Magazine article Policy & Practice

The Magic of Teaming

Magazine article Policy & Practice

The Magic of Teaming

Article excerpt

Child welfare has too long been a lonely vocation. It is nothing short of astonishing that in 2006 child welfare operates by the same core work process that characterized its beginnings: a lone social worker is held individually accountable for an overwhelming array of impossible predictions and Solomonic decisions, concerning multiple traumatized children and families. In Massachusetts, we have concluded that this imposes intolerable stresses on both social workers and families. We are in the process of developing an alternative core work process, based on team responsibility for our relationship with children and families. Eighteen months of experimentation has produced initial results that have transformed for staff and families.

I came to the Massachusetts' Department of Social Services four years ago, untutored in child welfare. My naivete permitted me to question how young social workers could be required to bear individual responsibility for the safety, permanency and well-being of children, in a setting flooded with trauma. As a lawyer, I was startled that sometimes life-and-death decisions would be made based on the observations of a sole social worker. As a human being, I ached for the efforts of social workers to somehow manage, contain or repress the emotional toll that constant confrontation with trauma exacted from them. As an observer of organizational life, I feared for the impact of that emotional roller coaster on the quality of decision-making and on the worker/family relationship. We began to discuss ways to provide social workers with the support of shared decision-making and team responsibility for families and children.

With the generous support of a grant from the Marguerite Casey Foundation, we offered the opportunity for each of our 28 area offices to experiment with teaming for direct service social workers. It wasn't that teaming didn't exist in DSS; it was just that it was reserved for senior managers, or was piloted in a small number of offices to address specific issues such as domestic violence or community engagement in decision-making. The direct service workers, who bore the brunt of the exposure to trauma and punitive accountability, often did not have the privilege of team observation or team decision-making.

Eight offices expressed a desire to experiment with teaming. …

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