Vol. 7, No. 2 May 2003
Carolina Embarks on Major Reform of Its Child Welfare System
embarks on major reform of its child welfare system
Thanks to an effort known as the Multiple Response System (MRS) changes
are afoot in North Carolinas child welfare system. In the near
future, MRS is sure to affect social workers, birth families and their
children, foster parentseveryone involved with our states
child welfare system. To help you understand and prepare, this article
will provide you with an overview of MRS and explain how this new approach
is likely to affect you as a foster parent.
goal of child welfare in the United States is to achieve safety, permanence,
and well-being for children and their families. Until now, the child
welfare system in North Carolina has attempted to achieve these goals
through the use of what might be called a single response system.
system, county departments of social services (DSSs) respond to
reports of child abuse and neglect in the same way, regardless of the
nature of the report. Whether the report is about a child who has been
left alone for a short period of time or about a child who has been
severely and repeatedly abused, policy and law dictate that the response
from DSS be the same. This single response is very investigative
and involves a comprehensive and intrusive effort to identify victims
has proven to be very effective in cases involving violence against
children. However, each year, reports of child abuse account for approximately
10% of the reports of child maltreatment in North Carolina. The other
90% concern child neglect. In these neglect cases, which are often less
serious, changes in family relationships and functioning are usually
the best means of securing safety for children. In these situations,
the investigative and labeling approach to child protection often alienates
and discourages family members.
As a state,
we have come to realize that our single response system is not as helpful
as it could be for many of the children and families it was designed
to serve. North Carolina has recognized that to achieve safety, permanence,
and well-being for all children and families, it needs a child welfare
system that more clearly demonstrates respect for families, acknowledges
their strengths, and supports and empowers them to solve the problems
Multiple Response System
Response System is an attempt to make our child welfare system more
family-centered. By giving county DSSs two ways to respond to
reports of child maltreatment, MRS enables agencies to select an approach
that fits with the level of risk to the child.
rather than treating every report as if it were potentially a serious
case of criminal child abuse/neglect, intake reports are carefully screened
into one of two approaches. The first, the investigative assessment
approach, resembles the classic child protective services (CPS) response
in which workers perform a rigorous investigation, using forensic interviewing
techniques when appropriate. In the second, the family assessment approach,
child safety is still the first concern, but the overall nature of the
agencys contact with the family is much more supportive.
more than change the way agencies respond to reports of abuse and neglect.
Because the aim of this effort is to make the child welfare system as
a whole more family-centered, MRS employs seven strategies for reform.
These seven strategies, outlined in the sidebar on the front page of
this issue, prescribe changes in the way social workers, foster parents,
and others do their jobs throughout the entire continuum of child welfare.
Two of these strategies in particular will have a definite effect on
Benefits of the Multiple Response System
may be more willing to engage with social workers and other community
will be as safe or safer than with the current approach, since families
will be more likely to accept and receive the services and support
parents will be in a better position to understand and support
birth families, which can lead to speedier resolution of family difficulties
and more timely permanence for children.
workers will have an alternative to the investigatory approach
that will give them more opportunity to teach and support families,
thereby addressing the root causes of maltreatment.
child welfare system may do a better job preventing abuse and
neglect and therefore come to be seen by families as a partner and
friendly resource. With these changes, worker turnover may be reduced.
and Foster Parents
MRS strategies that will most directly affect foster parents will probably
be shared parenting and child and family team meetings.
parenting meetings. Shared parenting is an approach designed to
build a team focused on the welfare of the child: an alliance among
birth parents, foster parents, and social workers. As with any team,
trust will be the foundation of this alliance.
there will be barriers to this trust. Some foster parents, for example,
are initially uncomfortable with the idea of helping or even meeting
the parents of their foster children. First and foremost, they worry
about their own safety and the safety of the children. For their part,
some birth parents see foster parents as direct competitors for their
childs affection and usurpers of their parental authority. Clearly,
ideas and assumptions such as these do not facilitate the building of
why, for shared parenting to work, foster parents must be clear about
their role, which is to supplement and support birth families, not to
substitute for them. Foster parents must see themselves as part of the
team working to rebuild and reunite families, and they must be treated
with respect by the other members of that team.
Carolina foster parents already see themselves this way, and are fully
integrated into the team serving the child and family. Others may not
be there quite yet, and so may need support from their agencies and
other foster parents.
mechanism for building trust and teamwork in the shared parenting approach
is an agency-facilitated meeting that occurs as soon as possible after
children enter foster care. In fact, under MRS agencies are asked to
facilitate a shared parenting meeting within seven days after
a child enters foster care. After this initial meeting, shared
parenting meetings will occur regularly until the family can be reunited
or another permanent plan is identified. (For more on this see the discussion
of shared parenting in the article, Confidentiality
and the Foster Parents Need to Know.)
birth and foster parents to share decisions and work together as a team,
- Maintains the birth-parent/child
- Improves birth parents
- Gives foster parents
a realistic picture of birth parents strengths and deficits
- Gives birth and foster
parents more information about the child
- Allows the foster parent
to model appropriate behavior and parenting techniques
- Helps birth parents develop
an understanding of the childs needs
- Facilitates eventual
- Promotes ongoing support
for the family after the child returns home
NYSCCC, 2002 <http://www.nysccc.org/linkfamily/Realities/sharedparent.htm>
agencies and foster parents prepare for shared parenting and shared
parenting meetings, the N.C. Division of Social Services is offering
two training courses. To learn about them, consult <http://ssw.unc.edu/fcrp/tm/tm_mainpage.htm>.
and family team meetings. Under MRS, county DSSs hold child
and family team meetings with families involved with child protective
services. The primary function of these meetings is to engage the family
and other interested parties in joint decision-making and to provide
the family with support. These meetings address the familys strengths
and needs and how these affect the childs safety, permanence,
and well-being; the meeting also results in a plan that specifies what
must occur to help the family safely parent the children.
child and family team meetings occur within seven days
of the time the decision is made to substantiate or reach a finding
of services required. Child and family teams are involved
with the family throughout the life of the case, even if it is necessary
to remove a child from the home due to safety issues.
parents, child and family team meetings can serve several important
functions. In some counties, agencies opt to use these meetings to fulfill
the MRS requirement for shared parenting meetings. Even if a separate
shared parenting meeting occurs, by being present at child and family
team meetings foster parents have the chance to build a relationship
with and obtain information from the parents of their foster children.
Child and family team meetings, since they occur throughout the life
of a case, also represent an important way for foster parents to stay
up-to-date and to be active, contributing members of the team serving
the family and child.
MRS is being
piloted right now in 10 of the states 100 counties: Alamance,
Bladen, Buncombe, Caldwell, Craven, Franklin, Guilford, Mecklenburg,
Nash, and Transylvania. In the states other 90 counties, departments
of social services are watching carefully to see what these lead counties
learn, and they are preparing to engage in the seven strategies of MRS
themselves. It is anticipated that MRS will become the new statewide
standard for child welfare practice in 2005.
If you would
like to learn more about MRS, consult <http://www.dhhs.state.nc.us/dss/childrensservices/mrs/index.htm>.
If you have questions about how or when MRS will be implemented in your
county, ask your social worker.
2003 Jordan Institute for Families