Decision making is a key task in most professions, and child welfare is no exception. Indeed, it is central to our work, where we must routinely answer questions such as:
- Should the agency accept this report of suspected child maltreatment?
- Can this child safely remain at home?
- Do we know enough to reach a case decision? If so, what should it be?
- If out-of-home placement is necessary, where should we place the child?
- Is it safe for this child to return home?
- If this child can't go home, how can we help her achieve permanence?
These and the other decisions we face are frequently complicated by the presence of complex issues such as abuse and neglect and their effects, domestic violence, substance abuse, poverty, and mental illness and behavioral health problems, as well as organizational challenges such as large caseloads and staff turnover.
Yet it is important that we get things right. Our state's child welfare policy requires and recommends various things to help us. For example, policy calls for the use of structured decision making tools (SDM) to support our clinical judgments. It provides decision trees to help us screen reports. And it mandates child and family team meetings (CFTs) at key decision points because their use can lead to better family outcomes. The NC Division of Social Services' OSRI/case review and monitoring teams also provide feedback to help agencies strengthen their decisions.
Even with all these supports, child welfare professionals are always looking for new ways to ensure their decisions are fair, well-informed, and lead to the best possible outcomes for children and their families. We hope this issue will be useful to you in your quest for improvement.
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