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Memo
Date

June 6, 2015

To

Hennepin County Executive Team

From

Casey Family Programs Assessment Team

Subject

FULL REPORT: Hennepin County Assessment
and Recommendations

Thank you for the opportunity to work with you to develop the Hennepin County
Assessment and Recommendations Full Report.
Working in a child welfare system is a difficult job under the best of
circumstances. We want to express our gratitude and appreciation to the
Hennepin County leadership who supported this assessment and staff that
helped us plan and conduct the work. We were humbled by the opportunity to
learn from the more than 140 stakeholders who participated in this process,
including CFS managers, social workers and supervisors, law enforcement
officers, judges, guardians ad litem (GALs), county attorneys, public defenders,
birth parents, community service providers, mandated reporters, Hennepin
County Citizen’s Review Panel members and the academic community. These
participants shared impressive knowledge, wisdom and deeply personal stories
with the Casey Assessment team.1 Hennepin County is fortunate to have so
many committed and knowledgeable individuals who care deeply about children
and families.
Casey Family Programs looks forward to continued partnership towards
improving safety outcomes for children and families in Hennepin County.

1

Note that the child welfare system described here refers to the Hennepin County Children and Family
Services (CFS) agency, the courts, community providers, mandated reporters and other agencies that
provide services and supports to children and families in Hennepin County.

 

Memo

Assessment of Hennepin County
Children and Family Services’ (CFS)
Intake System
June 2015

Table of Contents

1. Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 3
2. Methodology ...................................................................................................................... 4
3. Narrative Discussion .......................................................................................................... 6
A. Highlights: CFS and System Strengths ................................................................... 7
B. Issues Identified Through This Assessment ............................................................ 8
I. Child Safety and Decision-Making ................................................................. 8
II. System Infrastructure and Organizational Effectiveness............................. 15
III. System Capacity and Resource Constraints .............................................. 22
4. Findings and Recommendations ..................................................................................... 26

© 2015 Casey Family Programs. All Rights Reserved.

Page 3 of 31

1. Introduction
This project was initiated in response to a request from Susan Ault, Senior Director in Strategic
Consulting at Casey Family Programs (Casey), as part of her work with the child welfare system in
Hennepin County, Minnesota. This report summarizes findings and recommendations of a review of
child protection practices in Hennepin County Children and Family Services (CFS), the public child
welfare agency located within the larger umbrella agency, the Human Services and Public Health
Department (HSPHD). In the months leading up to this assessment project, several high-profile
deaths of children involved in Minnesota’s child welfare system received widespread media attention
throughout the state. Hennepin County CFS, the largest child welfare agency in the state, received
particular attention regarding concerns related to child protection practices.
In partnership with Hennepin County CFS and HSPHD leadership, the Casey Assessment team was
given the opportunity to speak with CFS staff, community partners and birth parents. Casey was
additionally provided access to intake records, administrative data, policies and historical literature
on Hennepin County’s child welfare system. From these diverse sources, Casey staff have sought to
understand the effectiveness of CFS in protecting the children in families reported to CPS and to
recommend actions which could improve child safety outcomes in Hennepin County.
Context
Under Minnesota’s state-supervised, county-administered child welfare system, child protection
practice is governed by both state law and by state and county policies. Each county has its own set
of policies and procedures, but must also conform to state laws and comply with policy directives
from the state Department of Human Services (DHS). While the focus of this assessment is
Hennepin County, state policy has a direct bearing on how CFS responds to reports of child
maltreatment.
At the time this assessment was in the planning stage, state child protection policy was undergoing
intense scrutiny by the state legislature, the news media and the Governor’s Task Force on the
Protection of Children. Much of this attention was focused on the expressed intention of increasing
child safety and preventing child deaths from abuse and neglect. A number of policymakers and
other parties have expressed the view that systemic reforms are needed to bring a stronger focus on
child safety to the screening of child protection reports at intake, and that policy governing use of the
non-investigative Family Assessment (FA) track should be revised. The Governor’s Task Force
issued its final report in March 2015.This report made many recommendations for changes to the
state’s child protection policies, with direct implications for county-level child protection practice.
Several of the suggested changes, if adopted, would affect how child protection screening,
investigations and assessments are conducted in Hennepin County and throughout the state. The
Governor’s Task Force report will be referenced in areas where there is an overlap with this report’s
findings and recommendations.
The focus and purpose of this assessment are summarized by the following set of research
questions, developed through a collaborative process with Hennepin County leadership:
How effective is the Child Protection intake system (screening, assessment, investigation
and closure/transition) in assessing and addressing child safety, risk and family need?
a. How are child safety and risk currently assessed, and how can these
assessments be improved?
b. How well are internal processes and available services working to ameliorate
risks, safety threats and trauma, and how can these be improved?
c. How well are child welfare capacity and system resources currently working to
address child safety concerns, and how can these be improved?
© 2015 Casey Family Programs. All Rights Reserved.

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Narrative summaries that address each of these research sub-questions are provided in the “Issues
identified through this assessment” section below, and include: (1) Child safety and decision-making,
(2) System infrastructure and organizational effectiveness and (3) System capacity and resource
constraints.

2. Methodology
The Hennepin County Assessment project drew upon several sources of qualitative information and
quantitative data in order to better understand system functioning from multiple perspectives.
Quantitative data can provide important information regarding outcomes of interest and qualitative
information can shed light on the rationale for agency policies and practice, their effects on staff and
potential effects on child safety.
This project was reviewed and approved by the Casey Family Programs’ Human Subjects Review
Committee (HSRC) and by the Hennepin County HSPHD Institutional Review Board (IRB). All study
protocols and procedures were reviewed by the HSRC and IRB to ensure that the rights and
information of human subjects were protected in accordance with federal human subjects protection
policies and HSPHD agency requirements.
Data Sources
This assessment collected and analyzed data and other information through the following
processes:
1. Focus Groups / Interviews with Stakeholders
Through focus groups and individual interviews, the Assessment team spoke with a total of 140
individuals, from various stakeholder groups both within and outside of HSPHD, as well as birth
parents with a history of child welfare involvement. See Table 1 below, which summarizes the
sample sizes of each of the participant groups with whom the Assessment team spoke:
Table 1: Focus Group and Interview Sample Composition
Respondent Group

Sample Size

CFS Workers and Supervisors

42

CFS Managers / Directors

9

Law Enforcement Officers

8

Judges

5

GALs

11

County Attorneys

5

Public Defenders Office

6

Birth Parents

4

Mandated Reporters

14

Community Service Providers

30

Citizen’s Review Panel Members and Additional Stakeholders

6

Total

140

© 2015 Casey Family Programs. All Rights Reserved.

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Written focus group and interview summaries were analyzed using the qualitative analysis software
package, Atlas TI. Themes were identified before analysis began, and new themes were developed
as they emerged in the analysis. Sections of text were coded according to themes and sub-themes,
allowing for themes to be understood in context. Themes frequently overlapped across text sections,
which allowed for analysis of the co-occurrence of those themes. The narrative discussion of
findings describes how certain themes compared with others based on the number of times
respondents mentioned them in focus groups and interviews.
2. Intake File Review (IFR)
The purpose of the intake file review was to describe and evaluate information-gathering and
decision-making processes in phone intake screening, as well as subsequent case decisions. Prior
to conducting the intake file review, IFR reviewers were provided with current policies and protocols
used for screening reports and making track assignments in Hennepin County, as well as a
description of the Social Service Information System (SSIS), the state’s case record system for child
protection.
IFR reviewers spent three days reviewing 50 randomly selected intake screening reports received in
the previous 90 days, including both screened-in and screened-out cases. While not a
representative sample, the intake file review provided insight into CFS decision-making processes
and the level of detail captured in case files. Reviewers specifically examined: the quality of intake
file documentation; the clarity and consistency of screening policies; whether screening staff made
well-informed, defensible screening decisions; track assignment decisions and CPS response time,
among other issues.
3. Administrative Data Analysis
Analysis of data was intended to inform the project’s research questions regarding how child safety
and risk were currently assessed, and how child protection practices could be improved. Data
analysis allowed for a better understanding of what happens once a report of child maltreatment is
received, particularly the different trajectories for children once they enter the initial screening
process, and associated child safety and recidivism outcomes.
The Assessment team utilized two administrative data sources for this project:
1. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), a standardized data set that
Minnesota submits to the federal Children’s Bureau on a yearly basis. This data set includes
data for each unique child and unique report that is screened in for assessment or
investigation. Minnesota provides this data to Casey Family Programs as part of its ongoing
jurisdiction agreement with the foundation.
2. Custom data pull from Hennepin County that provided more detail about both screened-in
and screened-out cases. Because NCANDS data were limited to children involved in
screened-in reports and Hennepin County screens out a large number of cases, we
requested this custom data pull.
In the course of analyzing data from the custom pull, the Assessment team learned that in addition
to its complicated structure, the data regarding screened out CPS reports was extremely limited. As
a result, this report primarily uses data drawn from NCANDS, which lacks information regarding CPS
re-report rates for screened-out cases, an important indicator of child safety.
4. Policy Review
The Assessment team conducted a review of child protection policies, including state policies and
how CFS interprets these policies. The policy review focused specifically on front-end policies which
guide screening, track assignment and response time for initial contact with children and parents.

