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Open Structures And Emerging Models Of Excellence

I have discussed the fundamentally closed nature of child
protection’s general structure and associated sub-structures. These structures
are consistent with nearly exclusive reliance on prescriptive rules and
procedures and on the bureaucracy used to organize and operate child
protection. These aspects were discussed earlier. There, we saw how reliance on
these traditional administrative constructs reinforces staff centered, program
centered, agency focused practice. This traditional, closed paradigm
effectively includes most (but not all) severely maltreated children and
successfully keeps them from harm’s way. However, it does not include most
maltreated children; and for the children it does include, permanence and
ongoing success are secondary considerations, if they are considered at all.
The unconscionable number of children lingering in foster care is but one
example of the paradigm’s inadequacy.

I have also discussed the importance of incorporating
permanence and ongoing success with safety as co-equal pillars of child
protection practice. Merely keeping most severely maltreated children from
harm’s way is insufficient. All children, maltreated or not, deserve and must
have permanent homes with nurturing and supportive families where their ongoing
success is, to the extent possible, guaranteed. This cannot be achieved through
continuing reliance on the traditional child protection paradigm, with its
closed structures and sub-structures. A transition to an open structure
paradigm is much overdue.

An important shift toward open structures begins with
simply abandoning reliance on legislatively and administratively determined,
prescriptive rules and procedures directing the behavior and actions of child
protection workers. The traditional “We know better than you how to help the
children and families with whom you work,” mentality should be replaced with an
“Any reasonable approach” mandate. Here, a “reasonable approach” is consistent
with generally accepted practice standards, known best practice, and sound
professional judgment in alignment with the judgments of most other
professionals with similar training and experience and in accord with well
understood and accepted guiding principles underpinning practice.

Within these constraints, practice relies on clearly
articulated outcomes and continuous invention of strategies individualized for
specific children and families. Worker, program, and agency centeredness are
replaced by child and family centeredness. The locus of services shifts to the
community, as discussed earlier. Within this community focus, child protection
relies on an integrated model of service delivery where virtual agencies are
tailored to the individual needs and interests of specific children and

An example of a virtual agency approaching the integrated
model suggested above has been functioning in Lorain County, Ohio for several
years. The Juvenile Court along with the public child protection agency and the
public mental health, substance abuse, and mental retardation and developmental
disabilities agencies formed the Integrated Services Partnership (ISP). These
public entities funded a services pool to pay for services for children
experiencing more serious behavior and adjustment difficulties. The community,
under the direction of the ISP governing group, formed the Children’s Continuum
of Care Committee (4C).

The 4C Committee functions as a clinical panel with full
authority to work with the child and his (or her) family and to authorize any
services or resources believed to be in the best interest of the child and his
safety, permanence, and ongoing success. The panel includes representatives
from the partner entities along with representatives from the schools and other
community services entities. The services arrays are developed one child at a
time and based exclusively on the judgments and experience of panel members and
the special insights of the child and his family. The result is a virtual
agency created to accommodate to the unique needs and interests of each child
included in the ISP’s operation.

The ISP has an additional feature of interest here.
Although the partnership excludes most children in the County who need support
and services since it only services more seriously maladjusted children who are
also associated with one of the partner entities, the issue of whether the
child is maltreated goes away. Some children served through the ISP have been
maltreated and others have not. They are simply children in need of services,
with full focus limited to developing the best services array for each child.

The ISP is an example of an integrated model with promise
for all maltreated children in particular and all children in need of services
more generally. For child protection, realizing the new vision starts with
acknowledging the fundamental inadequacy of the traditional paradigm within
which child protection is currently mired. The paradigm must shift to a child
and family centered, community focused paradigm, relying on standards, best
practice, professional judgment, and underpinned by generally accepted guiding
principles for work with children and families. From there, we can pursue the
serious business of creating strategies for realizing virtual agencies for
every child needing services, based on open structures and emerging, integrated
models of excellence.

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