DCF's New Integrated Casework Practice Model

In the past year or so, the Department of Children and Families rolled out a new model for how the agency handles 51A’s. It’s called the Integrated Casework Practice Model. While the jury is still out on whether it is going to achieve it stated purposes (see below), what seems clear to me is that DCF has a lot more flexibility in responding to 51As than it did before. For example, instead of routinely “screening in” 51As when the call comes in, now DCF has up to three days to decide whether to screen a 51A in. Equally as important, now DCF doesn’t necessarily have to conduct a 51B investigation once a 51A is screened in but instead can do an “initial assessment” (IA) in order to determine whether a “comprehensive assessment” is necessary.

While these changes are certainly welcome, parents still need to be extremely concerned about having a 51A filed against them and having DCF coming to their home or to their children’s schools. Make no mistake, even if DCF calls it an “initial assessment,” it is still “investigating” the circumstances of the 51A and once they are in your home, anything can happen. That is, everything is on the table, not just the allegations of the 51A, but how the family is functioning overall, whether the children are at risk generally and whether the family needs services.

One major concern with the new model is that if the Department recommends keeping the case open and putting the family on a “service plan,” they can be involved in the family’s life indefinitely. Parents need to know that they can refuse services, but they also better understand the risks in denying services. Again, it is vital to engage a lawyer right away…

Here is a summary (taken from the DCF website) of the new Integrated Casework Practice Model:

The Integrated Casework Practice Model is designed to:

_ Stabilize families so that children can safely remain at home;
_ Reduce repeat maltreatment of children; and
_ Effectively target DCF resources to meet the needs of families requiring DCF services.

What is DCF’s Integrated Casework Practice Model?

The DCF Integrated Casework Practice Model (ICPM) establishes the framework, structures
and processes, expected outcomes, and underlying core values for DCF’s involvement with
children and families. Through the ICPM, DCF’s involvement with children and families
focuses on families’ strengths, and seeks to build parenting capacities that will support safe,
secure, and permanent homes. The new approach also ensures consistency in casework
practice and provides opportunities for children, families and their support systems to be
actively engaged and empowered in decision-making.

Key features of the casework practice model include:

_ Extended timeframes for screening and investigations to allow greater opportunity
to gather information about a family’s circumstances and determine how best to target
DCF resources;

_ Differential Response to enable DCF to respond to allegations of child abuse and/or
neglect based on the unique circumstances of a case and the individual needs/strengths
of a family. This includes two tracks: Investigation or Assessment, depending on the
severity of the allegation.

_ Use of new research based assessment and planning tools to support consistent
clinical practice in assessing danger, safety and risk; and to focus on what families need
to keep children safe; and

_ Connections to supports and resources within the child and family’s own
community first.

What Happens When DCF Receives a
Report of Child Abuse and/or Neglect?

DCF may receive a report of abuse and/or neglect, called a “51A report,” from a “mandated
reporter” or another concerned citizen involved in the child/family’s life. Under DCF’s new
model, a report of abuse and/or neglect may be handled in one of several ways, depending on
the allegations and other case-specific circumstances.

Here are the steps in the process:

1. The report is screened. The purpose of screening is to determine if the allegation meets
DCF’s criteria for suspected abuse and/or neglect, if there is immediate danger to the child and
whether DCF involvement is necessary. During screening, which begins immediately, DCF
obtains information from the person filing the report and also contacts professionals involved
with the family (e.g., doctors, teachers). DCF may also contact the family if appropriate. A
report may be “screened-out” if it does not meet the criteria for a reportable concern or the
definition of a caretaker. Families may also be referred for appropriate community services as
needed.

2. If the report is “screened-in,” it is assigned either for a Child Protective
Services (CPS) Investigation or Assessment Response:
• CPS Investigation Response: Generally, cases of sexual or serious physical abuse, or
severe neglect will be assigned to the CPS Investigation Response. The severity of the
situation will dictate whether it requires an emergency or non-emergency investigation.
The primary purpose of the Investigation Response is to determine the safety of the
reported child, the validity of an allegation and person(s) responsible, whether continued
DCF intervention is necessary and to assess risk to the child.
• CPS Assessment Response (Initial Assessment): Generally, moderate or lower risk
allegations, are assigned to the CPS Assessment Response. The primary purpose of the
Assessment Response is to determine if DCF involvement is necessary and to engage and
support families. This response involves a review of the reported allegations, assessing
safety and risk of the child, identifying family strengths and determining what, if any,
supports and services are needed.

3. A determination is made as to whether the child can safely remain at home and whether
the family would benefit from continued DCF involvement. If DCF involvement continues, a
Comprehensive Assessment and Service Plan are developed with the family.
Some families come to the attention of the Department outside the 51A process. These cases
are generally referred directly for a Comprehensive Assessment and include: Child in Need of
Services (CHINS) cases referred by the Juvenile Court, cases referred by the Probate Court,
babies surrendered under the Safe Haven Act, and voluntary requests for services by a
parent/family.

Does DCF have the same legal authority and responsibility
under the new Model?

No change has been made to DCF’s legal authority. DCF continues to have the same authority,
provided through Massachusetts General Law (MGL) Chapter 119, Section 51B, to gather
information from collaterals, mandated reporters and others whether a case has been assigned
for an Investigation or Assessment Response.

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