­Child Welfare Leaders Follow NBA Champion Spurs Lead

The San Antonio Spurs won their fifth championship by being selfless and playing disciplined team basketball, which is not bad for a team that was once in the ABA. This epic series win reinforces that a commitment to teamwork can have ripple effects, especially when it comes to solving the world's most pressing issues, like creating a better tomorrow for the many children whom are in need of multiple champions.

In the traditional approach to collaboration in the child welfare system, one caseworker works with a child, their parents and the foster family. This approach has led to an uptick in excessive caseloads, staff burnout, and high turnover, which negatively impacts vulnerable children and families.

In recent years, child welfare leaders have been working diligently to revamp their traditional approach to working with children and families. Cecil County, Maryland developed and implemented an innovative teams approach. The approach focuses on simultaneous planning of permanency options through the use of two caseworkers per case. One worker focuses on the child and the other focuses on the parents, which ensures the child's wellbeing while emphasizing support for the parents. The use of collaboration between stakeholders in the teams approach emphasizes a holistic model that provides more support to all stakeholders.

One initiative in Texas is showing the power of teamwork in their local courtroom. The Travis County Model Court for Children and Families displays a systemic model that brings people together from varying disciplines to tackle recurring systemic problems in the court process. The emphasis on collaboration between stakeholders encompasses the teams approach and ensures participation on both sides of the system. The Founder, Judge Darlene Byrne says:

Traditionally, a courtroom is an adversarial place where judges receive evidence from social workers, lawyers, CASA advocates, parents and children, which only allows the judge to make decisions for individual children in foster care on a case-by-case basis. The Model Court offers these same individuals a different way of doing business to solve problems on a systemic level. We meet monthly to talk about recurring system challenges and analyze data trends. We form workgroups to tackle specific issues. Individual members have their own tool belts on which they can rely, but I believe that the Model Court collaborative empowers us by making innovation a routine, every-day way of doing business.

Nationally, Casey Family Programs is building 'Communities Of Hope'; coalitions of government agencies, schools, local businesses, non profits, philanthropies and faith-based organizations. For example, Salem, Oregon developed a "No Meth" campaign to reduce the production of methamphetamine. As a result though, children living in meth houses were removed from their homes and thrusted into the child welfare system. A local leader, Dick Withnell, spearheaded the creation of a community of hope with help from Casey Family Programs. By engaging business owners, community leaders, and numerous stakeholders, the community raised $200,000 and partnered with the child welfare system to open a receiving home for these kids. Evidently, collaboration between child welfare and community leaders has the power to improve communities.

Children's Bureau funded nine demonstration projects to assess the efficacy of implementing a systems of care model -- a systematic attempt at implementing a national collective impact. This model focuses on addressing the varying needs of children and families by engaging multiple stakeholders. A key discovery from the demonstration projects showed that systems of care take a long time to implement and require persistence from leaders with a shared vision. This is why child welfare leaders must take a page out of the Spurs playbook and use teamwork to 'assist' each other in helping more vulnerable children and families.