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Message ID: 8103
Date: 2009-03-25

Author:Chaffin, Mark J. (HSC)

Subject:collaboration be adversaries

Shari,



Its quite a balancing act in the child welfare agency business, a business which often must rely on both the carrot and the stick. When you think about it, the whole concept of child welfare is inescapably adversarial at its core--society, via the state, needs a mechanism to intrude into childrearing when things are deemed intolerable, and this is by definition unsolicited (and therefore often unwelcomed) by parents. We have voluntary and self-initiated help systems available in society, some of them even housed under the child welfare umbrella, but most of the time child welfare is about intervening in response to a complaint made by someone else other than the parent themselves.



Still, lots of people in child welfare realize that going in with guns blazing and behaving autocratically only occasions greater resistance and defeats the purpose for any goal short of TPR. So we try to make the process collaborative and participatory. We try to foster buy-in. We try to be responsive to self-assessed goals and needs. We try to be respectful. We try to make some things voluntary if we can or at least create that illusion (everybody knows that some people at the table have the power, no matter how that is packaged or what is said). Things like family conferencing appear to accomplish this to some degree and result in better buy-in, although its less certain that they always impact downstream outcomes in many of the studies to date.



Most people in child welfare also realize that it is possible to go too far the other direction, failing to be sufficiently assertive or authoritative. This side of things can include failure to enforce mandates or motivate compliance, premature case closing, or failure to monitor and evaluate progress. So, what we see is this balancing act when it comes to how the inherent power of child welfare is exercised in a case--use too much and things become needlessly adversarial; use to little and its possible that structure is lost and nothing changes.



I think we should prefer that cases go the direction of a more collaborative set if that is at all possible, and there are things child welfare can do to try to foster this. The case work models you mentioned are among these. They embrace the now aging empowerment ideology ("parents know best what they need") which was itself a reaction against the arrogance of the "professionals know best" ideology of the preceding era. I would argue that both ideologies become flawed when they dominate practice and that good practice is a matter of finding balance between the polarities and being willing to use either or both depending on the circumstances. The moral of the story is this--parents obviously don't always know best (if they did, we wouldn't need a child welfare system!), but sometimes its a good idea to proceed on that general tack because you want to achieve the collaborative approach if you can possibly get it. You can always get heavy handed if you have too. But its hard to get collaborative once you've gone heavy handed. Sometimes, when somebody else is being heavy handed for you (i.e. the prosecutor), it can make it easier for child welfare to work the collaborative end of things. Maybe the discrepancy between apparent prosecution and child welfare agendas isn't always a bad deal? Those of us in the service delivery world have capitalized on this for years--carving out working relationships while letting child welfare be the "bad guy."



MC



From: dfmcmahon1@msn.com

To: child-maltreatment-research-l@list.cornell.edu

Subject: collaboration be adversaries

Date: Wed, 18 Mar 2009 12:36:56 -0500



State policy in child welfare makes much of the notion that solutions are found by means of collaboration between family and the agency and invokes the concept, widely stated (at least) in, say, systems involving children with special health care needs, special education, and so on that "parents are experts." Yet parallel to casework are the legal proceedings--deprivation adjudications, custody petitions, and so on. I'm sure different prosecutors (which, when you come down to it, is what they are) take different approaches to their work, but what certainly can happen is that as long as parents exercise their right to have their case heard in court they are subject to a difficult tearing-down process, in which the very person who most represents the agency in casework is also the person whose information is used as the weaponry (possibly with considerable sharpening efforts by the prosecutor).



Any comments, study, papers, or anything else on this topic and how it impacts the concept of collaboration? Government publications do tend to focus on the fact that whatever the court outcome or other clear legal requirements for parents happens to be, those must be taken seriously--but shy away from the issue of how destructive that process can be, and what agencies can do to lessen the destructive impact.



I was involved in a case in which the agency made the wise decision, after the parent prevailed in a TPR proceeding, to change caseworkers so the reunification ordered by the court could proceed without resentment.



