2011 Jordan Institute
16, No. 2
Supervisors Strengthening CPS Intake
Supervisors play a key role in CPS intake. Every referral requires the intake worker who takes the call and the intake supervisor to decide together whether to accept the referral and, if so, how CPS should respond. What can supervisors do to ensure intake workers are successful and the CPS intake process works as it should?
In addition, supervisors should strive to focus on the following core intake skills with intake workers:
Interpersonal skills. Since all decisions at intake are based upon information gathered, workers must be extremely skilled in interviewing and interacting with callers. To model this with workers, base your interactions on a genuine interest in being helpful. Use effective listening skills and show appreciation for staff efforts. Use feedback from direct observation to share strengths (“I noticed the reporter wasn’t prepared to give examples when you asked about things the parent has done well in the past; you didn’t rush the answer, and gave lots of time for the caller to think of and share an example.”).
Information-gathering. Workers must understand the value of each screening question and be consistent in asking all universal screening questions of reporters (i.e., substance abuse, domestic violence, medical home information). A caller may not have an answer for each question, but asking opens doors for reporters to share information they might not have considered relevant.
In direct observation and regular review of documentation, look for consistency in interviewing questions. Do workers probe for strengths? Do they ask about substance abuse? During case consultation, ask questions that mirror those on the intake form: what are the strengths of this family? Can you tell me anything good about this family? What about this family’s culture is important to know?
Investing time. Devote substantial time to discussing with workers information they have gathered, and their plan for gathering more if needed. How will staff interpret limited supervisory involvement—that is on the fly or not at all? When supervisors express commitment by investing time in workers, they present a model workers can apply to their work with reporters and families (ACP, 2004).
Documentation. Documenting information from reporters and collateral sources is the basis for key CPS decisions. It is also important for agency accountability and provides a way for the quality of the agency’s work to be highlighted. Partner with workers to review and evaluate documentation for consistency and completeness. Give corrective feedback and point out concrete examples that demonstrate workers have sharpened their skills.
Communication with peers. Encourage intake staff to continually seek information that will help them improve their work. CPS assessors and other DSS child welfare staff are an invaluable source of this information. Because they are further “downstream” in the process, they may be able to provide ideas or examples that intake staff can use to strengthen their practice. Supervisors should look for and create opportunities to facilitate this kind of communication and learning.
Be a true partner in decision-making. As one who shares responsibility and accountability for intake decisions, your knowledge of agency mandates and implications for families is a key resource. Meeting to review reported information and explore options increases the confidence you and other staff have in endorsing decisions.
Use open-ended questions to invite staff to share their thinking, such as, “What do you think about the different options we identified?” and “What other information do we need?’” Using “we” and “us” emphasizes the partnership in the CPS intake decision-making process.
Provide accessible support. There are bound to be crises. Strong supervisors understand workers need support before, during, and after a potentially volatile or urgent situation. One way to prepare workers for initial contact with a family during the assessment process is to explore the supervisee’s emotions and any perceived challenges prior to the contact (ACP, 2004). This preparation sends the message that employees are valued and respected and that you have heard their concerns. Debriefing after a disturbing or confusing situation also supports worker well-being.
The ability to build a supportive relationship with intake staff and a caring organizational climate ultimately affects the quality of the decisions at intake and the way families experience the child welfare system. Your efforts can make the difference in workers’ feelings about and competency in their work, and how others in the organization perceive and value the intake function.