This December we are exploring the worker competencies associated with Case Planning in Child Welfare, which involves setting goals, developing strategies, and outlining tasks and schedules derived from the engaging, assessing and partnering process in order to develop a flexible plan that will facilitate change with families with the ultimate goal of supporting permanency. Wendy Hendrickson, Child Welfare Supervisor with the Sherburne County Health and Human Services and community trainer with the Training Academy, has kindly agreed to share her experience and understanding of case planning in the Minnesota child welfare system.
Creating a case plan as a child welfare worker is one of the most difficult responsibilities we have. This is evidenced by ensuring the case plan is developed within 30 days, and following requirements in statute. That difficulty is partnered with the reality that in some counties, case transfers occur within the first 30 days from the investigator/assessment worker to an ongoing worker – and ongoing workers may not have met the family for whom they are tasked with creating a case plan. In addition, there are complexities associated with the case planning screens within SSIS (Social Service Information System). Now add on the current pandemic and the need to collaboratively create a plan with the family. Herein lies the basis for this being one of the most difficult responsibilities of a child welfare worker.
Safety, Permanency, and Well-Being are the goals in an Out of Home Placement Plan that we create based on a child being removed from a custodial parent. These goals will be outlined in this article, along with how a child welfare worker builds in the other Practice Competencies in Case Planning. Italicized text in the article comes directly from the Minnesota Child Welfare Practice Framework booklet.
Defining for the family the end goal is your duty as a child welfare worker. I often tell students in Foundations classes, when you went to college you knew the end goal: a degree. That gave you motivation to do the work you needed to obtain that goal. Your professors were trying to instill in you a behavioral change from your high school diploma to your college degree, in mindset and critical thinking skill development. If we don’t give our families the end goal – and have their agreement on this goal – it’s a disservice to them. To add to this, they also need to know what we hope to see through our involvement and not what we don’t want to see. For example, instead of giving a parent a case plan task of “The parent will not use physical discipline,” reframing it to “The parent will demonstrate positive reinforcement and developmentally appropriate redirection with the child.” Keep the plan strength-based by pulling in the individual strengths of the family to address the concerns that caused child welfare to become involved.
The Safety Goal area of the case plan and its related objectives and tasks should be connected to the reason the child welfare matter is open – the bottom line requirements that need to be addressed before the matter closes. We should articulate with the family the effects of maltreatment and historical trauma, and the behaviors or conditions contributing to its risks. Accompanied by this competency, we should demonstrate the ability to identify service/treatment plan requirements and to construct behaviorally-based, measurable objectives for successful outcomes with the family so the family knows when the goals are achieved. As a state, we are trying to move away from case plans being tasks and instead to be service oriented (behaviorally-based). We’ve found that services do not equal safety. Child welfare case plan completion is not about checking off the boxes. We want to ensure child safety after our involvement ends. We want to see a demonstration of behavioral change for a consistent period of time to know that our child welfare involvement has impacted the family in a way to prevent future child maltreatment.
A child welfare worker who is not engaged in behaviorally-based case planning could task a parent to complete a chemical health assessment and follow all the recommendations made by the assessor. In New Worker Child Welfare Foundations training we practice reframing the concern regarding sobriety to an objective under the “Safety Goals” section of the case plan. An example: “For the parent to develop a sober support network and safety plan for relapse and prevention to ensure that the child always has a sober caregiver.” Many thoughts and questions are involved with that objective, as compared to the previous “task.” First, are we requiring absolute sobriety with our child welfare families? Some are. Is this actually attainable for everyone? What if they use again? What if they are “using again” and what’s the difference? How do we know which is which? What if the parent had the children with a support person when they used? What is the impact to the child(ren) then? One of the competencies in Case Planning in Child Welfare in the Minnesota Child Welfare Practice Competencies is to ensure that a case plan is developed for effectively serving and making decisions regarding children and parents with special needs and disabilities. Are we factoring in any special needs of the children or parents to our objective? What if this is a parent with a traumatic brain injury and has a medical marijuana prescription? Has this been considered as part of the “absolute sobriety” requirement?
