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Taking Time to Talk About Practice. Building Safety in Vermont. The USA. VERMONT Freedom & Unity. Population of approximately 620,000 Smaller child population than national average Larger senior population than national average State administered child welfare system.

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taking time to talk about practice

Taking Time to Talk About Practice

Building Safety in Vermont

vermont freedom unity
VERMONTFreedom & Unity
  • Population of approximately 620,000
  • Smaller child population than national average
  • Larger senior population than national average
  • State administered child

welfare system

vermont department for children families family services division
Vermont Department for Children & Families, Family Services Division
  • 12 district offices and one central admin office
  • CPS AND Juvenile Services (delinquent youth and youth beyond the control of their parents)
  • Sexual abuse by in AND out of home perpetrators
  • 136 CPS/JS workers statewide
vermont caseload stats
Vermont Caseload Stats
  • 1037 children in custody statewide (1/1/2010)
    • 29% decrease since 2006
  • 4584 child safety interventions in 2009
    • 50% increase from 2006
The Department for Children and Families must “actively engage families in case planning, and solicit and integrate the input of the child, the child’s family, relatives and other persons with a significant relationship to the child.”
a brief history of sos in vt
A brief history of SOS in VT
  • Beginning in 2003, regular training by Rob Sawyer & Suzanne Lohrbach, Olmsted Co, MN
  • CWTP trainer and 2 supervisors visit Olmsted – 2004
  • Practice spreads gradually over the state
  • June 2005 – SOS included as a strategy in the Child and Family Services Plan
  • 2005 Training system adjusted to focus on practice development with teams in districts
  • Summer 2009 – contracts for independent family meeting facilitators initiated statewide
vt engagement strategies
VT Engagement Strategies
  • Family Safety Planning Internal group supervision
  • Family Safety Planning With Families (Olmsted model)
  • Family Group Conferencing (NZ model)
  • Family Time Coaching
  • Differential Response
  • Breakthrough Series on Risk and Safety
  • Teaming
effective engagement involves
Effective Engagement Involves…
  • Using language intentionally and respectfully
  • Self reflection and group process to examine practice
  • Focusing on detail and understanding safety planning
  • Involving extended family early and often
  • Using extended family and natural supports to leverage change vs. use of court
effective engagement involves10
Effective Engagement Involves…
  • Shifting focus from documenting mistakes to building solutions
  • Avoiding ‘chasing one damn thing after another’ (Sue Lohrbach)
  • Sharing complete information with the family
  • Understanding and using research findings effectively
Family Safety Planning Practice Framework




(Gray Area)

Risk Statements/

Reoccurrence of Danger/Harm

Next steps/

Safety Plan

Strengths/Protective Factors

Current Ranking






Purpose/Focus of Consultation


Complicating Factors




Enough safety to close


Partnering: Action w/family in their position: willingness, confidence, capacity

Child & Family Services/(Lohrbach)

The focus is more on the family; they have more involvement. They take it and run with it. In traditional team meetings, the parent listens and the kid listens rather than actively participating. -Social Worker commenting on FSP practice
It was a change. . .they are not used to

doing it that way. .it was new and

different. . .they were used to having

service provider driven meetings and

treatment plans. And here the gears had

shifted and people said “whoa, wait a

minute, let’s get back to what the family

wants and how we are going to empower

the mom.” – Service Provider

Recognition that implementation of the “Signs of Safety”

approach is a fundamental shift in practice/ decision

making that has impacts throughout the organization

and catalyzes broad systemic change.

strategies to support change
Strategies to support change
  • Build Internal Capacity to develop knowledge and skills that support the shift in practice;
  • Build a bridge from “business as usual” (risk-averse) to collaborative, safety-organized practice;
  • Build in structural elements to support change- leadership support, policy, procedures, data collection.
from treatment teams to family meetings
From Treatment Teams to Family Meetings
  • Establish Forums- Assign value to dedicating time to learn, discuss, examine;


  • Create a common language– Reflective of solution-focused practices and instill strength-based values;


Deepening the Conversation – Know the questions to ask to elicit reflection about values and assumptions that inform case practice.


