2011 Jordan Institute
16, No. 2
Educating Community Partners about CPS Intake/Screening
North Carolina county DSS agencies have an ongoing need to communicate with community members, especially those who make a high percentage of CPS referrals. Many professionals across the state are still unfamiliar with the family assessment response and the increased focus on family-centered, strengths-based practice that has characterized our child welfare system since MRS began.
Here are some ideas for targeting your community education efforts, especially as they relate to CPS intake and screening:
Review and understand your data. County DSS agency records should include the referral source for all calls to CPS. This can help you understand referral patterns over time. The Division’s site at http://ssw.unc.edu/ma/ contains information on the referral sources for accepted reports. (Look under “Abuse and Neglect,” “Longitudinal Data,” and then “Reports of Abuse and Neglect.”)
Once they have the data in hand, CPS supervisors and their units should explore it guided by questions such as:
Use notice to reporters to educate callers. Gates County DSS uses family-centered language and provides a brief explanation of family assessments and investigative assessments in the notice it gives to reporters. It is part of the supervisory toolkit: http://www.ncdhhs.gov/dss/best_practices_pilot/index.htm.
Provide written material to community partners to prepare them for the Intake call. It helps when professionals who make CPS referrals know in advance the types of questions they will be asked. In addition to the need for basic information on the child, the living situation, and the reason for the call, include questions that surprise some callers. For example: What are the strengths of this family? How do family members usually solve this problem? What do you think can be done to make this child safer? Is there anything you can do to help the family? Be proactive in letting other professionals know that DSS operates from a position of partnership and building on strengths.
Use in-person training for key referral sources. While getting out into the community takes time away from other pressing duties, face-to-face contact with key report sources can save time down the road. Include staff that perform intake and the supervisors who help make screening decisions in your community education efforts. Just as you do with families, start from a strengths-based perspective by focusing on past successes with the partner, and brainstorming together to overcome common barriers. Sharing the specific state statutes that guide screening decisions will help you explain the limits of DSS intervention.
Reinforce joint ownership/joint solutions. The entire community shares responsibility for helping families: there is no such thing as a “DSS family.” Community partners may need a gentle, inspiring reminder that successfully preventing and intervening in child maltreatment cannot be done by one agency, but takes the will and attention of professionals and community members alike.