County child welfare gets high marks in review

by Bob Grawey
Staff writer
Sherburne County’s child welfare department recently completed its Minnesota Child and Family Service Review from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. It included a Performance Review Plan, and has generated high marks for the county.
According to the state’s director of the Child’s Safety and Permanency division, Christine Borsheim, Sherburne County successfully achieved all components of its Program Improvement Plan, showing significant improvement in all areas of that plan.
This improvement plan is a course of action to improve child welfare services so children’s needs are better managed through the county.
Sherburne County Child Welfare Supervisor Jodi Heurung says the review is a helpful tool to ensure a better response to children as their needs change, sometimes very quickly.
“It helps us further examine what we are doing and if we can do something better,” Heurung explains. “It’s really a thorough process.”
That process looks at how the county is doing in three areas of a child’s welfare: Safety, permanency and well-being.
In the safety aspect, Heurung says protecting children from abuse and neglect is the top priority; are they safe in their home environment under every circumstance?
Permanency looks at stability in a child’s living environment.
“This is primarily focused on kids who are removed from their parental home,” Heurung says, “and placed in foster care.” Is the agency doing what it can to ensure that their foster placement is stable? “We are also evaluated on whether we are doing enough to unify children with their parents, if at all possible. If it isn’t, are we finding a permanent alternative living arrangement for these children?”
Well-being deals with parents’ capacity to meet their children’s educational, physical and mental needs. At times it also involves the county partnering with parents to improve their ability or capability to meet those needs.
All this can get quite complicated and complex, Heurung says, as each child’s unique needs are based on family make-up, specific needs and varying abilities represented in each case.
The review process also involves interviewing child welfare clients, service providers and stakeholders like judges, the county attorney, public defenders and others to get an idea of how well the county’s child welfare department is doing.
Changes made in the Performance Review Plan, which was completed in July and cited by the state, included a better response time when reports of alleged child maltreatment were made.
Heurung says that previously, if an incident was reported on the weekend, it would not get looked into until the following Monday morning.
Now, however, a social worker is on call around the clock seven days a week. If a report is made of alleged child maltreatment, it is investigated immediately and a face-to-face interview with the child is completed within 24 hours of the complaint.
More stringent efforts are also being made to locate absent parents and to get them involved in their child’s welfare. That includes becoming active in the social worker’s plan to meet the needs of the child in several areas.
An improvement plan has also been implemented that calls for a case review of each client every three months to help social workers keep abreast of any changes or changing needs in a family.
As situations call for more frequent review and more attention to the specifics in a case, the social worker will be better prepared to move into action to address a given situation, Heurung explains.
Currently, Sherburne County’s child welfare system serves 561 children in various aspects of the department, including mental health, child assessments and child welfare services.
The county’s next child welfare department state review is in 2013.