Abstract: Exploring the Intersection of the Child Welfare System and Court (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

477P Exploring the Intersection of the Child Welfare System and Court

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kimberly Leffler, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Haksoon Ahn, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Background and Purpose: The success of the child welfare system depends upon the collaboration of a set of diverse stakeholders, including social workers and supervisors at the local Department of Social Services, staff at the court system, and the children and families these systems are designed to serve. For system change and reform, it is important for the perceptions and experiences of these key stakeholders to be considered to identify areas where further growth is required. This study sought to examine the experiences of these key stakeholders involved at the overlap of the child welfare and court system and provide implications for practice and policy.

Methods: This qualitative study utilized focus groups with key stakeholder groups from the local department of social service, including, social workers (n = 28), supervisors (n = 32), and Directors and Assistant Directors (n = 13). Focus groups were also conducted with key stakeholders from the court system, judges and magistrates (n = 9) and attorneys (n = 15). Focus groups were conducted virtually in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 and followed a semi-structured interview guide in which participants were asked designated questions to examine their experiences with child welfare system. Focus groups were recorded and transcribed for data analysis. Transcriptions were independently coded by three researchers and the identified themes were cross checked by all three researchers until a consensus was reached.

Results: Themes identified from the data include heavy reliance on court, court barriers, and family experiences in court. The focus groups revealed that a heavy reliance on the court system for driving case planning leads to a lack of engagement of children and families in this process. Additionally, results suggest that clear barriers exist for meeting mandated timelines for filing for termination of parental rights (TPR) and achieving permanency in a timely manner. Lastly, family members may not be adequately prepared for what to expect in court which negatively impacts their experience overall. These results suggest that it is crucial for these two systems to work together to target these barriers to improve the experience of families and promote the timely achievement of permanency for children and youth.

Conclusions and Implications: This study has implications for social work practice and policy in the child welfare system. From a macro perspective, this study highlights the needs for further training of all key stakeholders involved in both the child welfare and court system to ensure that these key members are aware of and understand the mandated timelines for achieving permanency for children and youth. From a clinical practice perspective, this study identifies the importance of engaging children and families in case planning to drive the achievement of case goals.