Jumping Into the Deep End

Envision being thrown into the deep end with limited swimming skills.  Imagine the feelings that come along with this – overwhelmed, confused, frightened, and frustrated….all emotions that I’ve experienced as I assume my new role as Deputy Commissioner in a state Child Welfare System. I’m intelligent, motivated, and energetic, but are these traits, combined with my desire to impact positive change enough? Transitioning into this position has required me to hit the ground running and essentially learn as I go.  

The limited formal training has been supplemented with book recommendations - “read this, it will help.” And some of the recommendations are helpful, but not a perfect substitute for the learning that comes from collaboration and conversation with other professionals.  This transition has led me to wonder what training is available to really prepare child welfare workers, foster parents and leaders in child welfare for the difficult, ever-changing and multifaceted work that they do. Are there guides to best practice and how to achieve the high standards that we know are key to success in this complex field? There are experts and sound, step-by-step approaches in fields like aviation and healthcare, but when it comes to child welfare, there are not nearly as many clear approaches to enhancing organizational performance. 

In child welfare, a robust continuous quality improvement system is critical to ensure that we are consistently improving services and supports for children and families, as well as to make sure that we are making the most effective use of our resources.  Undeniably, child welfare systems contain a multitude of challenges and complexities. We must strive to adequately assess and measure our practice to ensure that our work is continuously improving.

Moving forward in my role, I plan to help enable others to act, shadow other industry quality improvement experts &  leaders, and working to develop a stronger understanding of core practices that drive our outcome metrics.  I believe success include

1. Ongoing cultural shifts

  • The culture of the child welfare system must embrace continuous learning. Staff must believe that we are all responsible for improving quality and in as much, work towards being more proactive at all levels of the system.
  • Bring hope, energy and the idea of being proactive with strengthening practices that might have drifted away from quality.

2. Assisting and aligning with the development and implementation of a culture of safety

  • Work towards building safe and supported staff with the hope of demonstrating greater buy-in and contribution if their learning environment is more proactive and engaging.

3. Enhancing communication feedback loops.

4. Working with my peers to make timely decisions and prioritize, track and adjust projects routinely.

  • Inspire shared accountability over blame
  • Follow through on commitments

5. Regular review and use of data with a communicated understanding of why this is important at all levels.

While “jumping into the deep end” isn’t always the best strategy, it does provide the opportunity to learn quickly. However, with the addition of a strong support system, one can thoughtfully plan next steps and take time to get familiar with best practice, while moving steadily forward and using data to make meaningful organizational change.