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This article appeared in the Aug/Sep print issue of PA TIMES.
David A. Sofferin, Jarrid Smith
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:
The Current State–Florida
Florida’s state health and human services agency, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), encompasses many programs, 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 between 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 current 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?
The Department’s Gubernatorial Fellow conducted 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:
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:
Where Do We Want to Be?
Vision Statement For System Integration. The Department’s goal is to deliver services to children and their families involved in Florida’s child welfare system in a seamless and integrated manner. Greater access to behavioral health services and supports can reduce child abuse and neglect and help families recover.
Vision Statement On Communications. Smith offered relevant information on system integration. According to Porras and Hoffner’s journal article, “Common behavior changes in successful organization development efforts,” several factors are crucial to change management. These include: open communication; information flow; teamwork and collaboration; change management; and strategic management. Burnes, in the book, “Managing Change,” described organizational change as participative and consultative. Change is an ongoing process.
How Can We Change and How are We Changing?
Based on this assessment, Smith recommended that the Department:
Form a Strategic Communication Team (SCT) to:
Currently, the Department has several of these recommendations underway. The Department has been assessing internal and external communications by:
The Department welcomes these recommendations. Our planned activities include:
State governments, now more than ever, are fiscally stretched to the limit. Nationally, they are facing budget shortfalls, increasing food stamp rates, and rising unemployment. Implementation of cost-neutral activities, such as the establishment of a Strategic Communication Team, is smart business practice. While we lack in resources in many areas, we are rich in human resources. With a stable, mature workforce we have untapped skills, knowledge, and abilities within our organizations.
With a fresh set of eyes, the Department has gained 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?” Strategic Communication Teams provide a way to share the message of system integration throughout the Department.
Ultimately, when we are able to wrap our arms around our families and make them whole with one seamless system of supports and services–then we have done our job.
David A. Sofferin is the assistant secretary for Substance Abuse and Mental Health for Florida’s Department of Children and Families. Email: [email protected]
Jarrid Smith served as a Gubernatorial Fellow assigned to the Department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Program. He is currently completing his studies at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL. Email: [email protected]