© 2015 Casey Family Programs. All Rights Reserved.

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5. Historical Report / Literature Review
The Assessment team gathered and reviewed previous reports and data summaries written about
the functioning of the Hennepin County child welfare system, and the state’s child protection system
as well. Hennepin County CFS has been studied many times in recent years; these assessments or
studies used various data sources and frequently produced findings and recommendations relevant
to our assessment. These sources of information included reports completed by:
• The Hennepin County Citizen’s Review Panel
• Academic researchers
• Legislative auditors
• Casey Family Programs
• Various internal Hennepin County employee surveys and data analyses

3. Narrative Discussion
The following sections of the report summarize information gathered from the above sources into an
analysis of strengths and challenges facing Hennepin County CFS. A more concise set of findings
and associated recommendations are included in the “Findings and Recommendations” section.

A. Highlights: Child and Family Services (CFS) and System Strengths
Child protection programs rely heavily on the ability of direct service staff to assess child safety and
risk of future maltreatment and to develop partnerships with parents and caregivers; for this reason
the performance of child protection caseworkers and supervisors is critical to the achievement of
good outcomes for children and their families. It is evident that Hennepin County benefits from an
exceptionally skilled and well-educated child protection workforce. The Casey Assessment team met
caseworkers and supervisors with Master of Social Work degrees, many of whom had 10 to 15
years or more of child welfare experience, and some with as much as 20 to 30 years’ experience
working in the agency. In focus groups and interviews, the quality of the workforce was the most
frequently mentioned (35 times) system strength, indicating that the most valuable asset that CFS
possesses is the human resource of those that make the system
work. The Assessment team was impressed by the knowledge and
“Hennepin has some
understanding of many CFS caseworkers and supervisors we spoke
of the most committed
with during the assessment. Casey has conducted system
and dedicated people
assessments in several other jurisdictions, and we were impressed
I’ve ever dealt with.”
that CFS has an unusually experienced and knowledgeable staff
--Participant
compared to most other child welfare systems in the U.S.
Many participants also described the inherently difficult nature of child
welfare work, including the experience of secondary trauma and the emotional toll that the work
takes on employees over time. The fact that so many participants with various roles in the county’s
child protection system expressed their appreciation of the workforce impressed the Assessment
team. In addition, many CFS caseworkers praised and expressed appreciation of their supervisors,
most of whom consistently provide considerable technical, clinical and emotional support to their
staff. CFS employee surveys reflected this perspective as well: 90% of respondents agreed that
their supervisor treats them with respect, 87% believed that supervisors are well-informed about

© 2015 Casey Family Programs. All Rights Reserved.

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staff concerns and issues, and 85% said they receive praise and recognition from their supervisor
when they do a good job.2
The protection of vulnerable children requires a coordinated response to reports of abuse and
neglect within the child protection agency and throughout the community. Participants sometimes
mentioned strong relationships between CFS and the community, especially in regards to
collaboration and cooperation among agencies. A wide spectrum of participants highlighted the
important and often innovative work provided by CFS partners and stakeholders, including courts,
community service providers and universities. The quality of community service providers was also
highlighted by participants, especially their dedication and collaborative efforts to meet families’
needs. Additionally, many participants noted the commitment and depth of concern in the broader
professional community. Many of these professionals have been engaged in the larger discussion
about how to best meet the needs of vulnerable children and families.

B. Issues Identified Through This Assessment
I. Child Safety and Decision-Making

“When a child is injured or

Perceptions of Child Safety
dies, there is a knee-jerk
In both Hennepin County and throughout Minnesota,
reaction. Policies are
larger community conversations regarding child welfare
in
incident-based.
the media and political spheres have reflected concerns
Eventually, there will be a
regarding how well child welfare systems respond to
death on your caseload.
child safety needs, including the prevention of future
Then there’s blame,
maltreatment. Consistent with these larger
firings.”
conversations, focus group and interview participants
expressed considerable concern about the safety of
--Participant
children involved in Hennepin County’s child welfare
system. When participants discussed their perception of
child safety (in general, as well as regarding specific cases), they mentioned fears or concerns
related to child safety 105 times. Positive perceptions or examples of protecting children were
mentioned 17 times. Both internal and external stakeholders stated that agency practices have
sometimes compromised child safety, and that CFS has not been as effective as it needs to be in
responding to and preventing future child maltreatment.
Hennepin County has a higher (i.e., worse) rate of repeat maltreatment3 than the state as a whole: in
recent data,4 6% of substantiated maltreatment cases recurred within 6 months compared to 3%
statewide. At 12 month follow-up, 10% of substantiated maltreatment cases recurred in Hennepin
County in 2013, compared to 5% statewide. Hennepin County also ranks higher than other counties
on rates of CPS re-report;5 11.1% of cases were re-reported to CPS in 2013, compared to 9.5% for
the state as a whole. In 2013, 18.2% of cases were re-reported in Hennepin County within 12
months, compared to 16.1% statewide. Comparing re-report rates across tracks, based on track
assignment, 11% of Family Assessment cases were re-reported within 6 months (10.1% statewide)
in 2013 compared with 12.3% of traditional investigative cases (8.6% statewide). In summary,
2

Corporate Compliance and Quality Assurance (2014). HSPHD Employee Input Survey: Area Specific Survey Reports,
Area: Protective Services Case Management.
3
Note that by definition, this safety measure only includes children determined to be victims, and as a result FA cases are
not included in this measure
4
From Minnesota’s Child Welfare Report 2013, available at: https://edocs.dhs.state.mn.us/lfserver/Public/DHS-5408FENG
5
Note that FA cases are included in this safety measure, as it includes all children involved in a maltreatment report.  
© 2015 Casey Family Programs. All Rights Reserved.

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Hennepin County CFS fares worse on measures of child safety than many other counties in the
state.
Focus group and interview participants identified numerous gaps in the system which they believe
have compromised child safety. These gaps included: intake screening decision-making processes,
internal silos that prevent information sharing, community collaboration and external information
sharing, policy inconsistencies or inadequate policy guidance, inadequate staffing levels and
overwhelming workloads, case transitions and communication between caseworkers and structural
issues resulting from Regionalization/ ROWE/ Open Office Space (discussed below in the System
Infrastructure and Organizational Effectiveness section).
Decision Making
Perceptions of Focus Group and Interview Participants
Perceptions regarding compromises to child safety were consistent with focus group and interview
participants’ levels of agreement with CFS decision making overall. Participants expressed
disagreement with decision making around child safety 79 times, while expressing agreement with
safety decision making 23 times. Intake screening and track assignment decisions were often
discussed in focus groups and interviews. Participants expressed disagreement with screening
decisions 55 times, and agreed 6 times. They were more concerned about too many reports being
screened out (mentioned 46 times), than too many being screened in (4 times). Participants
expressed disagreement with track assignment decisions 6 times, compared with agreement 2
times. All respondents who disagreed with track assignment decisions believed that too many
cases were being sent to the Family Assessment (FA) track. One caseworker stated: “Reading [the
referral], you’re like, I wanna get out there’” [quickly, despite the 5-day response time for an FA
case]. Another participant suggested that cases had been assigned to FA in a formulaic way in order
to reach expected FA thresholds: “Screening guidelines modified themselves over time to get more
cases into the FA track,” this person stated.
Intake File Review Results
This assessment included an Intake File Review (IFR) in which Casey reviewers examined 50
randomly selected intake files for their level of agreement with key screening decisions. Reviewers
noted their agreement with each decision, based on the current Hennepin County screening
guidelines. Reviewers determined their level of agreement based on how well the documented case
decision fit with current CFS screening criteria and guidelines for track assignment. See Table 2
which summarizes IFR reviewer agreement with Hennepin County front end decision-making.
Table 2: Summary of Intake File Case Decisions and IFR Reviewer Agreement
Summary of Intake
IFR Reviewer
Source of Reviewer Disagreement:
File Decisions
Agreement:
1. Screening Decision

Screened-in: 35%
Screened-out: 65%



Agree: 89%
Somewhat: 2%
Disagree: 9%

For cases in which the reviewer disagreed,
100% of reports were screened out, indicating
the view that more cases should have been
screened in.

For cases in which the reviewer disagreed,
100% of cases were assigned to Family
Assessment, reflecting the view that more cases
should have been investigated.

2. Track Assignment Decision

Investigation: 56%

Family Assessment: •
44%

Agree: 81%
Disagree: 19%

3. Immediate Supervisor Review (ISR) criteria
© 2015 Casey Family Programs. All Rights Reserved.

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Met ISR Criteria: 13% •
Did Not Meet ISR

Criteria: 88%

Agree: 69%
Disagree: 31%

For cases in which the reviewer disagreed,
100% of cases indicated they Did Not Meet ISR
Criteria, reflecting the view that more cases
should have been designated ISR.

For cases in which the reviewer disagreed, 71%
of cases were seen after 5 days, reflecting the
view that more families should have been seen
by an investigator in a more timely way.