Sheri McMahon



________________________________________

From: bounce-3702499-6832657@list.cornell.edu [bounce-3702499-6832657@list.cornell.edu] On Behalf Of Child Maltreatment Researchers digest [child-maltreatment-research-l@list.cornell.edu]

Sent: Friday, March 20, 2009 11:15 PM

To: child-maltreatment-research-l digest recipients

Subject: child-maltreatment-research-l digest: March 20, 2009





Shari,



Its quite a balancing act in the child welfare agency business, a business which often must rely on both the carrot and the stick. When you think about it, the whole concept of child welfare is inescapably adversarial at its core--society, via the state, needs a mechanism to intrude into childrearing when things are deemed intolerable, and this is by definition unsolicited (and therefore often unwelcomed) by parents. We have voluntary and self-initiated help systems available in society, some of them even housed under the child welfare umbrella, but most of the time child welfare is about intervening in response to a complaint made by someone else other than the parent themselves.



Still, lots of people in child welfare realize that going in with guns blazing and behaving autocratically only occasions greater resistance and defeats the purpose for any goal short of TPR. So we try to make the process collaborative and participatory. We try to foster buy-in. We try to be responsive to self-assessed goals and needs. We try to be respectful. We try to make some things voluntary if we can or at least create that illusion (everybody knows that some people at the table have the power, no matter how that is packaged or what is said). Things like family conferencing appear to accomplish this to some degree and result in better buy-in, although its less certain that they always impact downstream outcomes in many of the studies to date.



Most people in child welfare also realize that it is possible to go too far the other direction, failing to be sufficiently assertive or authoritative. This side of things can include failure to enforce mandates or motivate compliance, premature case closing, or failure to monitor and evaluate progress. So, what we see is this balancing act when it comes to how the inherent power of child welfare is exercised in a case--use too much and things become needlessly adversarial; use to little and its possible that structure is lost and nothing changes.



I think we should prefer that cases go the direction of a more collaborative set if that is at all possible, and there are things child welfare can do to try to foster this. The case work models you mentioned are among these. They embrace the now aging empowerment ideology ("parents know best what they need") which was itself a reaction against the arrogance of the "professionals know best" ideology of the preceding era. I would argue that both ideologies become flawed when they dominate practice and that good practice is a matter of finding balance between the polarities and being willing to use either or both depending on the circumstances. The moral of the story is this--parents obviously don't always know best (if they did, we wouldn't need a child welfare system!), but sometimes its a good idea to proceed on that general tack because you want to achieve the collaborative approach if you can possibly get it. You can always get heavy handed if you have too. But its hard to get collaborative once you've gone heavy handed. Sometimes, when somebody else is being heavy handed for you (i.e. the prosecutor), it can make it easier for child welfare to work the collaborative end of things. Maybe the discrepancy between apparent prosecution and child welfare agendas isn't always a bad deal? Those of us in the service delivery world have capitalized on this for years--carving out working relationships while letting child welfare be the "bad guy."



MC



From: dfmcmahon1msn.com

To: child-maltreatment-research-llist.cornell.edu

Subject: collaboration be adversaries

Date: Wed, 18 Mar 2009 12:36:56 -0500



State policy in child welfare makes much of the notion that solutions are found by means of collaboration between family and the agency and invokes the concept, widely stated (at least) in, say, systems involving children with special health care needs, special education, and so on that "parents are experts." Yet parallel to casework are the legal proceedings--deprivation adjudications, custody petitions, and so on. I'm sure different prosecutors (which, when you come down to it, is what they are) take different approaches to their work, but what certainly can happen is that as long as parents exercise their right to have their case heard in court they are subject to a difficult tearing-down process, in which the very person who most represents the agency in casework is also the person whose information is used as the weaponry (possibly with considerable sharpening efforts by the prosecutor).



Any comments, study, papers, or anything else on this topic and how it impacts the concept of collaboration? Government publications do tend to focus on the fact that whatever the court outcome or other clear legal requirements for parents happens to be, those must be taken seriously--but shy away from the issue of how destructive that process can be, and what agencies can do to lessen the destructive impact.



I was involved in a case in which the agency made the wise decision, after the parent prevailed in a TPR proceeding, to change caseworkers so the reunification ordered by the court could proceed without resentment.



Sheri McMahon



________________________________________

From: bounce-3702499-6832657list.cornell.edu [bounce-3702499-6832657list.cornell.edu] On Behalf Of Child Maltreatment Researchers digest [child-maltreatment-research-llist.cornell.edu]

Sent: Friday, March 20, 2009 11:15 PM

To: child-maltreatment-research-l digest recipients

Subject: child-maltreatment-research-l digest: March 20, 2009