Another Foundation competency is that we understand and demonstrate the ability to develop a safety plan with the family based upon information during the assessment. If the concern for child welfare involvement is regarding a child being exposed to chemical use and after our involvement starts the parent did not use chemicals around the child, have we been successful in addressing the concern regarding chemical use? Has the parent demonstrated behavioral change if they followed a safety plan that included not using around the child and including a support network to ensure safety? I believe so. If we develop an objective as previously noted above, we then add SMART tasks under that objective that include reasonable or active efforts if ICWA/MIFPA applies, you will be much more effective in case planning. Some examples of tasks related to this objective provided in the paragraph above regarding sobriety could include: Participating in a safety and support meeting with at least five (5) support members to develop a relapse and prevention plan, completing a chemical health assessment within a certain time frame and following recommendations, and participating in random drug testing of various methods. Do you see the difference in the examples above?
These related objectives and tasks should be concerning permanency planning. In cases where a child is removed from the custodial parent, an Out of Home Placement Plan must be prepared within 30 days, per Minnesota State Statute 260C.212, Subd. 1(a). Another practice competency states that we understand the principles of concurrent and permanency planning, as well as placement procedures under the Indian Child Welfare Act, and is able to integrate those principles into a case plan, taking into account the developmental, educational, health, placement preferences under ICWA and MIFPA, and emotional needs of children. Case plans must include a plan for if the child is unable to return to the parent(s) care, and efforts for this contingency must be provided concurrently (at the same time) with efforts to reunify. Case plan objectives and tasks related to relative search and family finding, as well as considering placement best interest factors, should be addressed in the case plan.
Well-being objectives and tasks should be related to the child’s well-being needs, such as mental health, education, medical, dental, culture, hobbies, spiritual, religious, social supports, etc. Child welfare workers must utilize their critical thinking skills to clearly explain to their families what they hope to see at the end of their work with them. This can be difficult when we are under timelines, the family is very new to them, the document is cumbersome and incredibly long, and we want to ensure we include the family’s voice in the plan. Most importantly, child welfare workers creating case plans must consider culture, the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act requirements when case planning.
Another competency states that we understand the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act, Minnesota Indian Family Protection Act, and the Multiethnic Placement Act and applies those provisions in working with tribal representatives, agencies, legal entities and families to create appropriate case plans. A child welfare worker must understand the difference between reasonable versus active efforts, and when to apply each, recognizing that active efforts must be used in cases involving American Indian children. Incorporating assistance to families that are ACTIVELY helping them in case plan completion and demonstrating that support in case plans could include tasks for the child welfare worker in the case plan objectives and tasks.
Tools for Case Planning
Some suggestions I’ve provided to child welfare workers when in class to help them with case planning include a Case Planning Conference with the family and anyone they want involved. This could be in a format under the Family Group Decision Making Meeting umbrella, with the case plan being projected on a screen and writing it together. With the peacetime emergencies related to COVID-19 and inabilities to meet in person, this could be done utilizing a virtual platform and sharing the screen with the SSIS case plan for everyone to see.
Other tools we use to assist child welfare workers with case plans are the Structured Decision-Making tools, maps, genograms, culture-grams, and circles of support. Another suggestion is to review areas in SSIS where the factors related to Minnesota State Statute 26C.212, Subd. 2, Best Interest Factors, are also reviewed such as the Minnesota Assessment of Parenting for Children and Youth (MAPCY) and the Social Medical History documents in SSIS.
Do For, Do With, Cheer On!
I will end by giving you a frequently practiced motto among child welfare workers. We “Do for, Do with, and Cheer On!” with families in child welfare. We start out providing a great deal of support with clients. We set up services, transportation, making referrals, etc. As the case plan is being addressed by the family, we hope to ‘do with’ the client by partnering and offering assistance. Lastly, by the time we are ready to end our services with a family, we hope that we are able to cheer them on in their continued successes such as sobriety, safe parenting, and reunification with their children. This cheering on should be evidenced by seeing the actual demonstration of the objectives in their case plans and being able to reflect that change back to the parent. For me, that is the best part about being a child welfare worker.
The Minnesota Child Welfare Practice Framework is a set of competencies that have been created to assist child welfare professionals in defining and demonstrating their knowledge, skills, and understanding across a number of different practice areas. Refer to pages 9-10 of the Practice Framework to review all competencies related to case planning, and consider ways to develop your own knowledge and skills.
If you have discovered other resources for developing competencies in case planning, please share! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.