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Asking ourselves “what if…?”. System change begins with looking at what we already have, evaluating its effectiveness, and asking ourselves , “what if…?”. Contra Costa County Parent Partner Program Judi Knittel & Cheryl Barrett March 5 2009. Asking ourselves, “what if…?”

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slide1

Asking ourselves

“what if…?”

System change begins with looking at

what we already have, evaluating its

effectiveness, and asking ourselves ,

“what if…?”

slide2

Contra Costa County

Parent Partner Program

Judi Knittel & Cheryl Barrett

March 5 2009

Asking ourselves, “what if…?”

When we brought parents on board as Parent Partners, we were given the charge to develop a program model that would give us improved outcomes using a paraprofessional staff. As the result of a 5 year System of Care infrastructure building grant, we had the luxury of time to analyze the current practice, and ask in what ways it could be changed. Parent collaborators and a supervisor from New York gave us an opportunity to look at the existing system with a clear eye, and the help and support of seasoned Child Welfare administrators, supervisors, and staff helped us to make changes within the existing county child welfare framework. It also gave us the opportunity to explore what intuitively made sense, and what “business as usual” elements had perhaps outlived their usefulness. This exercise resulted in a struggle between the status quo and common sense. It caused us to look at our biases as we strove to put the human back into “human services”

Toward this end, it was necessary to look at the child welfare system with a critical eye and ask ourselves “what if…”?

What if we empower the parents? What if we let the parents choose if they want a Parent Partner? What if we worked with fathers as enthusiastically as we work with mothers? What if we assigned Parent Partners to work with families in their own communities? What if we were always available, always taking phone calls, and never closed a case? What if we help parents develop a positive relationship with the foster parent…the attorney…the social worker? What if…”

If you begin an exercise like this, asking “what works and what doesn’t?”, you will get a list very different than ours, because your system is unique to you, just as ours is to us. So, bring your biases to the table, and start making a list ~~ we did!!

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Parent Partners are “friends”
  • It is a limited friendship;
  • Parent Partners try to develop trust with the families that they work with;
  • Parent Partners maintain confidentiality; nevertheless, they are mandated reporters. This is explained to the parents;

Empower the parent

  • Let them decide if they want a Parent Partner. This is a totally voluntary program;
  • Have a “no fault” policy: Let them request a different Parent Partner for any reason or no reason;
  • Social Workers cannot make a referral for a family to have Parent Partner, nor can they refuse to let a family have a Parent Partner;
  • Assign two Parent Partners, if it makes sense~~one for each parent, and use this as an opportunity to teach them how to settle differences with an adult attitude;
  • Through the Navigating Child Welfare Orientation, the Parent Partners help parents to become informed consumers, and offer them the opportunity to understand a very complex system, and get their questions answered.
  • Parent Partners also encourage parents to “show off” just a little by telling their social worker what they are learning in the classes they are taking, and how they are applying it in their lives. If they are afraid to talk to the social worker, we encourage them to call after-hours and leave a message on their voice mail until they can develop the courage to have a conversation. We will give the social worker a “heads up” that the parent is practicing their new found skills;
slide4
Work with fathers
  • Work with fathers from the outset, don’t just view them as the fall back position if working with the mother is unsuccessful;
  • Remember to include them in the conversation, acknowledge their successes, ask their opinion, consider them as a viable option for return;
  • Remember that fathers parent differently than mothers. Build on that; don’t try to make them be what they are not.
  • Try to give fathers a male Parent Partner in so far as possible. Many men relate better to another man than they do to a woman telling them what to do. We call this “hitting the testosterone wall”.

Be available

  • Our Parent Partners have made the decision to be available to the families that they work with on evenings, weekends, and holidays. They establish their own parameters in this regard. They remember what it is like to have sadness, discouragement, and questions outside of the 8-5 timeframe. They remember what it is like not to have their child on Christmas, Easter, or on their birthday.
  • We try to assign Parent Partners to parents in their own communities, because they know their own communities ~~ the service providers, the schools, where the WIC office is located, and who they need to talk to in order to get free school uniforms. We find this helps build a sense of community, and gives the parent a support right where they live.

Be flexible

Model fidelity is important, but helping people is more important. This

is where we walk a fine line: If someone doesn’t fall within our

parameters, we’ll work with the person off-line. On the other hand, we

are clear about what a Parent Partners do and don’t do.

slide5
In Contra Costa County, Parent Partners:
  • Will maintain confidentiality while at the same time work with the family on maintaining an open and honest relationship with their Social Worker;
  • Model Social skills in the areas of relationship building, behavior, dress, demeanor, attitude, etc.
  • Coach families how to act appropriately (at court, in meetings, with social worker)
  • Dress appropriately (especially at court, and help them obtain appropriate clothes, if necessary;
  • Help parents learn how to handle conflict with an adult attitude;
  • Assist with travel training/role playing, time management;
  • Help parents to connect or reconnect with family, churches, appropriate friends and other various supports;
  • Help parents to integrate into their community;
  • Work with parents in recovery;
  • Help parents get a sponsor;

Other things to consider: Parent Partners

  • Will attend ice-breakers with the parent;
  • Will go to TDM/Mediation;
  • Will attend AA/NA Meetings;
slide6
What Parent Partners do not do:
  • Supervise Visits;
  • Transport;
  • Take sides (Parent Partners remain neutral. They are advocates for the case plan;
  • Testify;
  • Translate
  • Act as case workers, counselors, attorneys, sponsors;
  • Take referrals from attorneys, Social Workers, and well-meaning mothers-in-law. This is a voluntary program.

