When a Utah child may have been abused, a social worker usually spends about six hours in the home, deciding whether to remove the child.
A study by a Brigham Young University professor found that placing a pair of caseworkers with a family for a longer period of time helped families, children and the caseworkers.Elaine Walton, associate professor of social work at BYU, will present the results of her study Tuesday at an international social work conference in Jerusalem. She will give its results to the Board of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services in August.
Walton used a $190,000 grant to study caseworkers in DCFS' Western region, which encompasses Utah County.She paired investigators from Child Protective Services with those from Family Preservation Services and sent them to affected families as a team.
The teams worked with the families over a longer period, from five to 20 hours a week, to evaluate whether a child was in jeopardy and needed to be removed. The intensive services began as soon as the investigation began, a concept that to Walton's knowledge has not been attempted before. Instead, family services usually come at least 30 days after an investigation and possible removal of a child.
Walton said the families who were subject to the intensive team approach accessed more services and were more pleased with their interaction with the division. The intensive services didn't change the likelihood of the child being removed, but it did decrease the chance of the child getting caught in "foster care drift," Walton said.
And caseworkers liked the increased time with the families and having another person to refer to.
For 15 months, four teams of two caseworkers worked with about 100 families. One hundred other families were in a control group. Six months after the study ended, Walton did follow-up interviews with the families and found those with the intensive services actually appreciated the state's involvement in their homes.
Walton first heard of the concept while on the faculty at Ohio State University four years ago. After moving to BYU, she met with Paul Curtis, director of the Western region of DCFS and asked if he had any ideas for possible research. He had the same idea, Walton said.
"His concern was that too many children are put in foster care too quickly without families being given enough support," Walton said.
Very often families who are investigated by DCFS are angry toward the state. So it was especially meaningful to Walton that families reported positively about the intensive services.
"Not only were they not resentful, they were appreciative," she said.
Walton believes the concept should be adopted by the state, with some modifications that would allow for a screening of which families need the intensive services.
She will also present the results of the study at the annual meeting of the National Association for Family Based Services in San Diego in November.