Year-End Updates on Work with the National Partnership for Child Safety

January 16, 2024
girl with backpack holding her mother hand and going to school

Jan. 4, 2024 — Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), which became a member of The National Partnership for Child Safety (NPCS) in 2021, today released its year-end updates on the work of the NPCS, a quality improvement collaborative with a mission to improve child safety and prevent child maltreatment fatalities.

The NPCS currently includes the participation of 38 state, county and tribal child and family-serving child welfare jurisdictions who are assessing and applying safety science principles in their agencies. The growth of the partnership now reflects a footprint of public child welfare agencies that represent nearly 70% of families involved with the child welfare system nationally.

Jurisdictions new to the partnership over the past year include: The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services; the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services; the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services; the Washoe County (NV) Human Services Agency; the Philadelphia Department of Human Services; and the Child and Family Services Agency of Washington, DC.

“Our work with the partnership includes a best practice approach to standardized critical incident review process, data-sharing across jurisdictions to identify trends, on-going peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and the integration of community voice,” commented Natalie Green, Assistant Secretary of Child Welfare Field Operations. “Taken all together, we are working across county, state and tribal child serving jurisdictions nationwide to build on the gold standard of evidence-based, quality improvement efforts to reduce child maltreatment fatalities.”

Safety science provides a framework and processes for child protection agencies to understand the complex nature of the work and the factors that influence decision-making. It also provides a safe and supportive environment for professionals to process, share and learn from critical incidents. Central to the work is a standardized systems-focused critical incident review (SCIR) process that works to support a culture of safety that can lead to improvements for families in the child welfare system. Systems-focused critical incident reviews draw on the evidence-based practices of safety science improvement and implementation and operate on a core set of values: family-centered; workforce-informed; and systems-focused.

  • Family-Centered: By identifying unmet family needs as part of the case review, we identify improvement opportunities as well as biases that may impact the perspective of caseworkers as they seek to understand what led to the critical incident and what could have prevented it.
  • Workforce-Informed: We create psychologically safe spaces and opportunities for professionals to share the context for decision-making and seek insights and collaborative problem solving that can lead to systems improvements.
  • Systems-Focused: By focusing on systems, we identify systemic barriers and challenges that can lead to high-impact ways to improve outcomes for families.

The NPCS incorporates tools such as the Safe Systems Improvement Tool (SSIT), safety culture surveys and data-sharing across jurisdictions to help identify best practices and systems-level improvements that have worked across various agencies and regions.

At the heart of a safety-grounded workforce approach is the need for psychological safety, which is essential to identifying systemic causes of failure rather than seeking to assign blame to workers. This then enables workers to participate in a culture of learning rather than a culture of fear that can help better understand how and why decisions were made and shift the focus to system improvements that will have a greater long-term impact on saving lives than simply hitting the reset button on a trained and resourced child welfare workforce.

The approach integrates and evaluates new team-based workforce practices, grounded in safety science, that impact and improve the ways in which child welfare workers engage with families around key factors such as in-home safety planning, testing and evaluation of protective factors, and simulation training. Taken together, these practice and policy changes improve high consequence decision-making and offers the supports that can enable families to stay together safely.

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