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

05/01/2003

The CYFD’s reform effort and implementation of the DRS resulted in a number of changes regarding how the CPS program interacts with communities and families.

With the relocation of regional units, family services personnel participate in regional, multi-agency teams aimed at building and capitalizing on connections with the community. Staff committees at each regional office provide a forum to discuss community outreach and to empower staff to develop connections with other agencies and community groups. The results include better ongoing relations with community stakeholders (e.g. schools ) , as well as initiatives that respond to specific community-based issues.

In one s outh c ounty neighborhood, for example, the regional CPS team determined that a particular apartment complex had been the source of an unusually high number of reports of unsupervised children. CPS personnel arranged with the complex manager to hold a community meeting to address the issue. A local restaurant contributed food and beverages to attract residents to the meeting. CPS personnel provided residents with information about the guidelines for appropriate supervision, outlined relevant community resources, and fielded residents’ questions.

Fairfax County changed the way it interacted with families prior to the implementation of the DRS. In cases involving allegations of insufficient supervision, for example, the agency is able to exert additional flexibility since these cases are determined by local guidelines, not State policy. Specifically, the CYFD implemented an alternative outcome for inappropriate supervision cases, which do not present a serious level of maltreatment. This alternative designation focuses on education and supportive services, including a prioritized day care. It also permits CPS personnel to work with families to ensure that they mak e the necessary changes to prevent inappropriate supervision from recurring.

The CYFD recently applied this prevention-oriented model to a revisi on of the way the hotline handles calls that do not present a valid case. Previously, such families were referred to the Family Support Services unit to access services on a voluntary basis. Under the new Intensive Family Services model, CYFD personnel proactively contact and followup with such families. This approach was intended to ensure that families in need receive appropriate services before they present a valid case of child abuse or neglect. This approach wa s designed to prevent future cases requiring intervention by CPS.

The implementation of the DRS is compatible with these earlier initiatives, but it clearly is the most significant shift in the practice of CPS in Fairfax County. Under the DRS, valid reports of child abuse and neglect are assessed to determine whether they require an investigation or family assessment response. All serious allegations of abuse and neglect are investigated according to the previously used procedures. The result of an investigation is a formal finding and substantiated cases are reported to the Central Registry. The majority of cases receive a family assessment, which differs from the investigation track in some important ways:

  • The CYFD does not make a finding as to whether or not the alleged child abuse or neglect incident occurred. CPS personnel are responsible for identifying the underlying causes of the incident in question, rather than determining if a particular event did or did not occur;
  • CPS personnel do not participate in the same due process procedures, such as informing families about the possible outcomes of an investigation and informing families of their rights to appeal any determination; and
  • The CYFD does not report to the Central Registry families who received an assessment.

These changes have allowed CPS personnel to more easily engage families in a collaborative effort to identify and pursue solutions to address the underlying causes of maltreatment and prevent future incidents of child abuse and neglect. However, if there is a concern that a serious child abuse and neglect incident occurred, a case can be reclassified as an investigation during the course of a family assessment. It is not necessary to change the case’s status to an investigation to petition the court for services. Further, if the judge determines a finding of abuse or neglect in order for parents to cooperate with CPS, then this court finding is not entered into the Central Registry.

Staffing

Another facet of the CYFD’s implementation of a community-based approach to CPS was an effort to recruit a more diverse staff that more closely resembles the population being served. Fairfax County’s population has become much more diverse over the last 20 years in terms of race, ethnicity, and native language. The CYFD’s recruitment efforts, in particular for staff in the regional units, emphasizes building a workforce that looks like, and could effectively communicate with, the community being served.

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