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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 25, No. 2
April 2020

District Collaboratives Seek to Boost Permanency Outcomes in NC

North Carolina believes poor collaboration between its legal and child welfare systems sometimes hampers its ability to achieve timely permanence for children in foster care (NCDSS, 2014). To address this barrier, the NC Division of Social Services (NC DSS) and the NC Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) are using a new approach called District Permanency Collaboratives.

A Focus on Outcomes
District Permanency Collaboratives exist to improve permanency outcomes in a specific judicial district. The central question for each Collaborative is: "Is what we are doing getting the intended outcome...timely permanency for children?"

Collaboratives meet on at least a quarterly basis to discuss local performance and identify ways to improve it. Collaborative participants include (but are not limited to) directors and attorneys from county child welfare agencies, judges (chief and/or juvenile court), district administrators and attorney advocates from the GAL program, parent attorneys, and clerks of court in the district (NC DHHS, 2019).

Piloted in 2018, District Permanency Collaboratives are now operating in all of North Carolina's 41 judicial districts. (For a map of our state's district court districts, click here.)

Sharing and Understanding Data
Collaboratives are strongly encouraged to use continuous quality improvement (CQI). At its most basic, CQI means using information to understand and increase the effectiveness of our efforts.

To support this approach, every quarter North Carolina provides Collaboratives with something called the Permanency Performance Profile. This profile combines administrative data from the court system (JWISE), child welfare administrative data, and case review data from the Onsite Review Instrument (OSRI). Many of the measures on the profile align with the NC Early Childhood Action Plan's goal of achieving permanent families for children in foster care.

For more information, see "Intro to Permanency Profiles" and "Permanency Profile Usage Guide" on this page. For more on CQI, county child welfare staff can take the course Using Data to Improve Practice & Performance.

After they meet, Collaboratives use a documentation tool to update NC DSS and AOC on their progress. This tool summarizes the group's discussion, identifies ongoing challenges, and highlights successful practices in the district (NCDHHS, 2019). North Carolina is using these updates to guide efforts to support permanency across the state.

To learn more and find resources for District Permanency Collaboratives, follow this link.

District Permanency Collaboratives: Spotlight on District 21

To gain insight into how Collaboratives work, Practice Notes spoke with John Thacker, Family & Children's Division Director at Forsyth County DSS, and Lisa Menefee, Chief District Court Judge from the 21st Judicial District (Forsyth County).

How did your district get started and what are your priority areas?

Mr. Thacker: We began by identifying several priority areas with our judicial partners. These include (1) enhancing the network of resources in the community to make it easier to serve children and parents, (2) using court time more efficiently and providing more court time, and (3) increasing the number of GAL and parent attorneys.

We also decided to meet monthly. We felt meeting more often was needed to tackle the needs of our child welfare cases.

What advice do you have for other Collaboratives?

Mr. Thacker: Communication is key. Dialogue isn't always easy--tough conversations need to happen. But we are all invested in positive outcomes for children and families. Nurturing relationships with each partner enables us to have the cohesion needed to work together effectively.

It's also important to advocate for resources in your community. This takes relationships with stakeholders and providers. Having parent attorneys and the chief judge engaged in this process speaks volumes.

Why do you think the Collaborative is going so well in your district?

Judge Menefee: What helped us start was having a meal together and getting to know each other as people. We recognized it was important to move away from being rigid and stuck in our roles and to really listen to one another. We started being willing to try new things, hear feedback from one another, and create an environment where we could be efficient, thoughtful, and never lose sight of the families we all serve.

We strive to understand each other. We are curious and thankful for what each other do. If we don't understand or don't agree, we have hard but important conversations to find a way to understand different perspectives.

We also ask questions about what we can do better in our various roles. This engenders respect and keeps the conversation going. We all share the same belief: it's about the families, not the titles.

References for this and other articles in this issue