4. Field Worker Response Time


Within 24 hours: 50% A. Agree: 56%
Between 1-5 days: 6%B. Disagree: 44%
After 5 days: 44%

Casey reviewers disagreed more frequently with track assignments than screening decisions. When
reviewers disagreed with these decisions, they indicated that too many cases were screened out,
and that more screened-in reports should have been assigned to the investigative track rather than
the family assessment track. Mandated reporters were often uncertain why their reports were
screened out; they often disagreed with the screening decisions themselves regardless of the
criteria which led to these decisions.
Immediate Supervisor Review (ISR) is a label attached to a case denoting that supervisory review is
required. Under ISR review, supervisors may determine that investigators must respond to the case
at an accelerated pace, making the ISR designation similar to a severity or emergency response
rating. Casey reviewers frequently disagreed with whether a case met ISR criteria, reflecting the
reviewer’s opinion that more cases should have been designated to receive an accelerated field
response. Casey reviewers also frequently disagreed with the response time assigned to cases,
given the serious safety concerns noted in some intake reports.
Casey reviewers offered the following additional observations regarding their review of intake files:
1. Intake file narratives were usually brief and missing key information. Narratives also lacked
relevant information in reports made by medical, school or mental health professionals who
typically can provide detailed information regarding incidents of alleged maltreatment and/or
family history.
2. Screeners often failed to ask probing, clarifying questions to ensure that the narrative
included sufficient information to aid decision making and caseworkers' interactions with the
family. One participant mentioned that screeners were specifically not allowed to ask “leading
questions,” a rule that sometimes resulted in missing key information.
3. Cases were not screened differently based on the child’s age or disability, potentially leaving
vulnerable populations at risk. Case history rarely entered into the screening decisions
reviewed by the Assessment team.
4. CFS appears to be doing an effective job of identifying and investigating sexual abuse cases.
5. Screening protocols included definitions of child abuse and neglect that seemed intentionally
restrictive. For example, screening protocols required that cases be screened in only when
there was a current injury, or when a child had a visible bruise. However, some reports had
been screened out when the allegation indicated that a child had received a blow to the
abdomen or other vulnerable parts of their body.
6. Follow-up by a medical professional was not required when a child reported physical abuse
to the head, groin or kidney areas. It appeared that screeners did not have access to medical
consultation for reports that indicated potential serious physical abuse.
7. No evidence was found of team decision-making during the intake process, though
supervisors usually reviewed screening decisions.
8. There was confusion among investigators regarding how to document an ISR, or even how
to identify that a case was tagged as an ISR.
9. Many FA cases may not have received the appropriate attention and resources needed and
were not being “worked” appropriately as an FA case.
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10. A lack of a trauma-informed lens was evident throughout case files.
11. Overall, what was frequently lacking was detailed documentation, a sense of urgency about
the work and adequate critical thinking regarding track assignments.
Narrowing the Front Door: Intake Screening Processes
As the point of entry for family involvement in the child welfare system, narrowing or widening the
“front door” of intake screening can have a major impact on child
safety, as well as the workload of every unit in the agency that
“The focus too often is on
subsequently encounters children and their families. Both
‘does it meet criteria,’
Casey reviewers and focus group and interview participants
not—‘is the kid in
asserted that the front door was particularly narrow in Hennepin
trouble?’ There’s a lack of
County. Numerous focus group and interview participants
critical thinking—just
described a nearly continuous process of revising screening
policies with the result that mandated reporters and even some
focused on compliance.”
CFS caseworkers were confused regarding which types of
--Participant
reports could be accepted. Some of these policy changes
opened the door wider to certain allegations/populations, while
other changes resulted in closing the door further. Overall, participants perceived a net effect of
agency practices making it increasingly difficult for a report to be accepted into the system.
Screening practices have led to the widespread perception that child safety concerns may
sometimes be left unaddressed while also reducing the community’s role in protecting children
(discussed further in the section “Community Engagement in
Child Safety”).

“Decisions are not based on
common sense—nitpicking,
pulling things apart too much,
missing the bigger picture
regarding safety. Decisions
are made fiscally based on
how many investigators are
available. If they open the
case, then they’ll need more
caseworkers to work the case.
They don’t want to spend the
money.”
--Participant

Minnesota has one of the highest screen-out rates in the country
at 71% of total reports, and Hennepin County CFS screens out
almost two-thirds of reports (63%).6 Data was not available
regarding the characteristics of screened-out cases, the absence
of which is a major challenge in evaluating the impact of
screening policies and practices.

The process of receiving child abuse and neglect calls has been
contracted out to a community service provider for all times
outside of regular business hours. These “Afterhours” employees
have lower educational/field experience requirements and are
paid less than CFS employees. While we were told that they
receive considerable in-house training and shadowing, Afterhours
intake staff receive minimal training and communication directly
from CFS. They do not have access to CFS’ electronic case
record system (SSIS) and are not expected to make screening decisions. Instead, they are asked to
document the reporter’s concern in a non-templated Word document, and forward on by email to the
CFS screening unit which receives the reports the following morning. If Afterhours employees have
questions regarding whether a law enforcement agency should be contacted to request an
immediate emergency response, they typically communicate by email with an on-call CFS
caseworker.
The Afterhours unit receives next-to-no feedback from CFS. Afterhours employees rarely know if
CFS takes action on their reports, and receive little or no feedback from CFS regarding the quality
and relevance of the information included in reports. Some Afterhours staff expressed concern
about not knowing the outcome of reports forwarded to CFS, for example whether a report was
screened in or out. Some community partners believed that reports made after business hours never
6

This number was generated from the custom data pull, received from Hennepin County.
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arrived at CFS. Additionally, some CFS screeners stated that they must duplicate some of the work
of the Afterhours staff by following up with the reporter to gather relevant information missing in the
original documentation. Some Afterhours staff viewed themselves as essentially “messengers,” and
by adding another link in the communication chain, the possibility increases that some vital piece of
information will be misrepresented or misunderstood as it is communicated from person to person.
Implementation of Family Assessment Response (FAR) and Signs of Safety® (SofS)
Family Assessment Response
Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (DHS) policies regarding differential response (DR)
prescribe use of two distinct tracks for responding to accepted reports of child abuse and neglect:
the traditional investigative response (INV) and Family Assessment (FA) tracks. However, DR varies
from county to county regarding how the two tracks are structured and available resources, among
other factors. Until recently, state statute described Family Assessment as the “preferred response,”
though this guideline was recently changed in response to a recommendation from the Governor’s
Task Force, and additional legislative changes related to FAR are expected soon. The Minnesota
Child Maltreatment Screening Guidelines provide the following description of FA:
The focus of Family Assessment is to engage the family’s protective capacities and
offer services that address the immediate and ongoing safety concerns of a child.
Family Assessment uses strength-based interventions and involves the family in
planning for and selecting services. Resources in the family’s community are
identified, and the family’s involvement is encouraged on a voluntary basis.
In Hennepin County, FA is structured differently than in other Minnesota counties, possibly due to
the size of the county, early implementation challenges and programmatic decisions that have
shaped the program over time. During the fall of 2013, CFS terminated its FA case management
contracts with community agencies and brought case management functions in- house. Prior to
taking this step, the Hennepin County Citizen Review Panel issued annual reports expressing
concern with the low percentage (12%) of FA families provided services by contracted service
providers. During the last quarter of 2013-14, the percentage of families initially assigned to the FA
track who received services increased to 18%, and FA case management positions have been
steadily increased. There are currently 21 FA case managers who are assigned about one case per
week, creating the potential for assigning about 1000 cases per year to FA case management units.
Slightly more than 3400 CPS reports were assigned to the FA track in 2014. To its credit, CFS has
more than doubled the percentage of families assigned to the FA track who may potentially receive
services since taking FA case management in-house during the last quarter of 2013.
CFS’ FAR system is currently structured as follows: reports screened in and assigned to the FA
track (i.e., not meeting any of the 13 criteria for substantial child endangerment) are sent to CPS
investigators.7 Investigative and FA assessment functions are performed by the same caseworkers,
who employ a different set of rules for the two tracks. Investigators then meet with the family and
conduct an assessment, which may be cursory or comprehensive. If the investigator determines that
services are not needed, the case is closed with no further assistance from CFS. If services are
determined to be needed by the family, the case is then sent to the Family Assessment Case
Management unit. There are distinct INV case management units which take cases from the INV
track.

