We live in a consumer society. Each of us, like it or not, is a consumer. We buy gifts for our loved ones, food to get us through the week, and other services when we need them.
Each purchase, each buying decision is surprisingly complicated, requiring us to assess our needs, shop around to see what is available, and then make a purchase based on price and other information. When we’re happy with what we picked out, we feel smart and satisfied. When we’re not, we vow to do better next time.
If you work in child welfare, the situation is a bit more complex, because quite often your job calls upon you to be a consumer of services on behalf of vulnerable children and families. In most areas of the service continuum—particularly in-home services and foster care—child welfare professionals must be savvy consumers and “tough customers” with the ability to recognize and get high quality services for children and families.
This can be a tall order. For the most part, you must develop the knowledge and skill needed to do this on the job. You don’t have a Consumer Reports you can use to guide your decisions.
A Broad Range of Service Needs
The range of services needed by the families and children involved with the child welfare system is incredibly broad. It is not unusual for child welfare professionals to be responsible for selecting or connecting families with services in many different areas, including:
- Anger management
- Batterer/abuser treatment
- Medical/physical health
- Mental health therapies
- Parenting classes
- Psychological evaluations
- Sex offender treatment
- Substance abuse treatment
Even if you can identify precisely what a child or family needs, appropriate services can be difficult to find. Shifting availability of resources as providers come and go and the landscape changes can be a problem in all communities.
At the same time, this is a challenge that must be met. Ensuring children get appropriate and timely services can have a direct connection not only to their well-being, but sometimes to their permanence and safety as well. What you do as a consumer of services on behalf of families and children can have serious and far-reaching consequences.
This issue of Practice Notes offers information to help you be a good “consumer” in the field of child welfare in North Carolina. Among other things, this issue:
- Explores the concept of evidence-based practice (EBP) and defines many of the categories of evidence-based practices in children’s mental health
- Explains how to use the medical home approach to help improve the quality of health and mental health care services received by families and children
- Discusses ways for you to make a long-term difference by empowering the families you serve and teaching them to be savvy consumers on their own.
Contents of this Issue