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2002 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 7, No. 4
August 2002

Family-Centered Practice in Action: A Case Example

Darrin, age 4, and Corrinne, age 3, attend a childcare center while their mother, Shawna, age 22, works at a dry cleaning business. One afternoon, the teacher in the center noticed bruises on Darrin’s buttocks. She reported this to the center’s social worker, Lisa. Lisa contacted the local child protection agency. This call was the fifth report to DSS on this family; the fourth was just a few months ago concerning unsanitary conditions and continual violence in the home. The father of these children, Doug, age 25, has a history of incarceration and domestic violence. Doug and Shawna were evicted from their apartment due to frequent calls to the police about their constant fighting. When Shawna separated from Doug and moved to public housing, the case was closed. However, Shawna still had fears that her children could be taken away from her.

Based on the report information, DSS placed the case in the “family assessment” track – due to allegations of environment being injurious to the welfare of the child. That evening Diane, the social worker, met with Shawna and her children at their apartment to ensure that the children were safe and to offer them emergency services.

Diane and Shawna discussed how Darrin became bruised. Shawna readily admitted “whipping” him for misbehaving and showed Diane his bruises. Shawna openly discussed with Diane her difficult living conditions and problems including lack of money, transportation, and support from relatives who were no longer willing to help her. During their discussion, Doug arrived. He was defensive and refused to answer questions. He said that he wanted people out of his personal business and stormed out of the apartment.

Diane offered Shawna and her children emergency shelter and family support services to avoid out-of-home placement. Shawna accepted. Shawna also agreed to meet the next day at a local social service agency that offered a variety of services to the community.

After this first meeting, Diane concluded that services were required for this family, but that she also would recommended additional supports to the family. There was no immediate threat to the safety of the children nor any criminal violation, and Shawna showed a cooperative attitude by accepting services that would stabilize the family.

Lisa and Diane met Shawna at the social service agency the next day. Doug was there too, encouraged by the positive approach Shawna had told him about. They explored with them what supports they had, what had worked for the family in the past, and what they felt like they needed now. Shawna was worried about the unsafe, unsanitary living conditions in public housing, and also indicated the need for respite care. Lisa explained the various programs available to the family from local organizations, as well as the local governmental agency. Shawna was especially interested in the Mother-to-Mother mentoring program offered through a local church that provided support, parenting skills, and friendship.

Doug was quiet and withdrawn, but as he listened, he indicated that he wanted to be a better parent to his children. A neighborhood acquaintance of his helped out at the social services agency, and Doug agreed to talk with him about getting involved in a fatherhood program. Both Shawna and Doug were surprised to find out about so many other resources in their neighborhood that could help them.


  • How would this case have been treated differently if it had undergone a traditional child protective investigation?

  • From what you know, were safety issues addressed?

  • What are the benefits to the family of the “family assessment” track?

  • What are the benefits to the local department of social services of having an “family assessment” track?

Source: National Child Welfare Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice, Best Practice/Next Practice, 2(1), Spring 2001. Adapted to reflect N.C. multiple response practice.