7

Note that this track assignment decision (made initially by screeners) is reviewed, and can be changed at various stages
later in the process, including by the investigative supervisor and the receiving investigator.
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In contrast to most jurisdictions of similar size that have implemented DR, Hennepin County serves
both FA and INV cases through the same set of caseworkers, referred to as “investigators” within
CFS. In FA cases, these caseworkers are expected to utilize family engagement skills to build an
alliance with the family in order to assess strengths and needs and develop in-home safety plans.
However, these same caseworkers are also expected to possess strong forensic, fact-finding skills
for use in INV cases. The skill sets required for each of these functions are distinct, and investigators
may or may not possess both skill sets. Case management functions are divided between FA and
traditional INV units. The assessment process initiates the CFSfamily relationship, and provides a narrow window of opportunity to
“The biggest fault is that
engage the family in a new way. Numerous focus group and
investigators take a
interview participants noted that FA cases are typically handled in
forensic attitude for both
the same way as INV cases, except for interviews of children, the
investigations and FA
lack of findings and less intensive documentation requirements.
Some respondents described caseworkers as conducting FAs in a
cases. They are
characteristically investigative way, leading to poor family
impervious to change and
engagement and low service utilization. One participant stated, “You
have a ‘one and done,’ or
don’t really work with the family the way it [FA] was set up and
‘in and out’ approach to
intended.” Such sentiments indicated that implementation problems
cases.”
and a lack of fidelity to the FA model have occurred for some time.
--Participant
Additionally, the job title “Investigator,” for caseworkers who conduct
both investigations and family assessments is an indicator of the
perceived value of the FA approach in CFS.
Nonetheless, approximately two-thirds of all screened-in cases are currently sent to FA, although the
use of FA may fulfill a different agency function than actually seeking to “engage the family’s
protective capacities,”8 as intended. Investigators receive both FA and INV cases; INV cases have
strict response times while FA assessments can be delayed for several days, per statutory
requirements. As a result, the Assessment team was informed that CPS caseworkers commonly
prioritize, (i.e., respond more quickly and with greater urgency) INV cases over FA cases.
Participants also informed us that many FA cases are quickly transferred from investigators to FA
case managers, sometimes after cursory assessments. Most of these cases are then closed and
receive few, if any, services. It appears that Hennepin County’s use of the FA track has served as a
workload management strategy to minimize investigator time on cases viewed as less serious than
cases sent to the INV track.
Participants also noted that most of the cases transferred to the FA case management unit fall into
either domestic violence or physical abuse categories, with very few cases involving child neglect.
Some neglect reports (in which substantial child endangerment was apparent) were assigned to the
investigative track, but the great majority of families reported for neglect had their cases closed
without an offer of services. This pattern contrasts with many other DR systems around the U.S. in
which the majority of families served in FA tracks have been reported for neglect. Overall, CFS
seems to give limited attention to child neglect, by far the most common type of child maltreatment in
the U.S., with the exception of substantial endangerment cases.
Signs of Safety® (SofS)
Signs of Safety® is a model that emphasizes the development of partnerships with families towards
achieving child safety goals, and offers specialized tools for engaging children in safety
assessments and safety planning. In recent years, CFS began implementing SofS but without
8

This refers to the description of Family Assessment within the Minnesota Child Maltreatment Screening Guidelines.

 
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mandating use of the model, an approach that has led to “ad hoc,” ‘”opportunistic” and even chaotic
implementation according to some informants. Similar to FA, implementation problems occurred
from the beginning of the implementation process, as caseworkers received unclear direction
regarding agency policies for use of SofS.
The Assessment team heard a great deal of confusion and conflicting perspectives regarding
whether CFS would officially be moving forward with SofS implementation. One participant noted,
“We don’t know if Signs of Safety® is mandatory or not,” while another stated that the version of
SofS being used in Hennepin County is “not true Signs of Safety®.” Some participants believed that
they were expected to implement SofS, while others believed that they could implement SofS if they
chose to do so. Most commonly, however, the Assessment team heard that CFS caseworkers were
free to implement the components of SofS they viewed as helpful and ignore the rest. Concerns with
fidelity to the model are inevitable given this approach to implementation.
Safety Planning
The SofS framework includes specific approaches and tools for developing safety plans, which are
intended to ensure safety when a child remains in the home or following reunification. Overall, focus
group and interview participants described inconsistent practice in the use of safety plans. When
asked whether caseworkers develop safety plans with families, one participant responded,
“Sometimes, it depends. It’s not standardized—sometimes we just wing it.” Another participant said
that use of safety plans varies between work units, and that different work units may create “totally
different” safety plans in similar cases.
Other participants noted that there is a Safety Plan form in SSIS, and that caseworkers are required
to give the family a copy of any safety plan developed with and for the family, but that there are no
formal guidelines or structure for using safety plans. Several participants noted that safety plans are
required to be entered into SSIS before a case can be closed, yet some suggested that this
requirement was just a formality. One supervisor emphasized that the agency is encouraging
caseworkers to create a safety plan earlier in the engagement process, so that it can become a
living document used with the family throughout the case. It was repeatedly stated that there are no
clear guidelines or expectations regarding the elements of safety plans or how a safety plan should
be used with a family. When focus group and interview participants were asked how they view the
overall quality and effectiveness of safety plans in Hennepin County, one participant responded “Not
good.” Another participant said that safety plans are “often a list of services” rather than an
individualized plan outlining concrete steps needed to maintain child safety before therapeutic
services can be implemented and completed. Intake File Reviewers also noted that although some
records reflected safety planning, most records had inadequate safety plan documentation and
lacked concrete components necessary for developing effective safety plans.
Community Engagement in Child Safety
Community Participation
Focus group and interview participants described many areas where CFS partnerships and
collaboration with other agencies and professionals could be improved. Some participants
mentioned specifically that CFS has isolated itself and excluded stakeholders and other potential
partners from offering help to children and families.
One example of a potential opportunity to engage the community in deeper ways involves the intake
screening process. Many respondents believed that too many cases were screened out, a source of
frustration to mandated reporters. Some mandated reporters stated that they were sometimes
reluctant to make reports knowing that CFS has established a high, sometimes unclear, threshold
for acceptance. These stakeholders strongly expressed their commitment to protecting children, yet
were unclear regarding their role in that process.
© 2015 Casey Family Programs. All Rights Reserved.

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Service Availability and Ameliorating Child Safety and Risk Concerns
While some focus group and interview participants highlighted some high-quality and innovative
services available within the community, others described limited service availability or inadequate
funding of services for child welfare families, especially for evidence-based practices. Participants
mentioned service unavailability 42 times compared to adequate availability 5 times. Trauma
treatment services, or services provided through a trauma-informed lens, were mentioned several
times as being unavailable. Culturally competent services, or services available in the family’s native
language, were also mentioned as unavailable several times by informants. Casey intake file
reviewers also described challenges in partnerships with communities of color, and suggested that
relationships with these communities needed to be developed, strengthened and sustained over
time. In particular, reviewers noted that CFS staff demonstrated “uncomfortableness” in working with
diverse cultures in the community. Reviewers were concerned that when severe abuse occurred,
this was sometimes seen as a “culture issue,” particularly in the Somalian community.
Focus group and interview participants identified numerous prevention opportunities and ways that
the human services system could better meet the needs of children
and families before they developed deeper, more intractable
“We take it really
problems. Prevention programs typically seek to identify specific
seriously, how we report,
populations at risk for a particular concern, and then match them
with well-targeted interventions. Prevention-based opportunities
and when. It’s nice to be
mentioned by participants included: targeted, population-specific
able to get feedback from
approaches, such as for ages 0-3, the Parent Support Outreach
the worker. Their
Program (PSOP) (which allows families to access assistance and
involvement affects how
services outside of a screened-in CPS report), and permission to
the family will work with
keep CPS cases open longer to allow for more intensive work with
us, so it’s important to
families.

II. System Infrastructure and Organizational
Effectiveness

have some idea of how
CPS will take action.”
--Participant

Organizing Structures
System Complexity and Silos
Due to the size and scale of Hennepin County, CFS requires a certain level of specialization to be
responsive to the many child and family needs in the community. However, many focus group and
interview participants described a system that is overly complex, specialized and
compartmentalized, lending itself towards silos and role confusion. Several participants described a
fragmented work environment with divisions and work units focused on meeting their own needs for
resources and personnel, rather than working cooperatively toward common goals.
In addition, several respondents noted a lack of a clearly communicated practice model to organize
agency practice and integrate the work of various types of units. They described a system that is
overly specialized, with an emphasis on processing reports and handling case transitions in an
assembly line manner. According to some respondents, it is unclear throughout the process who is
ultimately responsible for the family’s case and for communication with service providers. Various
respondents (including CFS staff) expressed confusion regarding who was responsible for
developing safety plans with families. As cases transitioned from investigators to case managers,
some case managers believed that investigators were responsible for developing safety plans, while
some investigators believed that safety planning was the responsibility of case management units.
Regionalization, Open Office Space and Results Only Work Environment (ROWE)

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Focus group and interview participants described recent structural changes to the work environment
that have significantly changed how work is done in CFS. While they
are distinct initiatives, Regionalization, Open Office Space and
Regarding ROWE:
Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE, currently referred to as
“HSPHD Work Culture”), were frequently discussed as a singular
“What we found right away
system change. Beginning with the first community-based human
services center in 2012, Regionalization was designed to deliver
was that staff were
services to clients in a way that was accessible to them where they
becoming very isolated,
live. All HSPHD services (financial, social and public health services)
being separated from the
were moved into community-based regional sites in order to improve
group. We used to have
client access to services. Concurrent with Regionalization, Open
5th floor—all investigators
Office Space and ROWE were also being planned and
and screeners were there
implemented, with the entire HSPHD department being organized
together. We knew there
according to ROWE principles by the end of 2011. ROWE is a
were tons of people there
human resource management strategy that emphasizes a flexible,
to ask questions of, more
results-only work environment. ROWE allows for employees to work
opportunities for peer
from home or sites of their choice and use flexible work schedules,
review, shadowing, etc.
as long as they meet their productivity goals. In Open Office Space,
all CFS employees (including supervisors and managers) were
That went away very
moved from a traditional office environment into unassigned office
quickly. When you
spaces and assigned business lockers. Under ROWE and Open
combine the regional
Office Space, CFS staff have the option to work flexibly and in any
model with ROWE,
space that fits their needs, including the HSPHD community-based
suddenly you have people
sites. In practice, focus group and interview participants stated that
who are not just isolated,
they frequently work at home, in their personal vehicles and/or at
you have people who
unassigned drop-in work stations.

