20, No. 1
Using Temporary Safety Resource Placements: Best Practices
We've talked about the benefits of using temporary safety resource placements. We've also made it clear that there can be cons. What can agencies do to maximize the benefits, minimize the cons, and achieve the best possible results for children and families?
To answer this question, we asked child welfare professionals from a number of county DSS agencies and the NC Division of Social Services what they consider best practice based on their experience. The following suggestions are based on their advice.
When Considering Safety Resource Placements
In other words, whenever possible, employ the proven technique from NC's Multiple Response System (MRS) of frontloading services. By immediately connecting the family to needed community resources, child safety is increased. This beats waiting 30 or 60 days for CPS in-home services to connect the family to services; delay may cause the family to struggle even more than when the report was made.
Remember that safety resources can be many things. For example, if the safety concern relates to alcohol or drug use, school absenteeism, medication management, medical follow up, or setting and maintaining appropriate limits, having a family member or friend come stay at the house could provide needed support, supervision, and safety without separating the family. Relatives can provide functional support to the parents and child while also being an additional set of eyes and ears in the home. In some instances it is sufficient to have relatives check in on the family on a daily basis. Respected family or friends can also be an invaluable source of emotional support and informal coaching for a parent having a hard time.
Build behaviorally-specific plans. In CPS work--even during assessments--some amount of planning must occur. When building a plan with the family, remember to be behaviorally specific. To address safety concerns, plans should clearly describe the behaviors or conditions that you want to see, not what you do not want to see.
For example, instead of "child must not miss school," a behaviorally-specific case plan might read "child will attend school every day in the next month unless the parent calls in an excused absence for illness."
As one program manager put it, "We need to be reasonable about our safety goals. We let our use of safety resources go on too long sometimes because we get stuck on 'what ifs' rather than on 'what is.'"
Using Safety Resource Placements
Rigorously assess safety resource providers. According to one agency we spoke with, if the court eventually becomes involved in the family's case, the judge sometimes sees the initial DSS approval of a safety resource provider as a "blessing" that sets a precedent. This can lead to the court ordering formal placement with the safety resource provider, even if DSS has learned more and now has concerns about that provider. Their advice: use those kinship assessment forms seriously and with great care.
Give full disclosure to the safety resource provider. A family member or friend taking on responsibility for the child deserves to know what they are signing on for and how uncertain the outcome of the family's involvement with CPS can be. For example, DSS cannot guarantee the child will return home within a particular time frame ("It will only be for a month while we do our assessment"), since individual family situations may play out so differently. See the next page for an example of a written document one county uses to facilitate full disclosure with safety resource providers.
Involve safety resource providers. Give them a seat at the table. Actively include them in planning and keep them up to date on time frames, services, and expectations. Involve them in child and family team meetings (CFTs) so everyone is fully informed.
Actively support safety resource providers. Caring for a child is a big undertaking. Safety resource providers may need support to address financial, behavioral, or emotional challenges that occur when children come to live with them. Although they are doing it voluntarily, they face the same challenges faced by kinship and non-relative foster care providers.
Don't let safety resource placements go on too long. Safety resource placements are supposed to last only as long as it takes to gather the information needed to reach a decision about whether the immediate safety concern can be adequately addressed and the children returned home. This will probably be anywhere from several days to as long as 60 days. If the agency is uncomfortable returning the children home after a reasonably brief period, it should consider petitioning the court for custody.