  • Mapping forAnalysis –Provide a consistent framework to think through complex details of people’s lives.


cwtp program activities
CWTP Program Activities

(4)Training Coordinators, Program Coordinator and Project Director

  • Liaison to each local district and central office;

classroom training

on-site consultation,


reflective supervision groups

management consultation,

leadership training,

group supervision and teaming training & technical assistance,

research and evaluation

  • After the Meeting Form
  • Individual Interviews and Focus Groups
  • Coordinator’s Meeting Report Form
  • Ongoing Discussions
system change
System Change
  • “We are honoring family voices a lot more and transparency is becoming part of the culture. Community partners are having the most trouble. DCF’s role has changed and we have expectations that other people will talk about the hard stuff. Community partners can no longer just tell us we need to take custody of a kid. We expect them to talk openly about their concerns and worries.”
  • (Social Worker commenting on changes in practice)
“The best idea was getting the family to develop solutions and work with them toward those solutions.”

DCF Caseworker comment on a team training event

“It is difficult with attorneys and GALs. Education is needed. In one, the mother brought her lawyer as a support person. . . and [the lawyer] wouldn’t let the mother talk. Makes it hard to be transparent. They don’t understand what we’re trying to do.”

[Social Worker talking about FSP practice]

impact of open communication
Impact of Open Communication

Family Members are glad to get everything out on the table, both with their extended families and with DCF. Families generally feel that DCF listens to them in these meetings.

“Its really changed her. . .its almost like she. . .seems to have a sense of family values more now than she ever did before. . .She used to . . She was awful. . .The way she used to be and the way she is now is like somebody took her body over.”

[Uncle and Aunt reflecting on their teen niece after the family’s FGC]

“Like normally I would have hidden any of that stuff, like anything bad that I’ve done I would have hidden it from my social worker and my family and everything but I don’t know being in that room just made me feel safe and like I just like spilled out everything”. [Young person after FSP]
“When you think about it, why wouldn’t extended family and friends be included in planning for a family?”

Worker after attending a FGC for the first time.

Q: Anything about the meeting surprise you?A: The fact that it wasn’t…I was expecting something more aggressive. Any meeting that I’ve been involved in with SRS or DCYF has always been very aggressive and very blaming to the parents. It surprised me that this meeting was more “What can we do to help?” Instead of “You need to do this” or “You didn’t do this." I mean yeah it was kind of like that too but in a more gentle way and more helpful than I’ve ever seen them, surprisingly enough.

(Mother after FSP).

“I’m glad that we were able to make our own plan instead of DCF coming in and making a plan for us because each family is an individual and maybe my plan might be too strict for some people or maybe my plan isn’t strict enough. You know we needed to make our own. . .That is one part I feel that does work, making your own plan ‘cause no one knows the child better than the adults that surround her.” [Grandmother after her family’s FGC]
“I was less intimidated having a bunch of family to back me up. . . . It wasn’t just me saying I’m a good parent”
“It made a huge difference cause when all these people walked in, the people from DCF were there and then the lawyers and there were just so many people and when I walked in I was feeling a little intimidated cause I felt outnumbered. And then all my friends and family showed up and then they were probably feeling outnumbered. [People present] actually commented several times on how much support we had and that’s a big reason why [daughter] was able to come home is that we had so much support. And she knew that if I became overwhelmed I could pick up the phone and call someone or walk across the street to my neighbor’s house. That someone was going to be there that was willing to help out”.
“[Having so many family there] made me realize people really do care.”

[Young Person after FSP]

Q: And it made you feel. . .you said something about closer? A: Closer with your family like if you’re open about your problems and your family is opened up to their problems then you can just work together you know like instead of having a big conflict all the time. Q: So it wasn’t just your strengths and weaknesses it was. . . A: It was everybody’s.

[Teen after recent FSP]

“I’m really glad that they’re having meetings like that. Because the problem with my family was that it was my sister’s child that was in custody, protective custody or whatever they call it, and every time his parents would mess up we, the rest of the family, would be punished so we didn’t get to see him either”.

[Auntie after FSP]

thank you
Thank you!

Sarah Gallagher, MSW

Child Welfare Training Partnership

University of Vermont

[email protected]


Jill Richard, M.Ed.

Child Welfare Training Partnership

University of Vermont

[email protected]