Florida’s DCF Partners with Gubernatorial Fellow to Enhance Services

In 2006, the Child Welfare League of America, in their 2009 National Fact Sheet, reported there were an estimated 905,000 children in the United States determined to be victims of abuse or neglect–a rate of 12.1 per 1,000 children. The CWLA’s Florida Children 2009 Fact Sheet estimated that in that same year 134,567 of Florida’s children were abused or neglected–a state rate of 33.5 per 1,000 children.

There are many risk factors for child abuse and neglect, including the presence of alcohol, drugs, mental health issues and domestic violence within the home. Florida’s state health and human services agency, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), recognized the value of integrated, seamless services for families to reduce the risk of abuse and neglect.

The Current State–National

The Child Welfare League of America, in their 2009 National Fact Sheet, reported on the strong linkage between children involved in the child welfare system and substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence:

  • 85 percent of foster care youth are estimated to have an emotional disorder and/or sub- stance abuse problem; 30 percent have severe behavioral, emotional, or developmental problems;
  • Three out of four youth in child welfare with the greatest level of need do not receive mental health care within 12 months after a child abuse and neglect investigation;
  • Parental addiction is a significant factor in child abuse and neglect;
  • The 2005 National Study on Child and Adolescent Well-Being found that among children who were in out-of-home care, 46.1 percent of their caregivers had a problem with alcohol and drugs; and
  • Of sheriffs responding to a 2007 National Association of Counties survey, 40 per- cent reported increases in domestic violence and child abuse due to parental drug use in the past year.

The Current State–Florida

Florida’s state health and human services agency, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), encompasses many pro- grams, including: child welfare, substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence and economic self-sufficiency. The Department recognizes that families it serves have multiple, complex needs.

The Child Welfare League of America’s Florida’s Children 2009 Report shows that in 2006, 134,567 children were substantiated or indicated as abused or neglected in Florida. The Department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Plan 2011-2013 reports that only 55 percent of the adults receiving child welfare services required to participate in substance abuse treatment are receiving treatment.

Aligning With the Gubernatorial Fellowship Program

Florida’s Gubernatorial Fellowship Program is a non-partisan program that immerses students from public and private universities in key areas of state government. As fellows, participants fulfill roles of critical responsibility, interact closely with the state’s top leaders and employ their skills and abilities in a highly rewarding environment. Fellows lead important projects. They are expected to contribute immediately at a professional level and excel at handling each new challenge as it arises.

There has been a successful alliance be- tween the need to enhance integration of services for children and families in the child welfare system with the resources of the Gubernatorial Fellowship Program. With a fresh set of eyes, the Department has a new perspective on the question at hand: “What works to enhance integration of services for children and their families involved in the child welfare system?”

The Role and Charge of the Gubernatorial Fellow

Department Gubernatorial Fellow, Jarrid Smith, was assigned to conduct a review of systems integration. This included conducting an assessment of the Department’s cur- rent status of systems integration as well as developing options and recommendations for system improvement. Smith chose to use his educational background in communications as the primary focus for this review.

Smith selected Deborah J. Barrett’s Strategic Employee Communication Model to assess and improve employee communications, as well as to create the right environment for change. Barrett’s article, “Change Communication: Using strategic employee communication to facilitate major change,” describes how to initiate the change process. According to Barrett, the first step is to form a Strategic Communications Team (SCT). This is a cross-sectional, multi-dimensional team designed to improve effective communication. Price and Chahal, in their article, “A strategic framework for change management,” describe the process of the SCT.

The team’s charge is to answer three basic questions:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to be?
  • How can we change?

Where are We Now?

The Department’s Gubernatorial Fellow con- ducted formal interviews and informal discussions with staff as well as contracted employees within the Department’s Substance Abuse, Mental Health, and Child Welfare Programs. The focus of these dialogues was to assess current communication practices. These exchanges revealed factors that strengthen, as well as opportunities to improve internal employee communication.

Strengths of Communications

The individuals who were interviewed provided the following strengths about the Department’s communication practices:

  • Co-locating Child Welfare and Substance Abuse and Mental Health staff members;
  • Having common work experiences;
  • Conducting cross-program integration meetings; and
  • Maintaining current and relevant working agreements.

Smith reported that the most open employee dialogue occurred during the Department’s Leadership Forums. These forums provide employees with the opportunity to discuss the Department’s vision and mission and how those ideals compare to real practice. These forums continue to provide an opportunity for the cascading vision discussions with employees at all levels of the Department.

Areas in Need of Improvement– Communications

Feedback from the Fellow’s interviews and discussions helped identify areas in need of improvement–what gets in the way of effective communication.

These areas included:

  • Lack of knowledge about available services for families through Department contracts;
  • Need for consistent membership in service planning teams. Inconsistent attendance was attributed to staff turnover as well as a lack of consistent representation at these meetings;
  • Insufficient information about each pro- gram office and how the resources of each program may assist families.

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