Parent Partners are Life Coaches

  • We choose to believe that parents behave badly because nobody has ever told them how to behave properly;
  • The Parent Partners regularly help parents understand appropriate social behavior: how to handle conflict with an adult attitude, how to dress for court, how to speak up and represent themselves appropriately at a meeting with their attorney, social worker, or foster parent. Parent Partners will role play how to get their point across in an appropriate manner;
  • Parent Partners help parents learn how to organize their lives by scheduling appointments on a calendar, organizing their court papers, learning how to make phone calls when they are unable to do something that is being required of them, learn how to read a bus schedule, and the Parent Partner will do travel training;
  • Parent Partners will help parents obtain appropriate clothing for court appearances, and coach them on appropriate behavior at the court house;
slide7
Straight Talk
  • Parent Partners are careful to be respectful and tactful in their dealings with the parents that they work with, however they are very good at explaining things to parents in a clear, straight-forward, jargon –free manner. Parent Partners are not afraid to tackle the tough issues.
  • Parent Partners measure success by making sure that “our” families are informed consumers. They are free to make whatever decisions they want to, but the Parent Partners make sure that they know what the consequences of their decisions/actions will be.

Meet the client where they are at

  • Parent Partners will try to help the client with identified needs, even though the need is not strictly a “child welfare” need. If the parent needs housing, or clothes, or needs to learn to read, or get signed up for Veterans benefits, we will help them. If they need a haircut or a shower, we’ll see that they get it;
  • Typically, Parent Partners meet their families at the courthouse at the Detention Hearing. They are a support and someone who can explain what’s happening;
  • Parent Partners work with parents who are in substance abuse treatment programs, and help them to find housing and other needed resources upon discharge.

Never close a case

  • If someone initially refuses a Parent Partner and weeks or months later changes their mind, and asks for help, we will immediately begin working with them. No harm, no foul. When they are ready to work, we are ready to work with them;
  • Once someone has had a Parent Partner and their case has been put on inactive status, they can always come back if they run into problems. There is no waiting list, and no paperwork to fill out. Today’s problems cannot wait weeks or monthsto be addressed;
  • We will not put an active case on Inactive Status until the Parent Partner can identify a minimum of 3 unpaid supports that the parent has developed. Grown-ups can choose their own support system. Theses supports can be family, the faith community, a supportive employer, a foster mother who has offered to help, and a myriad of other possibilities. In this way, as their involvement with their Parent Partner becomes less frequent, they have developed other supportive people to whom they can turn when they need help and support;
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We don’t close their case when their status changes, either. If they relinquish their rights or lose their rights through a termination proceeding, their child welfare case is closed and they are left without supports. The Parent Partner can be a shoulder to cry on, someone with whom to process issues of grief and loss, and the Parent Partner can empower them by explaining their rights. Parent Partners can help them fill out the “Consent to Contact” and have it put in the adoption file.

Parent Partners are not Blind Advocates

  • Sometimes the word “advocate” is off-putting ~~ synonymous with “enemy”. Parent Partners work for child welfare, and as such, are advocates for the case plan and good permanency outcomes for children. We help parents make good permanency plans for their children, but we are not advocates for unrealistic or counterproductive plans;
  • With social work staff, the Parent Partners always take the approach of “how can I be of help in working with this parent?” Parent Partners are aware that they don’t have any power, and serve only in a supportive role;

Spread the word

  • They call it Social Marketing. Let people know what you are doing. Let them know that the Parent Partner’s approach is going to be somewhat different, and let them know why. Give presentations to Social Work and supervisory staff. Make friends with administrators and be helpful when they need something. Do presentations for court staff: lawyers, judges, CASAs. Participate in community events. Man tables at community fairs. Help with special project, and offer to go the “extra mile” when needed. Train new Social Workers and interns. Participate in the Foster Parent training. Get “testimonials” from social work staff, attorneys, and foster parents and share their remarks in presentations. Write articles for “in-house” publications like foster parent and county newsletters. Participate in State trainings, workshops, and presentations. Participate on the PIP the SIP, and PQCRs. Participate in conference calls and Webinars, provide parents for panels and focus groups. Travel to Washington in the winter (bur-r-r-r) and Sacramento anytime. Never be defensive: consider all criticism to be well-intended and constructive, and seriously consider suggestions. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, so if something goes wrong, it will not rock your world or devastate your program. And always, always, always look for opportunities to be on television and in the newspaper (this is good human interest stuff, folks). If you have good supporting data, show it around liberally.
slide9
A final word

As we were discussing what parts of our approach or “philosophy” we

should put in this presentation, the Parent Partner that I was

collaborating with said, “Well, we are just trying to turn doing the right

thing into best practice”. I couldn’t have said it better, myself. And,

quite frankly, it all starts by asking “what if…?”