become disconnected.”
--Participant

Among focus group and interview participants, ROWE / Open Office
Space were overwhelmingly perceived as damaging to the CFS
workforce and its ability to meet the needs of children and families. They mentioned Regionalization
/ Open Office Space / ROWE in a negative context 109 times compared to 15 times in a positive
context. Regionalization was mentioned less frequently than ROWE in a negative context. The
negative perceptions of ROWE and Open Office Space were largely shared by caseworkers,
supervisors and managers. One participant noted that although ROWE / Open Office Space may
seem like a good idea in theory, the supportive technologies required to make it work were not yet in
place, or caseworkers were not comfortable using them. As a result, the informal case consultation,
mentoring and supervision afforded by a traditional office environment were no longer easily
available, leaving caseworkers feeling isolated. New caseworkers were viewed as having an
especially difficult time learning the job and meeting their professional development needs without
the informal support typically provided to new caseworkers in a traditional office environment. Many
of these new caseworkers were encountering child abuse and neglect for the first time, without the
benefit of informal support, consistent guidance and mentoring from
more experienced colleagues. Under ROWE / Open Office Space, one
participant said that new caseworkers “don’t know to look for us
“It’s a job that is
[veteran caseworkers].”
dangerous to do
According to NCANDS data, child safety measures indicate worse
system performance following implementation of these initiatives. See
Table 3, for timeliness to disposition rates from 2008 through 2013.

© 2015 Casey Family Programs. All Rights Reserved.

in isolation.”
--Participant

Page 16 of 31

Table 3: Timeliness to Disposition Rates (2008-2013)9

The dark blue line indicates Hennepin County, while the grey line indicates national rates. While still
far below national rates, time to disposition has notably increased since 2011, the year that ROWE /
Open Office Space were implemented in HSPHD. However, it is important to note that multiple
factors other than ROWE / Open Office Space could have affected this measure and other
measures of agency performance.
Repeat maltreatment has also has increased over this time period. See Table 4 below.

9

Data source: state-submitted NCANDS files
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Table 4: Repeat Maltreatment as a Rate of the Population (2008-2013)10

For repeat maltreatment, there was a large spike in 2011 followed by decline in 2012, then a gradual
increase in 2013. These rates are considerably above the CFSR national standard for repeat
maltreatment. Note that in both of these measures, the cases included were screened in and
ultimately substantiated. As a result, a large number of CPS reports in Hennepin County were not
included in these measures, as those reports were screened out or assigned to the FA track, which
does not make use of case “findings.”
According to one report describing ROWE and its objectives, by the American Public Human
Services Association,11 “Regardless of job, HSPHD’s ROWE principles require that the work
produce results for clients and the department, and that it does not have a negative impact on
coworkers. ROWE concepts enhance our new service direction with: Improved productivity resulting
from increased flexibility and employee morale [among other goals].” In regard to these goals,
ROWE has fallen short of its intended objectives, according to focus group and interview
participants. ROWE / Open Office Space has had an especially damaging effect on staff morale and
on the time required to move personal belongings. Some participants discussed the daily process of
having to find an available workstation and unpack their computer and work files, etc., each time
they arrive at a workstation, and then repack everything when they leave for court appointments or
home visits. Additionally, community-based sites do not always have enough available workstations
for the number of staff needing them, and supervisors are not always able to find private spaces for
meetings with their staff.
Several participants stated that community-based sites often leave CFS staff within earshot of staff
from other work units when they conduct telephone or in-person discussions, potentially
compromising client confidentiality and the integrity of ongoing investigations. One caseworker

10

Data source: state-submitted NCANDS files
Human Services Integration, Hennepin County, MN: A Raise the Local Voice Profile, available at:
http://aphsa.org/content/dam/aphsa/pdfs/RaiseTheLocalVoice/Hennepin-County-MN.pdf
11

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stated, “I came back from the restroom and found somebody sitting at my desk. There’s no
confidentiality. It’s scary.”
It is important to note that other agencies within HSPHD may have had a different experience with
Regionalization / ROWE and Open Office Space, and some may have benefitted. Yet, according to
many focus group and interview participants, the particular objectives of ROWE / Open Office Space
are not a good fit with the nature of child welfare work. Child welfare clients are typically nonvoluntary and do not seek out child protection interventions. Child protection caseworkers must
make critical decisions affecting child safety on a daily basis, and the importance of informal, faceto-face consultation with other caseworkers and with supervisors cannot be overstated. Additionally,
child welfare work is extremely stressful, as caseworkers are frequently exposed to potentially
traumatic situations. Child welfare caseworkers need the emotional and concrete support of their
peers and supervisors to help them learn the work and avoid burnout.
Hennepin County provided the Assessment team with a set of CFS employee satisfaction surveys,12
covering the reporting years of 2011-2014. Questions about Regionalization and ROWE were asked
in the 2011 and 2012 surveys, but were not included in subsequent years. In 2011 and 2012,
questions about staff satisfaction with Regionalization included a very small sample size, as it was in
the initial stages of implementation. In 2011, 84% of CFS survey respondents indicated that ROWE
was working well for them and in 2012, 87% expressed this view. However, it is worth noting that
among all other staff satisfaction questions related to Regionalization and ROWE, CFS employees
expressed less satisfaction in comparison to other HSPHD employees. The Assessment team does
not have follow-up data for how CFS staff viewed ROWE / Open Office Space following full
implementation. Only one survey item in subsequent years provides an indication of employee
dissatisfaction with ROWE. In 2014, only 32% of CFS employees agreed with the statement: “Open
work space works well for me.” There is, however, consistent data regarding general job satisfaction
across all years. CFS employees’ response to the survey item, “Overall, I am satisfied with my job,”
steadily declined over the course of the reporting years: 83% in 2011, 83% in 2012, 74% in 2013,
and 70.5% in 2014.
Many focus group and interview participants stated that ROWE / Open Office Space moved forward
without regard for effects on the workforce, or their impact on quality of services. In focus groups
and interviews, ROWE / Open Office Space were mentioned as (in order of frequency):
1. A cause or contributor to difficult working conditions for CFS employees,
2. A cause or contributor to inefficient processes that wasted employee time or system
resources,
3. An example of the disconnect between leadership and the work,
4. Contributors to a less healthy work culture,
5. An example of leadership’s lack of concern for employees and their needs,
6. A gap in the system that affected child safety, and
7. A source of potential breaches in confidentiality.

Organizational Effectiveness
Internal Communications
Clear and consistent internal communications from leadership, as well as feedback processes for
listening to staff’s concerns, are necessary for systems to work effectively. However, participants
12

Corporate Compliance and Quality Assurance (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014). HSPHD Employee Input Survey: Area Specific
Survey Reports, Area: Protective Services Case Management.

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mentioned that internal communications were unhelpful 55 times, compared to 4 times when they
were mentioned as helpful. CFS staff were also vocal about policy inconsistencies or poor policy
guidance, which were mentioned 133 times. The inconsistencies referred to the following issues:
intake screening decisions, frequent or arbitrary changes in policies and contradictory or
undocumented policies. Such sentiments were also reflected in the CFS employee satisfaction
surveys. According to the 2014 survey:
• 57.2% agreed with the statement: “Overall, I am satisfied with the communication practices in
HSPHD.”
• 48.9% agreed with the statement: “I believe that area directors are well informed about staff
concerns and issues.”
• 26.6% agreed with the statement: “Staff are involved in key decision-making regarding
organizational direction and changes in work life.”
Infrastructure for Developing a Learning Organization
Due to overwhelming workload demands, repeated policy and structural changes, and the crisisdriven nature of child welfare work, some respondents described CFS as an organization that has
had difficulty learning from past mistakes. Some respondents identified opportunities for developing
capacity as a learning organization through the use of data-driven practice, and/or a Continuous
Quality Improvement (CQI) system.13 However, respondents mentioned the use of technology to
support practice only 6 times in a positive context compared to 22 times in a negative context. One
participant commented that the SSIS system is designed for case management, but is less useful for
tracking relevant indicators at a system level.
Additionally, CFS does not have a dedicated data unit to produce timely data reports, so that CFS
managers can understand system functioning from various
perspectives. For example, the custom data pull requested by Casey
“We need a data center, need
was received in a complex structure, including 28 different
a data group. Not just
worksheets, with tens of thousands of records that all needed to be
individuals who pull data
joined together in order to identify patterns. The structure of these
separately for specific
data was a function of how they were housed, making relevant
requests. We need a data
patterns difficult to discern, and rendering the entire dataset less
group to look at data across
usable. Developing organizational capacity to monitor relevant safety
the system.”
outcomes in a timely way would allow the agency to better address
--Participant
safety issues. Additionally, better access to data could help prevent
backlogs and provide a clear case for staffing needs in budgetary
conversations with County leadership.
Workforce Issues
Organizational Culture
Focus group and interview participants provided a harsh picture of CFS’ organizational culture. They
described work culture as unhelpful or unsupportive 64 times,
compared to 4 times as helpful or supportive. Their views
“There’s a big wave of
regarding an unsupportive culture were primarily associated with
change now, ‘Kids are
the following issues: difficult working conditions, agency direction
dying and I’m leaving.’”
and leadership focus, ROWE / Open Office Space, and a
widespread fear of being blamed for something for which they
--Participant
were not responsible.

