By Legal Intern Kelly Monahan
During the virtual 2021 Summer Forum hosted by ACNJ and New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) on July 14th, DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer discussed a number of key initiatives aimed at promoting the safety and well-being of children and families in the Garden State. While Commissioner Beyer lamented that these reform efforts were borne out of tragedy, the resulting Modified Settlement Agreement and Sustainability and Exit Plan continue to act as a catalyst and guiding post for positive systemic changes.
As part of the ongoing efforts to address the critical gaps in casework practices, DCF’s Office of Quality began working with consulting firm Collaborative Safety, LLC and adopted and implemented Collaborative Safety in 2019-2020. The Collaborative Safety approach is uniquely tailored for the child welfare sphere by integrating Behavior Analysis science into casework, as well as critical incident review to understand staff’s decision-making and how leadership influences case practices.
According to Collaborative Safety, child welfare agencies need to make three key transitions:
1) From a culture of blame to a culture of accountability;
2) From continuously applying quick fixes to addressing underlying systemic issues; and
3) From seeing employees as a problem to control to a solution to harness.
In its 2021 Annual Progress and Services Report (APSR), DCF outlined its Year 1 updates of its Collaborative Safety implementation efforts during which they:
- Developed and implemented a safety review tool to monitor the results of the behavior analysis conducted after critical incidents;
- Established statewide committees to support the critical incident review process; and
- Implemented the Collaborative Safety approach to review critical incidents in January 2020.
DCF is in the process of collecting additional data needed to identify system components that consistently impact the safety of children and families. The Department is also working to create a database to track and analyze the results of the critical incident reviews to identify specific factors that impact safety outcomes. This effort will increase accountability and enable caseworkers at the Division of Child Protection & Permanency to pivot from a reactive to proactive approach to critical incidents to enhance the safety and well-being of children and families served by the department.