What will our child welfare system be like in five years? What does the future hold?
Asked these questions, many people turn to the state and federal level in the belief that new laws, policies, funding changes, and interventions such as the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs) will be what shapes our field in the years to come.
They’re right, of course. The future of our child welfare system will certainly be shaped in major ways by the decisions of legislators and policy experts. However, the power to shape the future also lies with a group of people much closer to home: frontline supervisors.
As Supervisors Go . . .
Often having risen up from the ranks of those who provide direct services to families, supervisors don’t usually see themselves as powerful trendsetters. Indeed, most are so intent on the daily struggle to do right by their employees, their agency, and families and children that they seldom reflect on their important place in the scheme of things.
Yet important they are. Indeed, it would not be exaggeration to say “as supervisors go, so goes the child welfare system.”
Think about it. Supervisors influence virtually everything in child welfare. They affect how policies are followed and what practices are encouraged. They set the tone and expectations in the work environment to such an extent that they are sometimes called the “keepers of the culture” for their agencies. They influence employee turnover (or lack thereof) more than any other factor. Much of the data legislators and policymakers rely on to make decisions comes, directly or indirectly, from supervisors.
How well supervisors do their jobs affects nearly every outcome the child welfare system seeks, including the timeliness with which we respond to reports of child maltreatment, the well-being of children in foster care, and the rate at which children are reunified with their parents.
Intervention Point, Change Agent
Nationally we are waking up to the importance of supervisors. That’s why at least 22 states included strategies related to supervision in the Program Improvement Plans they developed after the first round of federal CFSRs (NCROI, 2007). Supervisors are an intervention point, a way to give reform efforts and other improvements traction.
Yet as we have seen in North Carolina, supervisors can also be the agents driving change. Take our state’s child welfare reform effort, Multiple Response System (MRS), for example. Supervisors were the first to buy in to the concept of MRS. They persuaded others in their agencies of its value. They continue to improve and refine it. Supervisors make MRS a reality.
Because North Carolina understands the centrality of supervisors it has made partnering with and supporting them a key element in its next federal Program Improvement Plan. This issue of Practice Notes describes what our state is doing to fulfill this plan, discusses ways agencies can strengthen supervision, and offers suggestions about supervisory coaching, managing time, and more.
Contents of this Issue