13

For more information about CQI, see: Administration for Families and Children (ACF) (2012). Information Memorandum
12-07: Continuous Quality Improvement in Title IV-B and IV-E Programs. Available at:
http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/im1207.pdf
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Throughout the agency, the Assessment team observed a palpable sense of anxiety, which was
described by several informants as feeling “under siege.” Some respondents described the source of
this pressure as the news media, as they felt their work was constantly being negatively scrutinized.
Others described the source as agency leadership, or historical
processes within the county that predated the current leadership.
“You can’t do a
Within the agency, the Assessment team observed a notable lack of
good job any more.
trust of agency leadership and a deeply felt view that leadership has
It feels unsafe.
little concern or care for employees’ well-being. Some caseworkers
Kids are going to
expressed concern about possible consequences for participating in
get hurt. It’s going
this assessment project, and our team was told that other staff chose
to happen.”
not to participate due to fear of retribution. One participant shared that
--Participant  
staff had been asked to record names of those participating in our
focus groups. The Assessment team also observed a lack of trust between and among staff with
different functions. This lack of interpersonal trust among staff at all levels was a recurrent theme
throughout the assessment.
Turnover and Workforce Development
Hennepin County benefits from an exceptionally skilled and well-educated child protection
workforce. At the same time, the Assessment team was informed that many experienced child
protection caseworkers and supervisors have left the agency during the past few years, with further
attrition anticipated as other experienced staff become eligible to retire. Focus group and interview
participants frequently mentioned that turnover was a problem, noting retirements as well as staff
departures due to difficult working conditions. Historically, CFS has relied on internal hires from
other CFS units and from elsewhere within the county, professionals who already possess a wealth
of experience. Some participants noted that it was becoming more
difficult to hire staff internally due to current turnover rates, as well
“Hennepin County has
as CFS’ negative reputation as a work environment within
HSPHD. As a result, units have often been required to hire
created a very isolated
younger caseworkers who lack valuable field experience.
reputation for itself—the
Available training programs were viewed as insufficient for
developing basic job skills among new staff. The following topics
were highlighted by participants as areas in which more training is
needed (in order of frequency): leadership and communications,
cultural competency, case supervision, intake screening decisionmaking, and provider relationships and community collaboration.
Some participants commented on a demonstrated lack of cultural
competence and language accessibility among the majority
Caucasian workforce, and cited poor outreach to communities of
color (especially to African-American, Latino and Somali
communities).

‘state of Hennepin.’
People get turned off real
quickly when they find
out you’re from
Hennepin. It has a
reputation, and it’s not
always a good one. The
pay is what keeps me
here, and that’s it.”
--Participant

In summary, major organizational initiatives during the past several years and a risk aversive and
unsupportive organizational culture have had an extremely negative impact on CFS’ main asset, its
workforce. Some participants believed that word of mouth in the human services community may
have already impacted the agency’s capacity to attract and retain talented social workers.
III. System Capacity and Resource Constraints
Adjusting the System to Scarcity
A number of focus group and interview participants noted that CFS has experienced a series of
severe budget cuts from both state and county levels, and that these reductions in funding have had

© 2015 Casey Family Programs. All Rights Reserved.

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a negative impact on child safety. These cuts which began in 2008 have not been reversed following
the end of “the Great Recession (See Table 5).”

Table 5: Children’s Services expenditures from 2006 - 201414

Children's  Services  expenditures  
 $140,000,000    
 $120,000,000    
 $100,000,000    
 $80,000,000    
 $60,000,000    
 $40,000,000    
 $20,000,000    
 $-­‐        
2006   2007   2008   2009   2010   2011   2012   2013   2014  

Participants overwhelmingly agreed that system resources were inadequate to meet the operational
needs of the agency, as well as the needs of children and families. System resources were
mentioned as inadequate 95 times by focus group and interview participants, compared to zero
times as adequate. As a result of budget cuts, the county has reduced and limited its child protection
efforts through repeated programmatic, staffing and service reductions. In order to operate within its
budgetary restrictions, participants stated that CFS had undertaken repeated efforts to increase
operational efficiencies, with a focus on reducing costs.
This shift in agency focus away from child safety runs counter to HSPHD’s self-described mission,
which is to: “strengthen individuals, families, and communities by increasing safety and stability,
promoting self-reliance and livable income, and improving the health of our communities.” The focus
on operating efficiently over child safety could be viewed as “mission drift,” and was observed by the
Assessment team at several points throughout the agency’s CPS system. Participants most
frequently mentioned this drift in the context of intake screening processes and ROWE / Open Office
Space, as discussed above. The Assessment team believes that a succession of budget cuts have
forced CFS leadership to adopt practices that compromise child safety. However, the root cause of
these questionable practices has been inadequate resources resulting from severe budget cuts.
Workload and Staffing Levels
Focus group and interview participants expressed significant concern about workload, combined
with inadequate staffing levels. Overwhelming workload was mentioned 172 times, compared with 2
times where the workload was described as manageable or sometimes manageable. Some
14

Note that this graph captures expenditures for children’s services (including child protection, foster care, home-based
services and other categories that fall under the child welfare system in Hennepin County), but not specifically the
expenditures that fall under the purview of “Children and Family Services.” Because the expenditure categories that
constitute “Children and Family Services,” (or other designations for the Hennepin County child welfare agency) have
changed from year to year, the above graph provides a consistent comparison of expenditure categories related to
children’s services across these years.
© 2015 Casey Family Programs. All Rights Reserved.

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participants provided examples of how unmanageable workload results in compromises to child
safety. One participant stated: “You can’t do a good job any more. It feels unsafe. Kids are going to
get hurt. It’s going to happen.” They also mentioned that workload demands made working
conditions more difficult, and that unmanageable workloads contributed to staff turnover.
Recent information regarding staffing levels is as follows:
Table 6: Current Staffing Levels across CFS Units, as of April 201515 (Front-end only)
Traditional
FA Case
“Field” Case
Screeners
Investigators
Management
Management
(non-ICW)
(non-ICW)
Filled positions
18
53
21
54
During Casey’s site visit to Hennepin County during February 2015, the screening unit had
accumulated a backlog of 220 reports that had not yet been processed for assignment to
investigators. The backlog was largely the result of staffing levels that were inadequate to meet the
demands of call volume, as well as structural changes related to Regionalization and ROWE / Open
Office Space. This backlog was a source of anxiety for the screening unit, as backlogs are difficult to
address while also meeting ongoing call volume. Additionally, backlogs are a source of concern for
investigators, as these cases may be received well into or even past mandatory timelines. One
participant stated, “You hate to get those ones that are already late.”
While the backlog from February 2015 has since been cleared, we were informed that another
backlog of approximately 300 reports accumulated in screening units in recent months. Since
February 2015, 5 positions have been added to the screener units, a much needed increase that
has the potential to prevent future backlogs if these positions are consistently filled with well-trained
and competent staff. The Assessment team has recently received information indicating that
screeners are currently processing about four reports per day. At the time of our site visit, most
screeners were completing 6-8 reports per day, according to focus group participants.
As another example of new inefficiencies created by Regionalization and ROWE / Open Office
Space, the screening unit was moved away from a downtown location to a community center site.
The new site provided significantly slower network routers and limited bandwidth, significantly
slowing down computer system performance (by 50%, according to one respondent). Screeners
frequently require access to complex records systems, and as a result screening productivity
declined (reportedly by 1/3 to ½) following the relocation of screening units. The Assessment team
has recently been assured by HSPHD managers that these connectivity issues have been resolved.
The Assessment team was informed (but did not receive data to confirm) that investigators were
assigned an average of 105-120 new investigations/assessments in 2014, a number that is similar to
CPS investigator workload standards used by a number of state and county child welfare systems
around the country. Just prior to the completion of this report, the Assessment team was given data
indicating that CFS investigators were carrying an average of 12 cases per person during recent
months (vacant positions were not included in this calculation). However, newly hired caseworkers
and caseworkers on extended leave were included in the calculation, even though these
caseworkers may not have been assigned an average number of cases, especially difficult cases. In
addition, average number of cases open at a point in time is not the same as average number of
new CPS reports assigned monthly, which the Assessment team believes is the most important
measure of CPS workload.
15

Staffing information was gathered from conversations with CFS Managers.
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Page 23 of 31

