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DHS News July 2013    

The Child Welfare Demonstration Project

Pennsylvania, with Allegheny County among its counties in the vanguard, turned a page in its history on July 1 when it launched the federal Child Welfare Demonstration Project (CWDP). The launch followed approval in late June by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of plans for implementing the CWDP in Pennsylvania. 

Allegheny County is one of five counties in the state that is participating in the Project, with each county having its implementation tracked and evaluated by the University of Pittsburgh. The other county participants are Dauphin, Lackawanna, Philadelphia and Venango. Pennsylvania, in turn, is one of nine states approved for the CWDP.

“Today is a reflection of what our child welfare system can accomplish through great partnerships,” said Cathy Utz, acting director of the state Department of Welfare’s Office of Children, Youth and Families, in a congratulatory email to DHS Director Marc Cherna.

The sense of excitement and relief in the official launch of the Project stems from the time and effort involved in making it happen. With assistance from Casey Family programs, the state worked together with the five participating counties to produce the state’s implementation plan in a process that took more than a year before winning federal approval.

The startup is significant on many levels; most importantly, the CWDP moves away from linking the vast majority of federal funding to placements of children in foster care and other out-of-home settings. Instead, it allows the funding of methods that emphasize family engagement, comprehensive assessments, and quality interventions.  It also enables the funding of system-level changes that are expected to increase stability, and therefore well-being, for children.

The overarching goal of the Project is to reduce the number of children who are in out-of-home placements and re-channel money toward practices that will improve safety, permanency and well-being outcomes.

“The Child Welfare Demonstration Project changes the paradigm so that financial incentives are more in line with our policy and program development,” Marc said.  “It is a tremendous opportunity for DHS as it allows us to advance our work and continue to improve.”

The CWDP actually aligns with much of what Allegheny County has been doing since 1996– crafting creative strategies to reduce out-of-home placement.  Until now, much of this work has been accomplished locally without the benefit of federal funding that aligned with DHS’s commitment to prevention and intensive in-home and other family-strengthening services.

In laying out the goals for its Child Welfare Demonstration Project, Pennsylvania has committed the participating counties to reducing by 30 percent the spheres of re-entry of clients into the child welfare system; days of care; and utilization of congregate care. It’s up to the counties, using an agreed upon framework, to devise their own set of components and develop a county level plan that allows them to meet these goals.

Not surprisingly for Allegheny County, the implementation plan, which covers five fiscal years from 2013-14 through 2017-18, underscores policies and practices that DHS has been rolling out for a while in its efforts to further integration. Its core components are implementing strategies that improve family engagement and service integration; implementing common assessment and support tools to direct clients to services and improve placement and decision making; improving the quality of care through evidence-based interventions; reforming contracting and payment procedures to align county and provider incentives; utilizing quality improvement processes to evaluate services; and aligning programmatic monitoring with new practice models.

“We first created a practice model that would engage families,” said Shannon Fairchild, Project Specialist in the Office of Data Analysis, Research and Evaluation (DARE), who oversaw the writing of the implementation plan. “We want to match individuals to services that align with their needs.”

She said that the county’s participation in the CWDP – formerly called the Title IV-E Waiver Project, referring to the federal funding stream – helped pull together the efforts it has been engaged in over the past couple of years into a unified plan of action, giving it a measurable structure. “The implementation plan is a platform, and it’s keeping us accountable,” she said.

A key part of Allegheny County’s plan is an approach to residents who become involved with DHS called Conferencing and Teaming. This engagement approach, which started in April in the Central Regional Office of CYF, continues to be rolled out across child welfare. It is expected to eventually become standard practice across all of DHS.

Conferencing and Teaming rejects the ‘top down’ traditional approach of casework that relied on professionals alone suggesting and implementing solutions.  Rather, it engages families to identify their strengths, supports and goals, and enables them to devise and pursue these outcomes they’ve identified with the assistance of family, friends, community partners and professionals involved. As with all parts of the Child Welfare Demonstration Project, implementing Conferencing and Teaming in Allegheny County will continue to be a multistep process involving training DHS staff, the DHS provider network and appropriate allied partners.  It will also necessitate holding workshops about various tools and forms, developing educational and training materials and more.

Another practice currently under way is broadening the utilization of common assessments such as  the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths [CANS] tool, developed by Dr. John Lyons, professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa.  Another assessment, the Family Advocacy and Support Tool (FAST), will be rolled out in coming months.  A complementary assessment to Conferencing and Teaming, it evaluates child and caregiver function and family structure to help tease out information that can be important in linking clients to needed services, as CANS does.

Also part of the plan is an effort to reform service interventions. This will be instituted by scaling back ineffective services, and scaling up an array of Evidence-Based Programs that better address a family or child’s specific needs. 

Certainly, the coming months and years will be demanding. “Now we have the whole challenge of implementation,” Marc said, acknowledging that the start up of the CWDP plan presents “a pretty significant change in our practices” that will require staff and others involved to surmount understandable hesitation at new ways of working.  “But it is something we must and will do for the greater benefit of those we serve.”

Additional information on the Child Welfare Demonstration Project, and another significant funding opportunity, the Pennsylvania Human Services Block Grant, is available in the Advancing Integration section of our website.



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