“Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” Will Rogers said that. It’s funny, it’s a popular opinion even nine decades or so after he said it. Yet, it really does not reflect the hard work and many opportunities that come from government workers in municipal, state, and federal positions. Take Virginia’s own Department of Social Services (DSS). Those folks field just about every kind of unpleasant task, from removing kids from abusive homes to compelling “deadbeat dads” (and many a mom) to pay back child support. They also offer valuable, if little-known, services to Virginians.

DSS is Putting Families First

In response to modern thinking about families, family dynamics, and healthy family relationships, DSS has a focus on involving professionals and family members in decisions about children, parents, and extended families. Back in Will Rogers’ day, the “professionals” were trusted without pause. Then over the past forty or fifty years, that trust has eroded. Now DSS wants to partner with parents and collaborate with children to get families back on track.

One way DSS puts families first is through an intentional program called Virginia Children’s Services System Transformation. The goal is to transform Virginia’s child welfare system.

No longer are Virginia’s social service agencies, including DSS, the sole decision makers for Virginia’s children and families. A new methodology, called family engagement, has taken hold.

As DSS itself says, “family engagement requires a shift from the belief that agencies alone know what is best for children and families to one that allows the family to fully participate in decision-making.”

Who Are The Experts?

Without denigrating the acknowledged experts in areas such as child psychology, education, social services, pediatrics and welfare, Virginia government also recognizes the first experts on a particular child: the family members themselves.

Gathering everyone in a room to discuss a family in crisis, the Team Decisionmaking effort involves:

  • A facilitator from Children’s Services
  • A social worker
  • The social worker’s supervisor
  • The youth
  • The youth’s family
  • Anyone the family turns to for support, such as an extended family member, spiritual advisor, or neighbor

The goal is not to argue or to accuse; the goal is to brainstorm solutions to the problems underlying a child in crisis. The one- to two-hour meeting is designed to find a practical answer to questions like:

  • What supports has the family already had?
  • What supports does the family need?
  • What event caused this meeting to be needed?
  • What behaviors have the family members been displaying?
  • How have family members and their behaviors affected the child?
  • Should the child be removed from the house?
  • Where should the child be placed?

These meetings are not window dressing. They are not designed to paper over family problems. Yes, they may be uncomfortable, but some families need to vent before they can confront (and take responsibility for) the core issues:

  • Depression
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Child neglect or abuse
  • Poverty or joblessness
  • Learning or mental disabilities in either the child or family members

Candid communication is vital; the family and child must be honest with the agency folks; the agency members must be forthright with realistic consequences to the issues everyone is facing.

What Are The Services of DSS?

The Team Decisionmaking gathering is designed to expedite delivery of services from Virginia’s many agencies of support. Sometimes the family comes to a conclusion that would not occur to the agency members. Maybe a child, rather than being placed in foster care, can be removed to the safety of a nearby relative. Maybe a parent, instead of the child, volunteers to leave the household and seek treatment for an issue that is harming the family.

Many Virginians have the misunderstanding that child protection agencies always want to remove children from homes; this is not true. A continuum of possibilities exist:

  • Keep the child in the home with intensive, short-term, professional interventions
  • Relocate the child to a relative’s home for a brief time (respite care)
  • Develop a safety plan
  • Relocate the child to a foster home for respite care

When the family is involved in arriving at the best path forward for everyone, then all family members will be more likely to fully engage with the plan. Success is in the family’s hands.

Immediate Results

These gatherings have preserved Virginia’s families, reduced interventions from DSS and child protective services, decreased placements in foster care, and much more.

The process of Family Engagement has transformed everyone’s roles, from parents to children to legal counsel. True voice and choice is within each family.

For every aspect of your family law needs, from child custody to improving your relationships after a separation or divorce, turn to The Firm For Men. We help Virginia’s men navigate the complex Virginia family law system. We are ready to hear from you when you call 757-383-9184, or you may contact us online.