National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts: Site Visits Report . Background of Reform Efforts


The locally initiated reform of the Fairfax County CPS program began during the mid-1990s. However, the implementation of changes in the structure and operation of the program has been incremental and was still underway when the c ounty introduced the State-mandated DRS.

One of the original driving forces behind the CYFD’ s reform efforts was the recognition that the agency was one component of a community of people and service providers able to identify and assist families to keep their children safe. Moreover, the agency realized that it needed to reorganize if it were to effectively interact with these community-based resources. Prior to the reform effort, CPS and other family services were administered from a central office. This configuration led to a number of negative consequences, including difficulty in responding to the needs of a growing and increasingly diverse population. The centralized location discouraged interaction with related human service agencies. This had practical consequences on the ability of CPS and other CYFD service workers to conduct their work, because of the time and cost involved in traveling to meet with families.

The CYFD’ s reform effort was also driven by a desire to refocus the agency according to a social work practice model rather than the existing model that beca me increasingly legalistic. Within the confines of State policy, there was a desire to plan and deliver services based on the strengths and competencies of each family. This required workers to be less confrontational and more engaging during interactions with families. Ultimately, the CYFD expected a new strengths-based and collaborative approach to be more effective in preventing child abuse or neglect.

The State-mandated DRS, which was implemented in Fairfax County during May 2002, was built on many of the same principles that guided the agency’ s other reforms since the mid-1990s. R eports result in an investigation response when there are immediate child safety concerns or when the complaint consists of serious complaints defined by law, such as sexual abuse. Investigations conclude with a final determination as to whether the report is “founded” or “unfounded.” Founded reports are entered into the State’s Central Registry.

The DRS allows for a flexible response by the CYFD to allegations of child abuse based on the severity of the report, immediacy of child safety concerns, and family needs. CYFD conducts a family assessment response in lieu of an investigation when a report does not indicate immediate child safety concerns or fulfill any of the categories mandating an investigation under State law. The family assessment response shifts CPS intervention from an incident focus to a service delivery focus. Agency personnel collaborate with the family to identify family strengths, stressors, and other risk and safety factors likely to prevent or precipitate child abuse or neglect, and to develop an in dividualized family service plan. The family assessment does not require the agency to make a “finding” regarding abuse or neglect and no information is placed on the Central Registry.

Virginia’s DRS model owes its existence, in part, to the efforts of Fairfax County personnel. During the mid-1990s, when the CYFD was developing its own reform agenda, Fairfax County personnel participated directly in the development of the DRS. For example, Fairfax County personnel traveled with State officials to examine differential response models in Florida and Missouri and they lobbied for adoption of the DRS model in Virginia. A lthough Fairfax was not selected as a pilot for the DRS, the county has been committed to the program’s underlying concepts for several years.

Implementation of the Reform

Fairfax County’ s reforms we re multifaceted, involving a broad-based reorganization of the CYFD as well as revisions to many of the CYFD's programs.

The reorganization of the CYFD occurred in a number of incremental steps. The first step, implemented during the mid-1990s, involved the integration of investigation and ongoing support functions. Individual staff continued to support one function; however, personnel were organized into combined teams with supervisory staff overseeing both functions. This shift was designed to facilitate the interaction between the preliminary assessment of valid complaints and ongoing family support. The teams were also divided into regional units that served particular areas of the county. This prepared the way for the future relocation of the investigation and ongoing family support units to satellite offices.

The reorganization also supports a number of functional groups that continue to operate countywide. These countywide units include a hotline, which handles intake and screening; an after-hours unit, which responds to reports after regular operating hours; and, most recently, a publications and outreach function that disseminates educational information to mandated reporters, community-based organizations with a stake in CPS, and the general public.

Since the original reorganization, three out of four regional units have been physically relocated to satellite, community-based facilities. In addition to bringing the CPS program into closer contact with the families and communities that it serve s , the relocation involved colocation with other human service agencies. The regionalization of CPS, therefore, facilitates communication with other personnel directly involved with delivering services to families. The CYFD opened its first regional office in Reston during 1996 to serve the n orth c ounty a rea. Since then, it has opened regional offices to serve the Falls Church a rea and, most recently, the s outh c ounty a rea. The regional unit that serves the Fairfax a rea , which encompasses the central office, may be relocated in the future to underscore the importance of focusing its operations on the community.

The CYFD’s most recent relocation occurred during June 2002, when the countywide S ex Abuse unit moved to a Children’s Center operated by the nonprofit organization, Childhelp USA. This move places the unit in a child- friendly environment and, like the regional units, provides for colocation with a broad range of agencies. In this instance, however, the facility not only houses other human services agencies, such as the Mental Health Department and Health Department, but also houses representatives from the law enforcement agencies who are involved with the investigation of sexual abuse, including the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and Fairfax County Police. The colocation is expected to facilitate greater cooperation between these agencies and increase the opportunities to provide targeted services.

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