Nevertheless, the workload data that the Assessment team received appears to be in conflict with
focus group participants’ perspectives regarding their unmanageable workloads. Caseworkers and
supervisors in investigation units repeatedly stated that workloads were unmanageable, and that
there have been times during the past year when investigators have been assigned 4-5 new cases
per week, due possibly to seasonal variations in numbers of screened-in reports as well as
vacancies and staff on extended leave. Caseworkers and supervisors also stated that workload
pressures have steadily increased due to the addition of policies and procedures that require more
work on each open case, as well as the loss of case aides and administrative support staff. It would
be alarming to discover that CPS investigators cannot meet agency expectations for 12 cases, but
there is a possibility that these additional procedural burdens are a major factor which accounts for
the insistence of caseworkers and supervisors that CPS workloads are “overwhelming” and
unmanageable. A workload study may be required to determine the average time required to
complete work on investigations and family assessments, per CFS policies.
Additionally, caseworker-to-supervisor ratios are quite high (sometimes 8-1 or higher), and focus
group and interview participants stated that supervision largely consists of monitoring compliance
with administrative requirements, with little opportunity for mentoring or clinical supervision.
While this assessment recommends screening in more cases, particularly related to unaddressed
child safety issues, changes to screening criteria may have dramatic impacts on workload
throughout the system. The Governor’s Task Force also recommends changes to screening
processes to allow for more reports to be screened in, but additionally adds several new
administrative requirements, which will also have significant implications for system-wide workload.
As a result, in order to avoid further programmatic decisions focused on efficiencies that could have
negative effects on child safety, such changes will need to be adequately resourced.
System Inefficiencies and Incentive Misalignment
Like many child welfare agencies around the country, CFS has steadily increased its policy and
procedural requirements over time. Periodically, child welfare agencies need to decide which of
these requirements can be eliminated and which are
essential to the work. Focus group and interview
“There is no tangible reward
participants described an overwhelming burden of
for doing a good job; no
administrative tasks to achieve compliance with various
regulations. In addition, some of these expectations
recognition, no incentive to
regarding documentation have created misaligned
improve performance. We
incentives, which direct caseworker time away from
have lost our anchors.”
children and families. If CFS is seeking to ‘measure what
--Participant
is treasured,’ then CFS employees often believed that they
were being measured to the wrong objectives, and that
ROWE objectives were having unforeseen and undesirable consequences.
Participants described an agency focus on administrative compliance which often occurred at the
expense of family engagement. For example, one participant stated:
“Somebody didn’t like [a former colleague], so they were let go. This affects my ability
to make decisions for safety, because I’ve got [family and financial responsibilities].
So I’m gonna make decisions to check these boxes to make these timelines, over,
am I gonna take the time to consult with a colleague about this kid’s safety.”

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Perverse incentives described by participants included a focus on
compliance with time-consuming documentation standards, and
pressure to transfer or close cases quickly. One participant stated
“We’re driven by numbers and timelines, and required to produce data
showing we’re meeting those timelines. It impacts safety and risk.”

“We’re driven by
numbers and
timelines, and
required to
produce data
showing we’re
meeting those
timelines. It
impacts safety and
risk.”
--Participant

Other policy and programmatic requirements have also made the
system less efficient. Two examples mentioned by focus group
participants were the “Predatory Offender” law, and the elimination of
support staff positions. Minnesota’s Predatory Offender law requires
county agencies to investigate any report in which a child’s parent has
ever been required to register as a predatory offender. These
investigations are given immediate response priority and often interrupt
 
other ongoing investigations. The agency must then consult with the
county attorney’s office and file a Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) petition, regardless of
whether there is a finding of maltreatment, or whether or not the parent has any ongoing or recent
contact with the child. Numerous focus group and interview participants asserted that this
requirement burdens investigators with unnecessary work, and often diverts caseworker attention
from other cases involving real threats to child safety. There have been approximately 150 of these
cases per year in Hennepin County in recent years. The Assessment team heard from several
sources that many predatory offender investigations are unnecessary because some offenders pose
no risk to child safety, yet an immediate investigation must still be completed. As a result of the
Predatory Offender law, considerable resources are being expended, not only by CFS, but also by
the courts and other county agencies, on interventions that in the view of focus group participants do
not result in improved child safety.
Focus group and interview participants also stated that overall workload for line staff has been
increased by the reduction or elimination of clerical and other support staff who were previously
available to assist investigation units and other CFS units. These staff provided vital support to
caseworkers in completing numerous time-consuming administrative tasks, allowing caseworkers to
spend more time with families. One participant stated, “I now have to do all the typing, all the case
aide work,” in addition to regular casework functions. Case aides, who had handled much of the
client transportation work, have been replaced by a contracted transportation service, which is
basically a taxi service. Referring to the transportation service, one participant stated, “They’ll only
go 30 miles round trip, so if a kid is in Brooklyn Park you have to go get them yourself.” We were
informed that employees of the transportation service have not received training on working with
vulnerable children, and some participants expressed concern regarding how children have been
treated, for example dropping them off at the wrong location.

4. Findings and Recommendations
Funding
Since 2008, the budget for children’s services has been reduced (see Table 6), at both the state and
county levels.
Table 6: Children’s Services Expenditures from 2006 to 201416
16

Note that this graph captures expenditures for children’s services (including child protection, foster care, home-based
services and other categories that fall under the child welfare system in Hennepin County), but not specifically the
expenditures that fall under the purview of “Children and Family Services.” Because the expenditure categories that
constitute “Children and Family Services,” (or other designations for the Hennepin County child welfare agency) have
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Children's  Services  expenditures  
 $140,000,000    
 $120,000,000    
 $100,000,000    
 $80,000,000    
 $60,000,000    
 $40,000,000    
 $20,000,000    
 $-­‐        
2006   2007   2008   2009   2010   2011   2012   2013   2014  

The budget has been partially restored since 2011 but remains considerably less than it was in
2008. In order to accommodate these severe budgetary reductions, CFS has made repeated
programmatic and staffing adjustments that have included reductions in the number of screeners
who take CPS reports, revisions of screening criteria to limit the number of screened-in reports and
use of the Family Assessment Track (FA) to quickly close a large percentage of assigned cases. In
addition, the need to operate a CPS program under severe resource constraints has affected the
way in which CFS staff at all levels think about child safety and about CFS policies and practice. The
necessity to operate under severe fiscal constraints has led to “mission drift” away from a focus on
child safety and on achieving excellence in child protection.
CFS and System Strengths
Hennepin County benefits from an exceptionally skilled and well-educated child protection
workforce, a group of professionals who have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to
improving the lives of children and families. Many CFS caseworkers commented on the positive
working relationships they have with their supervisors. The quality of the workforce was the system
strength most frequently mentioned by focus group and interview participants, and is CFS’ key
asset. Additionally, the CFS decision to bring Family Assessment Case Management in-house is
widely viewed as a positive step which has improved case monitoring and increased the number of
families who receive FA case management services.
Child Safety
Hennepin County is well above the national standard of 5.4% for recurrent maltreatment (see Table
7).
Table 7: Recurrent Maltreatment: Hennepin County

changed from year to year, the above graph provides a consistent comparison of expenditure categories related to
children’s services across these years.
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Hennepin County also has higher (i.e., worse) rates of recurrence of maltreatment than other
Minnesota counties, and the County’s rate of recurrent maltreatment has increased since 2010.
A. Screening of CPS reports
Some of CFS’ screening criteria are questionable from a child safety perspective. Screening criteria
appeared to be intentionally restrictive, for example screening out reports of physical abuse that
lacked information regarding past or non-visible injuries. Reports were not screened differently
based on children’s ages or disabilities, potentially leaving these vulnerable populations at risk. It
remains unclear how or if CFS screeners utilize the history of prior CPS reports in making screening
decisions.
Both CFS staff and mandated reporters were concerned that CFS has been screening out too many
reports of abuse and neglect on questionable grounds. In addition, mandated reporters were unclear
regarding the information they needed to provide to screeners to have their reports screened in, and
believed that screening criteria were applied by screeners erratically and inconsistently.
Screening units assign cases to either an investigative (INV) track or Family Assessment Response
(FA) track based on a number of criteria for determining whether children are substantially
endangered. Approximately two-thirds of screened in reports were assigned to the FA track in 2014.
A case record review conducted as part of this assessment found that some of these cases were
high risk, and should have been assigned to the INV track.
B. Family Assessment Track
Cases assigned to the INV and FA tracks are assigned to the same CPS caseworkers, referred to
within the agency as “investigators.” The Assessment team was informed that INV cases were
usually prioritized over FA cases due to more demanding response times and rules for contact with
children named in reports. It appears that the FA track has been used as a workload management
strategy to move a large percentage of cases viewed as less serious to case closure as quickly as
possible. We were also informed that there is often little or no difference between the approach used
by investigators for INV and FA cases except for rules regarding response times, contact with
children and use of “findings” at case closure.

