The Community Partnerships for Protecting Children (Community Partnership) initiative is multi-faceted ? designed to promote prevention of child abuse and to increase early interventions in cases of child maltreatment. Pinpointing the exact effects of the Community Partnership approach has proven a challenging task, but is clearly a vital one.
There are many variables that affect child maltreatment reporting, and it is difficult to measure the impact of prevention efforts. Fully recognizing the challenge, the Center for Community Partnerships in Child Welfare is committed to understanding the impact of the Community Partnership strategies and commissioned the University of Chicago?s Chapin Hall Center for Children to evaluate the implementation and outcome achievement of the approach. Chapin Hall released detailed findings from its ongoing multi-year evaluation in the fall of 2005. In addition, Iowa is conducting self-evaluation efforts, a core responsibility of the Community Partnership approach.
This section provides an overview of the Chapin Hall results, what we are learning, what are the encouraging findings, and what sort of work is still to be done.
Community Partnerships for Protecting Children
Chapin Hall Evaluation
Chapin Hall has completed and released an evaluation of the four original Community Partnership for Protecting Children (CPPC) pilot sites, Cedar Rapids, Louisville, Jacksonville, and St Lois. The Chapin Hall evaluation points to some very promising directions for child welfare along with some significant challenges and many questions that have yet to be fully answered.
The evaluators found that families who participated in the CPPC approach showed modest gains in areas of reducing parental depression and stress, improvements in child safety and renewed trust in state child protection services. All of the four original pilot sites including Cedar Rapids showed improvements on at least one indicator of child safety.
The evaluation was limited two fold in that the design of the study was a cross-site evaluation and that it relied on state administrative data. It is important to note that in this cross-site evaluation, the findings were determined to be significant only if they could be validated in at least three of the four sites. This approach limits the assessment of what each site actually accomplished. The Chapin Hall Evaluation found no consistent positive trends across the four original sites on child abuse reports, subsequent reports, and placement rates as a result of the CPPC initiative.
The report acknowledged that each of these pilot sites struggled with high caseloads, a reduced child welfare budget, and high abuse levels. Implementing all four CPPC strategies involved multiple, simultaneous changes and innovations. Another challenge identified by the four sites was that data was collected while many of the strategies were only beginning to be implemented or refined. Despite these limitations and challenges, several encouraging outcomes were found that appear to be linked with the CPPC initiative. The following are the main findings, which are grouped according to the key strategies of the initiative.
90 percent of the workers considered the family team meeting process helpful in improving child safety.
Experienced caseworkers viewed children of families that received family-centered practice substantially safer than they had been before such interventions.
Approximately two-thirds of the workers surveyed reported that children with prior safety concerns were somewhat safer or much safer after an initial family team meeting.
Case Assessment and Service Planning:
Families and caregivers functioned better and levels of clinical depression decreased when case planning incorporated the family team meetings approach correctly and consistently.
Family Team Meetings strengthened the decision making environment in the family by developing case plans that adhered with the family?s core concerns, providing a pool of formal and informal supports, providing consistent follow up through repeated FTM.
In Cedar Rapids and Jacksonville practice was most consistent with this way of working with families.
The findings underscore the high level of parental depression among families served; making the need to develop and implement strategies to help workers recognize and respond to the mental health needs of families an extremely high priority.
Policy, Practice and Culture Change within the Child Welfare Agency:
Results suggest that child welfare agency efforts to transform their policies, practices and culture can improve worker morale as well as a better image within the community.
In general, once workers began to understand the CPPC principles, use the practice approach and see results, they were very supportive.
The vast majority (93 percent) of the workers? surveyed by Chapin Hall indicated that the method improved their job satisfaction.
Consistent training of front line staff improved workers? confidence in implementing the reform and contributed to higher job satisfaction and greater staff stability.
The use of family-centered practice led to more respectful treatment of families, which, in turn, led to an improved image of CPS within the community.
Networking and Shared Decision-Making:
Chapin Hall observed that in creating local partnerships, the sites laid the groundwork for improved collaboration among local service providers.
All of the sites formed neighborhood service and support networks that were effective in increasing familiarity among the agencies involved.
Placing child welfare workers in community settings helped reduce residents? negative perceptions of child welfare and improved the ability of child welfare workers to draw on neighborhood resources.
Family Team Meetings practice created a more collaborative decision making process among families, child welfare workers, and other community service providers around case planning.
Community Responsibility for Child Protection:
Chapin Hall did not carry out its original plan to evaluate this important part of the Initiative because of problems with the evaluation design.
The report did identify promising first steps in connecting child welfare agencies and community resources, represented by worker locations.
CPPC sites did provide volunteers with opportunities to plan community partnership activities and provide support for families.
Moving forward, DHS and community partners will address the challenges raised by these findings. The evaluation provides useful, although preliminary, information about areas in which implementation did not fully meet the expectations of the original community partnership design. Lessons learned by the evaluation:
More attention is needed on the use of follow-up family team meetings with families.
Child welfare workers need to be more alert in recognizing signs of caregiver depression so they can help caregivers get appropriate assistance.
More thought needs to go into strengthening and sustaining neighborhood networks. In particular, more effective means of incorporating services and supports in the areas of domestic violence, mental health, and substance abuse.
The community partnerships approach will need to identify and adopt prevention strategies that provide supports to families before problems escalate to crisis proportions.
These lessons learned will add a new depth and direction to the implementation of CPPC strategies across the state. Over the last five years, the Iowa Department Human Service and communities have worked together to expand the statewide CPPC rollout to 32 Decat areas involving 79 counties. The four strategies of Community Partnership: family team meetings; networking; shared decision-making and policy and practice change have strengthened Iowa?s child welfare practice and will continue to be a important part of Better Results for Kids redesign efforts and Iowa?s Federal CFSR Program Improvement Plan. The complete evaluation can be accessed through the Chapin Hall website at http://www.chapinhall.org/
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