Saturday, June 6, 2015

Social Services launches new approach

 Sharon Roznik, Action Reporter Media 6:21 p.m. CDT June 3, 2015



Starting this week, Fond du Lac County Social Services is taking a new approach to child protective services.
Alternative Response, launched June 1, is an initiative directed at providing immediate resources to families involved in cases of child neglect and mistreatment.
For as long as the Fond du Lac community can remember, child protection has been done one way and one way only, which professionals in the field call traditional response. This includes investigation, followed by a substantive case decision, said Kay Metty-Reinhard, social services supervisor.
And while that standard approach remains critical in some cases, in others, families need services, support and assistance that will resolve concerns and stressors often associated with allegations of child mistreatment.
“We see that across the board, the work we do as caseworkers, we have a bad rap,” said Erika Winterfeldt, who, along with Metty-Reinhard, supervises a unit of 10 initial assessment caseworkers.
“For us to show up at someone’s door can be very traumatic and scary for a child,” Winterfeldt said. “We hope this will change the perception people have about child protection, because we are trying to build families up.”
Social Services held an informational community meeting about the new initiative May 12, attended by law enforcement officials, school personnel, mental health providers and in-home providers. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, Metty-Reinhard said.
“We all agreed that it takes a community, that it is everyone’s responsibility to help families in need,” she said.
The county’s assessment unit is responsible for taking all reports of alleged abuse or neglect in the community and gathering information through an interview process. Mandated callers may be teachers or guidance counselors, doctors, law enforcement officials or social workers. Non-mandated calls come in from family members, neighbors, friends and co-workers.
In 2014, Fond du Lac County received 1,441 intake calls to the assessment unit for reports of alleged child abuse or neglect. Of those calls, 538 initial assessments were completed.
Typically, during an investigation involving children, a social worker would meet and interview the child at school, for example, without a parent’s knowledge. A School Resource Officer may also be present in the room. Now, a social worker will be contacting parents or caregivers and scheduling visits.
“There were many times traditional methods created an immediate barrier between us and the family,” Winterfeldt said. “Imagine a 5-year-old coming home from school and telling their parents that they were questioned about their own family.”
Interrogations place families “in a negative space” and much time is spent de-escalating a situation, Metty-Reinhard said. Alternative Response is based on the belief that families can keep children safe and remain together if they receive assistance they need when child protection concerns are identified.
The new plan brings together caseworkers and families to jointly assess child safety, family strengths, needs and risks. Support services can include family counseling, child care classes, and connections with community resources, like a food pantry or The Family Resource Center.
“Children are more likely to be protected by parents who are engaged with our agency helping them make sustainable changes,” Metty-Reinhard said. “If we work together, they are going to have a buy-in to that plan.”
Examples of family situations that would fit the criteria for a non-traditional approach include lack of necessary care because of poverty, lack of supervision or necessary medical care, emotional damage or substance exposure.
“I think there is a hesitation for people to reach out for help if they feel it will shed a negative light on them,” Winterfeldt said. “We want families to realize that it is safe to reach out, and it is a strength to try and meet the needs of your family.”
Fond du Lac County was chosen among 22 counties in the state to participate in the Phase IV rollout of Alternative Response to Child Protective Services. Local staff went through a year-long training program. Fond du Lac County’s plan will be used as a model to assist other counties in the state.
The first phases were implemented in 2010, and now include 16 counties, including Dodge County.
“We are still complying with all the standards,” Winterfeldt said. “The difference is in how we approach families. We see this benefiting the community as a whole in reducing repeat reports of concern or maltreatment.”
Reach Sharon Roznik at sroznik@fdlreporter.com or 920-907-7936; on Twitter:




http://www.fdlreporter.com/story/news/local/2015/06/03/fond-du-lac-county-social-services-launches-new-approach-child-neglect-abuse-cases/28441283/