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Changing the Culture of the Workplace

Published: January 29, 2003
Child and Family Services Reviews
, Publications related to the CFSRs

Closing Plenary Session - Annual Meeting of States and Tribes

(Comments by Jerry Milner)

We asked for this session on changing the culture of the workplace, since it is our belief that achieving true systemic change means changing the fundamental ways in which we do our business with children and families and with other agencies and groups who serve those same children and families. I'd like to spend a few minutes talking about the meaning of the entire concept of changing the culture of the workplace, and then each of our panelists will shed further light on how that can be accomplished.

We have much to learn from the experiences of some of the States here today that have been engaged in statewide systemic reforms for several years. Many of these States are pursuing those reforms pursuant to settlement agreements and consent decrees that focus on the practice issues that will actually affect the outcomes for children and families. Other States are attempting to comply with settlement agreements and consent decrees that are so grounded in procedural requirements that they offer little hope of changing outcomes. We've reviewed both kinds of situations over the past two years.

Whether change is being pursued in a State as a result of a lawsuit or of enlightened leadership in the State, there are certain fundamental truths about change that we must consider and follow if we are to see the kind of results that we've spent most of this meeting discussing. We must start out with the premise that change of the magnitude that we are seeking will not be easy, nor will it be accomplished within the scope of a two-year program improvement plan (PIP), although it should begin there. States cannot simply change their policies, adopt a few new forms, and put a quality assurance system in place and think they have accomplished systemic change.

Any State that embarks on a course of systemic change must first define its mission and vision. Before any child welfare agency can begin to pursue systemic change, it must first know where it is going. It must have a vision of what the system will look like when it is in place. It must have a set of guiding principles that are operationalized in all aspects of the work that occurs within the agency. And, it must have a means of knowing when it is being true to those principles and when it is not. We have tried to provide a conceptual framework for the things we evaluate in the CFSR. We have, in effect, created a vision of what the systems we review should look like. Those principles are:

  • Family-centered practice. We have included measures in the CFSR that further define family-centered practice, including issues such as family assessments, engaging families in case planning activities, examining safety issues within the entire family, working with fathers as well as mothers, encouraging the use of family-based placements rather than institutional placements and temporary shelters, focusing on the broad and underlying issues that affect safety, permanency, and well-being rather than just the presenting factors, and others.
  • Community-based services. We have tried to operationalize this principle by evaluating States on issues such as proximity of foster care placements to the families and communities from which children come, access to services, providing services to families in their own homes, and other indicators.
  • Individualizing services to children and families. We have attempted to reinforce this principle by looking specifically how well we assess the needs of individual family members and provide the appropriate services based on those assessments, at how well the service array lends itself to individualizing services, and other indicators.
  • Strengthening the capacity of parents to provide for their children's needs. This principle runs through many of the indicators we have included in the review, such as engaging parents in making decisions about their goals, needs, and plans; encouraging caseworker visits with parents; a special focus on fathers and paternal relatives in addition to mothers and maternal relatives; preserving the relationships that children have with their families while they are in foster, and other indicators.