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Shifting Toward Success Centered Practice

To this point, I have discussed the transition of the child protection paradigm from rules to outcomes to standards, from procedures to continuous invention to best practice, from bureaucracy to empowerment to professional judgment, from protection to permanence to ongoing success for every abused and neglected child. As we know, these transitions have to be based on clearly articulated guiding principles that inform the transitions and serve as guideposts for evaluating their legitimacy. Here, I want to introduce the concept of “centeredness” as a key characteristic of the new child protection paradigm.

In the traditional child protection paradigm, practice is staff centered. Child protection is understood and evaluated nearly exclusively in terms of the behavior and actions of child protection workers. Workers are expected to understand and conform their behavior to a very complex collection of rules and associated procedures. A worker’s performance is judged by the extent to which he (or she) exhibits the prescribed behavior. If a serious, negative event occurs, the obvious response is more and better rules, along with more and better training. (Note foster parents are also included here.)

In the transitional paradigm, we see a shift from staff centeredness to a client centered perspective. Do identifiable events occur with and for clients within designated time frames? There are “outcomes” arrays by which child protection is evaluated. These arrays are based on what should and should not happen and on whether the preferred outcomes were or were not achieved. The outcomes arrays, however, are not understood as superseding the staff centered, rules based, traditional paradigm. Rather, they are simply added to the expectation mix for child protection workers. If there is a serious, negative incident, along with increasing the specificity of associated rules, there is a concurrent increase in the specificity of expected outcomes. Child protection workers and programs are accountable for both following the extensive rules and for achieving the prescribed outcomes.

In the new child protection paradigm, the perspective changes. Child protection practice is success centered. The central issue is whether the worker or program achieves safety, permanence, and ongoing success for each child for whom responsibility has been accepted. If so, (and assuming practice reflects generally accepted standards, best practice expectations, sound professional judgment, and adherence to agreed on guiding principles) the specific behavior and actions of workers are not at issue. If safety, permanence, and ongoing success for any child are not achieved, the worker and the program have failed that child. At that point, focus is specifically on the child’s worker and on the specific program.

In the new child protection paradigm, we do not modify the rules and outcome expectations for all workers to respond to an issue clearly associated with an identifiable worker or program. Instead, corrective, peer-guided intervention is directed specifically toward the people and program that failed the child. If we learn better ways to avoid the negative outcome or better ways to serve children and families through the intervention, this new knowledge is freely shared among child protection professionals.

There are many issues in child protection that appear to represent “systemic” or aggregate issues and we tend to address them with sweeping change. The changes typically revert to the traditional and transitional approaches. We develop new and usually expanded rules and more prescriptive outcomes. Unfortunately, this avoids stopping to carefully consider why we do what we do and what we aught to be doing. We work with children or at least should be working with children one at a time to achieve safety, permanence, and ongoing success for each child, each time. The best protocol for specific children varies from child to child and cannot be legislated or ordered by administrative rule. It must be individually determined and rest on standards, best practice, and professional judgment, fully informed by generally accepted guiding principles. All child protection practice must be success centered and fully committed to doing the right things right, the first time, on time, every time, one child at a time, no exceptions, no excuses.

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