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2011 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 16, No. 2
April 2011

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:

  • What surprises you?
  • Are there parts of the community that report more or less often than you would have thought?
  • Are there sources who make referrals that are more likely to be screened out?
  • What common messages can we put out in our community about CPS, and what messages might we tailor to specific groups?
  • If you look at reports by race of child, are there any sources who are more likely to report children of color?
  • What can we do to educate our referral sources?

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.

Notice Is a Key Means of Education, Communication

North Carolina policy requires CPS agencies to give written notice to reporters, unless waived or anonymous, within 5 business days after receipt of the report. Notice sends the message that the reporter is a respected partner of DSS and helps reporters know children are safe.

  • The notice must include a statement about whether the referral was accepted for assessment. Cite relevant statutes and provide a brief description of the type of CPS response used (investigative or family assessment).
  • The notice should refer to the child victim using the descriptor given by the reporter when making the referral. Thus, if the reporter specifically identifies the child’s name, use that name. If the reporter does not know the child’s name, use whatever descriptor for the child the reporter used.
  • List the identity of the county conducting the CPS assessment.
  • Include a statement encouraging the reporter to contact the agency if more information or concerns about the child or family surface.

To read the full policy regarding notification of reporters, go to (http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/csm-60/man/CS1407.htm).

References for this and other articles in this issue