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GUEST BLOG: Safe and Together Iowa

By Leah Kinnaird Vejzovic

An incredibly important part of creating any larger system change, such as shifting to a domestic violence-informed child welfare system, is sustainability. We began implementation of the Safe & Together Model in Iowa in June 2015, and from our very first conversation with Safe & Together faculty, we wanted to create a network that would encourage long term change and sustainability. One idea that came from these conversations was to build local teams in each of our 5 service areas to do the day-to-day work of sharing information about the model, using it in case consultation, and being general “practice champions” of Safe & Together.

We began by training teams of 7-8 people in each service area in what we deemed “The Safe & Together Academy.” These folks went through 4 days of intensive training with Safe & Together faculty to gain the skills to use the model in their practice and to help other staff members in their offices and areas implement it. Each team consisted of important key players: child protection assessment workers, ongoing case managers, our two groups of provider partners, domestic violence victim advocates, and Parent Partners.

Each quarter the teams gather to share stories of successes like partnering with a survivor to help her stay in the home with her child and holding perpetrators accountable through engagement and behavior-focused case planning.

Through these teams, we have been able to put people who are well trained in the model in offices throughout the state. And not just child protection offices, but provider offices, advocacy offices, and Parent Partner offices. These folks are equipped to use the model in their own work, help colleagues understand and use the model, and come together to do larger case consultation or information sharing sessions in their communities. Each team member brings a unique perspective and set of questions or thoughts related to their role.  This diversity is crucial to doing a holistic consultation of a domestic violence child welfare case.

Parent Partners are a crucial part of our case consultation and information sharing process. Parent Partners are parents who have had an open case with DHS a year or more ago and have successfully mitigated their child safety concerns. These parents are then trained to support other families and then partnered with current parents in the system to help them navigate the system and provide them with support and advocacy. Their voices are invaluable in this work. All of the Parent Partners on our teams have had personal experience with domestic violence as children or adults. Their insight into how domestic violence may be impacting the survivor and the children is integral to successful consultation. They also have a unique ability to think through how families may interpret certain language or actions by child protection. Their experience allows them to provide support and accountability in ways other professionals cannot.

Having our provider partners on these teams has also been essential. While our Department of Human Services must be at the helm in this practice shift, we cannot do it without the providers that are in the home working with the families we serve. It was very important to us to make sure that the services families received were affected by this shift, not just the paperwork and interactions with assessment or case management staff.

An additional outcome of having these teams – we call them Connect And Protect (CAP) teams – is the collaboration between partners and entities beyond the work of the team. Iowa, like many states, has struggled to develop consistent, collaborative relationships between child protection staff and domestic violence advocates. These teams have allowed open and honest conversation, a shared framework to work within, and relationships between advocates and workers that go beyond just the cases they consult on. Many of our teams are doing cross-training and are engaged in other efforts to understand and utilize each other’s expertise.  I can’t say that this teaming was not strategic, as we knew it was a serious need in Iowa, but it has been a major success in getting child welfare staff and providers working closely with domestic violence advocates in the state.

Eighteen months later, we have added members to each team and have continued to do quarterly meetings and learning sessions to track their progress and practice case consultation skills. The successes of these teams are endless and they have been the driving force in spreading information about the model, doing additional follow-up sessions in their areas, and consulting using Safe & Together. They have truly “dug in” to using the model in their own practice and have, therefore, become the experts in their areas that colleagues go to when they are struggling with a domestic violence case. Each quarter the teams gather to share stories of successes like partnering with a survivor to help her stay in the home with her child and holding perpetrators accountable through engagement and behavior-focused case planning.

While training and the support we have gotten from the Safe & Together Institute has been a critical part of our implementation, I would encourage jurisdictions who are planning their implementation of training to consider the benefits of a whole-system change. We cannot truly shift the look and feel of work with domestic violence perpetrators, adult survivors, and child survivors until all of our partners are on board with why and how that shift happens. Our CAP teams have truly been champions of that change in Iowa.

Leah Kinnaird Vejzovic is the Domestic Violence Response Coordinator to the Iowa Department of Human Services at the Child Welfare Research and Training Project at  Iowa State University. The project she describes, and her work, is funded by the Iowa Department of Human Services. Development of this initiative is a contractual partnership between the Iowa State University Child Welfare Research and Training Project and the Iowa Department of Human Services. To read Leah’s blog on the ISU site, click here.

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