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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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