2004 Jordan Institute
9, No. 3
in Action: A Success Story
Work First and child welfare takes a variety of forms. Many of these are
described on the following pages. However, to fully appreciate the power
of collaboration, it helps to view it in terms of specific interventions
with specific families. For this reason we present the following example.
Although names and some details have been changed to protect confidentiality,
this story is closely based on the success a real North Carolina family
experienced when it was served by a collaborative department of social
When she came to town for a job six months ago, Natalie was excited
by the prospect of a better life for herself and her eight-year-old
son and three-year-old daughter. Unfortunately, her employer soon
went under. Her family lived off her savings while she looked
for work. By the time her money ran out she had no car, no job,
and they were living in a homeless shelter.
One day Tiffany, her
daughter, woke up after the shelters kitchen stopped serving
breakfast. After a long, hungry morning, the shelter staff refused
to give Tiffany lunch because Natalies son had taken two
lunches with him when he left for school that day.
That was the last
straw. When Tiffany began to cry, Natalie gave up. She had no
job, no friends, no hope. She couldnt even feed her baby
girl! Natalie called CPS and asked them to come for her kids.
She imagined DSS would place them in a decent home that very same
day. There, she thought, they could be together and get everything
she could not give them.
Sandra was a Work
First worker at the local DSS. By the time her supervisor told
her about the situation, Natalie and Tiffany were already at the
agency, talking with Sidney, a CPS worker. Sandras supervisor
suggested she join them.
Sandra saw right away
that Natalie was distraught. Yet gradually Sandra and Sidney calmed
and comforted her. Every time Natalie brought up an issue she
thought couldnt be solved, Sandra or Sidney had an idea,
and Natalie brightened. For example, Natalie was having trouble
finding a job because she couldnt find daycare, in part
because Tiffany had behavior problems. When Sandra explained her
program could help find and pay for appropriate daycare for Tiffany,
Natalies whole outlook improved.
Sidney also dispelled
Natalies assumptions about foster care: in particular, he
described the negative impact that separation and loss can have
on children, and the fact that if they were placed in foster care,
Natalies access to her children would probably be limited
to one visit a week. After this dose of realityand some
reflectionNatalie admitted her decision to give up her children
had been a big mistake.
By the end of the
meeting Natalie had signed a safety plan and agreed she could
continue caring for her children. Over the course of the next
few months, with support from the agency, Natalie overcame many
of the concerns threatening her family:
- Child Safety.
The agency responded to Natalies call using the Multiple
Response Systems family assessment approach. Due to low
risk, CPS recommended services for the family, but did not require
Natalie had been a licensed paraprofessional in another state.
Work First helped her navigate the process of transferring that
license to North Carolina. It also paid for a community college
course that was part of the licensure process.
- Child Care.
DSS arranged for an evaluation of Tiffany. Because Natalie was
enrolled in Work First, the agency provided daycare vouchers.
Child welfare staff found her a place in a therapeutic daycare.
Work First provided Natalie with transportation assistance so
she could pursue employment and additional education, which
she eagerly did.
- Speech Therapy.
Once in daycare, Tiffany, who had serious speech difficulties,
had access to a speech pathologist. Her speech soon improved.
When Natalie could not find a job in her field, Work First helped
her find a factory job.
With encouragement from the agency, Natalie and her family moved
to a more family-friendly shelter. Both she and the agency believe
it wont be long before she can afford an apartment.
Collaboration is no
magic cure. At the end of the story, Natalie and her kids are
still living in a shelter and still economically at risk. But
they are on the road to recovery. Natalie again sees herself as
a good mother and as someone with a real future in the world of
work. Whats more, she readily acknowledges that she and
her family are stronger and better off for having been involved