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CFS brought FA case management functions in-house during the last part of 2013, a decision that
has led to a large increase in the percentage of families assigned to the FA track who were
ultimately transferred to FA case management units and offered services. The decision to bring
Family Assessment Case Management in-house was viewed positively by most focus group and
interview respondents, and has improved case monitoring and increased the number of families who
receive case management services. Currently, CFS has the capacity to provide case management
to about 1000 families annually, about 30% of the number of families assigned to the FA track in
2014.
C. Neglect Cases
Most families reported for child neglect are assigned to the FA track, and these cases are usually
closed without transfer to FA case management. It appears that child neglect is a low priority in CFS,
and does not lead to agency interventions unless children are found by screeners and investigators
to be substantially endangered.
D. In-Home Safety Plans
CFS lacks clear policies for the development, use and follow-up of in-home safety plans. The
Assessment team was informed that caseworkers and supervisors are not clear regarding which
units are responsible for developing and implementing these plans, or the expectations for follow-up
to safety plans.
System Infrastructure and Organizational Effectiveness
The CFS workforce has been damaged in recent years by ROWE / Open Office Space initiatives
which have resulted in the loss of offices for CFS units (with the exception of screening units) and for
managers. These initiatives have undermined the unit cohesion and supervisory and peer support
essential for morale and team building. In addition, ROWE has created perverse incentives to
prioritize documentation and looking good on performance indicators over contact with children and
families. CFS has lost staff to retirement and to turnover, and the agency’s ability to attract
experienced social workers from other agencies may have already been impacted by the agency’s
poor reputation in the community.
Workloads have periodically been excessive in screening and investigative units, in part because of
the loss of caseworker, case aide and administrative support positions, and also because of everexpanding policies and procedures that require additional work on each assigned case. Data
provided to the Assessment team just prior to the completion of this report indicates that CFS
investigators had an average of 12 open cases during recent months, a caseload size that a number
of other child welfare systems use as a workload standard for their CPS programs. However, CFS
caseworkers and supervisors asserted in focus groups in February 2015 that they were sometimes
assigned 4-5 new cases per week, and that their caseloads were unmanageable. The Assessment
team did not have the time to explore the apparent conflict between agency data and the information
provided by caseworkers and supervisors regarding workload demands. This is a subject that needs
further study and discussion.
The workloads of screeners has recently been reduced by the addition of five positions to the
screening units, but there have been periods of times in recent months when these units have been
understaffed and, as a result, they have developed large backlogs of reports.
The Assessment team found a CFS workforce that has been profoundly impacted by both media
attacks and by management practices that have created a siege mentality and a culture of fear and
distrust, both in regard to CFS management and among units and peers.

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CFS lacks a data unit and does not have the ability to extract and analyze data in a timely way at the
unit level to keep supervisors and managers informed regarding agency performance.

Recommendations
The Casey Assessment Team respectfully submits these recommendations for consideration based
on what was heard in the assessment process, and what has helped other child welfare systems
improve safety outcomes for children and families. The Assessment team believes that three steps
are urgently needed to rebuild confidence and trust in CFS and HSPHD leadership, both in the
community and among the CFS workforce:
1. CFS should initiate a re-visioning process for its CPS system. CFS staff at all levels can be
charged with imagining an improved child protection system that meets standards of excellence
“without regard to current resource deficits.”
2. The ROWE / Open Office Space approach should be reconsidered and immediate steps taken to
give CFS units assigned workspaces. CFS units do not necessarily need to be housed together
in a CFS office, but they do need assigned space for desks, computers and other essentials in
order to operate effectively.
3. CFS screening and investigative units need enough caseworker positions, case aides and
administrative support staff to carry out assigned tasks as required by CFS policies. In addition,
CFS should be given permission to hire to a vacancy rate. Policy and procedural requirements
should be re-examined with the goal of freeing up caseworkers to spend more time with children
and parents. CFS should also contract for a workload study to determine the time required to
complete child protection work as described in the agency’s policy and procedural manuals.
Other key recommendations for consideration include:
Organizational Culture and Infrastructure
1. HSPHD adopt a positive leadership model17 that includes the following elements:
a. Development of a safety culture for employees along the lines of the model used in
Tennessee,18 which emphasizes learning from high profile cases and mistakes rather
than blaming and punishing agency staff in the aftermath of these incidents.
b. Making it safe for employees to tell the truth and speak their mind regarding agency
policies and practices.
c. Investing in professional development of staff at all levels and adding financial
incentives to support professional certification programs.
2. CFS leadership needs to communicate its full commitment to SofS in both written policies
and in conversations with staff, and invite staff at all levels to participate in a discussion of
how to apply the model in various units. CFS develop a 3-5 year plan for SofS
implementation and make the implementation of this plan an agency priority.
3. HSPHD and CFS leadership should begin to meet with caseworkers and supervisors
regarding alternatives to ROWE / Open Office Space, and find ways of creating cohesive
17

For more information on the positive leadership model, see: Shay, Jonathan (2002). Odysseus in America: Combat
Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. New York: Scribner.
18
See Cull, 2015, cited above.  
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units and stronger organizational supports for line staff while longer term solutions are being
identified.
4. Develop an internal communications plan, with the help of front-line staff that emphasizes
clarity, consistency and incorporation of staff feedback, and is tolerant of different views. CFS
leadership needs to model the type of communication that they want staff to engage in with
families on a daily basis. Managers need to communicate with CFS staff in a way that
engenders hope in a shared vision of policies and practices that can improve child safety and
wellbeing.
5. Develop and implement a well-articulated practice model that integrates the work of different
types of units and spells out the values, goals and principles of the agency.
6. Develop opportunities for community professionals and concerned citizens to engage in
improving CFS response to child protection issues. Community stakeholders should be
invited to participate in the re-visioning process discussed above.
Child Safety
7. Screening, track assignment and response time decisions need to focus on child safety and
well-being instead of being designed to narrow the agency’s front door. CFS should revise
criteria for the screening and track assignment of reports of inflicted non-visible or past
physical injuries, neglect reports in which children are not substantially endangered and
reports of children 0-3 and disabled children endangered by parental substance abuse,
mental health conditions and domestic violence.
8. Provide trainings and ongoing supervision for screening units to reinforce interviewing skills
to gather the most relevant information from callers. Eliminate the use of rules that prevent
screeners from asking “leading” questions when needed to gather key information.
9. CFS managers mandate the use of risk assessment guidelines in screening units for
screened-in cases which do not involve substantial endangerment of children at the time of
the report as the basis for track assignment.
10. CFS consider creating specialized units for investigations and family assessments.
Specialized units for investigation and family assessment will allow for recruitment specific to
each role so that caseworkers more comfortable with fact-finding and gathering evidence to
support “findings” of abuse and neglect can make maximum use of these skills, and
caseworkers who are skilled at family engagement can focus on family assessments.
11. Expand funding for prevention services, especially for those families that have apparent risk
factors and need help, yet may not be screened in to the child protection system or
transferred to FA case management units.
12. Develop and implement clear guidelines for the development and use of safety plans in
Hennepin County, with a focus on both the format and follow-up to these plans.
13. Contract with a consultant or academic experts to review how CFS responds to chronic
neglect and chronic maltreatment (i.e., the combination of abuse and neglect) cases and to
emotional maltreatment and how CFS practice with these types of child maltreatment can be
improved.

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Workforce Development
14. CFS needs a more diverse workforce. Relationships with communities of color and immigrant
communities need to be strengthened and sustained. Persistent outreach to these
communities and populations will be required, as well as opportunities for mutual education
and discussions between CFS staff and community members. CFS needs to make an
ongoing investment in improving the cultural competency skills of its staff.
15. Identify ways to improve the quality of the workforce in screening units. Some of the best
caseworkers in the agency need to be screening CPS reports.
16. Convene practitioners from various units to determine reasonable caseload standards and
standards for assignment of new investigations/assessments, and make a commitment to
consistent use of these standards.
17. Reinstate case aide and clerical support staff positions. Increasing the number of these
positions would free casework staff to spend more time working directly with families and
would improve caseworkers’ ability to accurately assess child safety and risk of future
maltreatment.
18. Conduct a workload study specific to Hennepin County. A workload study would provide a
better understanding of the actual time needed for caseworkers to complete various required
tasks, and would provide a factual basis for staffing requests. The study will be also be
important for understanding the time commitments necessary for new administrative
requirements recommended by the Governor’s Task Force.
19. Create a dedicated data unit within CFS, which can produce timely data reports that describe
work at the case, unit and system levels. A data unit can develop capacity for CFS as a
learning organization by generating relevant data at a level that is user friendly for
caseworkers, supervisors and managers.
20. Articulate a clear set of behaviorally based practice guidelines to describe key practices
consistent with the FA approach, similar to Ohio’s Practice Profiles,19 and develop
accountability systems to maintain practice fidelity to that model.

Summary
Hennepin County’s child protection system has been dramatically impacted by CFS’ need to
accommodate a series of drastic budget cuts that have occurred since 2008. Every part of the
agency’s child protection process, from screening through investigation and case management, has
been negatively affected. In addition, major organizational initiatives viewed by County leaders as
innovative and even visionary have damaged the CFS workforce, the agency’s most important
asset. Time, resources and leadership will be required to repair and renew a child protection system
that was once viewed as a model for other child welfare systems around the country. First and
foremost, CFS staff need to envision a model CPS system without the constraint of resource deficits.
This will not be easy in a human services agency that has viewed working within available resources
as both common sense and standard operating procedure for top managers.

19

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (2013). Ohio Differential Response Practice Profiles. Columbus, OH:
Department of Job and Family Services, State of Ohio. Available at: http://jfs.ohio.gov/PFOF/PDF/Differential-ResponsePractice-Profiles.stm
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