The next experience we’re highlighting in the “Systems Spotlight” blog series is from a child welfare system in our own country – the state of New Hampshire. While it is a much smaller state than Washington and operates differently, we can still learn a lot from their approach.
The Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), part of New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), is responsible for child welfare in the state of New Hampshire. While it has the legal obligations for the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, the agency’s emphasis on using a family-centered approach clearly sets it apart. This emphasis is made clear in its vision and mission statements:
Vision: We envision a state in which every child lives in a nurturing family and plays and goes to school in communities that are safe and cherish children .
Mission: We are dedicated to assisting families in the protection, development, permanency, and well-being of their children and the communities in which they live .
As described in DCYF’s 2010-2014 Comprehensive Child and Family Service Plan Annual Progress and Services Report, DCYF staff provides a wide range of family-centered services with a central goal of meeting a parent’s and a child’s needs by strengthening the family system. Programs are designed to support families and children in their own homes and communities whenever possible .
An important shift in the orientation of New Hampshire’s child welfare system took place in 2005. DHHS, DCYF and Child Development Bureau within DCYF, along with a few other divisions within DHHS and other agencies led the StrengtheningFamilies initiative . Strengthening Families is a research-based, preventive strategy developed by Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) that aims to help state-level child welfare systems increase family stability, enhance child development and reduce child abuse and neglect . States that adopted this initiative worked to shift their policy, funding and training to apply the Protective Factors Framework to their programs – helping to build protective factors with the children and families they serve .
As vulnerable families typically have multi-service needs (child welfare, health care, etc.), without a structure of cross-system collaboration, DCYF would not be able to effectively reach all professionals and systems that touch children and families in order to implement the Strengthening Families initiative. Therefore, the state uses Practice Model, a tool of beliefs and guiding principles that create a framework for an integrated vision that aligns service delivery, practice, and policy across all levels of DCYF and the three DCYF bureaus that provide direct child welfare services to children, youth, families and communities . The Practice Model believes that: 1) prevention reduces child abuse and neglect, 2) all children/youth should be safe, 3) all children/youth need and deserve permanency, 4) all children, youth, and families deserve a life of well-being, 5) all children/youth belong with their family, 6) all families have strengths, and 7) everyone deserves to be treated with courtesy and respect . The Practice Model aims to ensure high levels of partnership with families, communities, and stakeholders by focusing on the areas of family engagement, safety and assessment, organizational culture and climate, and restorative justice.
CSSP indicated that the New Hampshire Strengthening Families leadership team would explore options for comprehensive evaluation to measure success of this program . While information is currently not readily available, the results of the evaluation would have important implications on the future work in New Hampshire and beyond, and we look forward to following any developments.
Our next and final post of the “Systems Spotlight” blog series will highlight the work happening in New Jersey to protect children and preserve families.