009

Accomplishments and Continuing Challenges

In August 2002, our state launched a novel, multifaceted approach to working with families called the Multiple Response System, or MRS. With input from county DSS agencies, families, and other stakeholders, over the years MRS was refined and improved until it eventually was adopted as the standard for child welfare practice statewide in January 2006.

It’s been a good thing—MRS has helped North Carolina improve its performance. For example, since MRS we have:

  • Reduced the percentage of children who experience repeat maltreatment
  • Reduced the percentage of children who are maltreated in foster care, and
  • Increased the percentage of children adopted within 24 months of entering foster care (USDHHS, 2008).

MRS contributed to these and other achievements by making our child welfare system more family-centered at every level.

We should be proud. At the same time, there is still much to be done. The 2007 Child and Family Services Review made clear that child welfare agencies in North Carolina need to do a better job in many areas. Among other things, our state’s Program Improvement Plan (PIP) asks us to focus on:

  • Strengthening supervision to ensure the use of family-centered practices and the implementation of policy regarding MRS and System of Care
  • Making initial and continued contact with absent parents, particularly fathers
  • Critically examining our Structured Decision Making Tools and completing a risk assessment validation study

This issue of Practice Notes describes some of things our state is doing to address these continuing challenges and to realize the full promise of family-centered practice.

MRS & The Family-Centered Approach: A View from the Field

One DSS program manager from a large (Level III) agency recently told us what she thought of MRS:
What impact has MRS had on child welfare practice in my agency? Philosophically, it has meant moving to a place where we are genuinely trying to join with families in assessing what their needs are and what they think it will take to move them to a better place.

I think that being able to address issues/concerns without labeling someone as neglectful is very powerful—it helps us more quickly engage families in making change . . . .

"With MRS, we are genuinely trying to join with families in assessing what their needs are and what they think it will take to move them to a better place."

Personally, I feel that having the two tracks to address different levels of cases is a huge benefit to families and staff. As a worker, I hated that I had to address a “dirty house” case in the same manner/format as a sexual abuse or physical abuse case.

The ability to be much more family-centered is very important. I am honestly able, with our process now, to always encourage staff to visualize how they would want to be treated if DSS was knocking on their door. I think having an alternative to that “always forensic” model allows us to actually do social work from the start.

We really have moved beyond being “investigators,” which sounds so police force to me, to being assessors of what the family’s needs are and hooking the family up with appropriate resources.


Contents of this Issue

Tips for Developing and Retaining Family-Centered Staff

A Strategic Plan to Support North Carolina's Child Welfare Supervisors

Bringing Absent Parents into the Picture

What Can Child Welfare Workers Do to Involve Fathers?

North Carolina's Family Finding Project

Assessing Father Involvement in Your County

Assessing Risk Assessment in North Carolina

North Carolina's Child Welfare System Focuses on the Courts

References for this Issue

Click here to read or print the entire issue as a pdf file


Additional resources related to this topic:

  • Father Friendly Check-Up for Child Welfare Agencies and Organizations
    An assessment designed by the National Fatherhood Initiative to help Child Welfare Agencies and Organizations take an active, positive approach in creating an environment that involves fathers and fosters the healthy development of children.

    Find out the Top-Ten Tips to Be a Better Dad

    The Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today released a guide for child welfare workers to help fathers have a positive impact on their children’s lives. “The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children” is the first guide for professionals that focuses specifically on how they can more effectively engage fathers whose children come to the attention of the child welfare system.

    “Fathers play a crucial role in the healthy development of their children,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, Wade F. Horn, Ph.D. “This manual gives fathers practical advice about their responsibilities to their children as providers, protectors and mentors.”

    The guide includes practical advice about these topics and more:

    • Tips for dads: caring for new moms
    • How to handle a crying baby
    • Ten ways to be a better dad
    • Twenty long distance activities for dads living at a distance
    • How to work with special needs children

    To view this manual, along with others in the User Manual Series, available from the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, log on to:

  • Training Opportunities for Fathers
    The National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has developed a series of curricula for teaching fathering skills. Each program offers all the materials needed to present the course to individuals or small groups. The topics covered include in-depth fathering skills, healthcare and home safety for fathers of infants and toddlers, and programs for incarcerated fathers and fathers deployed in the military.

    NFI also offers capacity building workshops for organizations looking to create or expand their programs and services to fathers. The cost of the curricula and workshops vary. Details and ordering information are available on the NFI website, Fatherhood Online, at

  • The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children
    This manual discusses what is known about a father's connection to his child's well-being, including his role in the occurrence and prevention of maltreatment. Also included are practical guidance for starting and running a fatherhood program, examples of existing programs, and information on Federal fatherhood initiatives. CPS agencies can also use this information to ensure that they are providing a father-friendly environment.