Over the last few years, La Crosse County has seen an increase in referrals. By the end of August 2002, there were 1,500 cases, which was the typical annual total. Caseloads increased from 10-12 to 17-19 new cases per month. Workers reported an increase in the proportion of families with multiple problems — mental problems, alcohol or drug problems for adults and children, and physical handicaps.
Both CPS and the court representative identified an increase in referrals to the agency, but a decline in court referrals. Supervisors and caseworkers alluded to the increased paperwork and rigid timeframes as reasons for staff to avoid a placement. Avoidance of placement would be a positive outcome if alternative interventions were identified for families; however, it would not be a positive outcome if the safety of the children was compromised.
In order to balance workers' caseloads so that no one worker was responsible for too many difficult cases, a case-weighting matrix was developed. The county expects that the new Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) will include a case-weighting capability to achieve the same objective.
CPS Organizational Changes
Prior to the reform changes, the Family and Children's Services units were defined by function — intake, investigation, and case management. The new director made the units generic, where workers share responsibility for intake, investigation, and case management. After some confusion, roles were specified for each worker. Delinquency is maintained as a separate unit.
Use of Paraprofessional Staff for Intake
When fielding calls for assistance to seniors, the agency found that social service paraprofessionals could handle the phones and referrals, relieving the social workers who previously covered the phone intake. Since the end of 2000, social service paraprofessionals have been responsible for speaking with callers and recording screening information on an "access sheet," which is forwarded to the unit supervisor. The access sheet uses the Wisconsin Risk Assessment Model. The intake worker receives information from the paraprofessionals who have used the risk assessment protocol. The supervisor then determines if the case is screened out or not. If the case is not screened in, a decision is made as to the appropriate response time.
Practice Changes Initiated by the State
Several State initiatives, in which the county participated, contributed to the reform efforts. The activities included the implementation of risk assessment, core training, and domestic violence best practices. (Those initiatives are described as part of the reform because of their importance as indicated by the staff.)
- Implementation of Risk-Assessment Training:The county was part of a pilot for risk assessment that used the Wisconsin Model. Staff were trained during 2001.
- Core Training: The core training gives staff a common language and philosophy. Prior to the early 1990s, training was a county responsibility and, as a result, varied among counties. In fact, training often varied from unit to unit within the department. At that time, the State began a training pilot with the northeast counties, using title IV-E funds. By 1997, the State had created partnerships with the remaining counties. The River Falls Campus of the University of Wisconsin partnership began during 1998 and involved 25 counties. Training was localized within the region and addressed the specific needs of the region.
- Domestic Violence Collaboration: A major effort was made to overcome the tension and distrust based on the different cultures of CPS and domestic violence programs. This tension was described as conflicts between concerns for the child versus concerns for the battered spouse. A collaboration workgroup with representatives from CPS, the community, and domestic violence agencies met with State DHFS leadership. Four principles served as guidelines for the workgroup. Paramount was the recognition that safety is the overriding principle for all members of the family. In addition, children are regarded as entitled to protection and the community is responsible for intervening. It was also agreed that child safety could be improved by helping the mother to become safe.
It was agreed that the first objective of CPS must be to protect the safety of the child and the battered parent. Safety for the mother includes ensuring the confidentiality of information collected by CPS and refusing the batterer access to her location. During January 2002, the workgroup issued a document entitled, Mutual Respect and Common Understanding. The workgroup recommended training for domestic violence staff in the CPS system, development of a memorandum of understanding between local domestic violence and CPS agencies, and revisions to the CPS investigation standards.
The Domestic Abuse Reduction Team (DART) was established in the county. The team includes representatives from CPS, the police, and domestic violence. After three reports of domestic violence, the DART will visit the family and automatically arrest the batterer. A DART case is opened, and random home visits will be conducted. As a result of the reform, all DART cases with a child present are reviewed by a CPS supervisor.