Sleep tight the kids are alright - Child Welfare Training System introduces new training to help prevent child maltreatment fatalities

By Kasey Matz, MA, 

In the fall of 2018, the Child Welfare Training System will launch its newest training for Colorado child welfare supervisors and managers - ‘Sleep Tight the Kids Are Alright,’ a reference to the sleepless nights caseworkers and supervisors endure worrying that they are making the right decisions to serve and protect the children under their watch and prevent the worst possible outcome. The course uses case study scenarios and data from child fatality cases in Colorado and provides a space for child welfare supervisors to analyze the events that led to a tragic ending in an effort to prevent similar outcomes in the future.

Those of us working in Colorado’s child welfare system are called upon to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children, and the practices to achieve these critical outcomes have been evolving and improving in the areas of risk and safety assessment, family engagement, service and resource planning. Yet, despite improvements and the best intentions of practitioners, children can still be seriously hurt and sometimes die as a result of abuse or neglect. Child maltreatment prevention research highlights the importance of better training for child welfare workers and supervisors to identify potentially fatal situations. 

‘Sleep Tight the Kids Are Alright’ has been in development for the past two years and was inspired by morbidity and mortality (M&M) conferences, a practice common in the medical field. M&M conferences are regularly held at hospitals and other medical centers and involve peer review analysis of adverse outcomes in patient care. M&M conferences serve to identify adverse outcomes associated with medical error, to modify behavior and judgment based on previous experiences and to prevent repetition of errors leading to complications.

Charting the Course

The Colorado Department of Human Services, experts at the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and many human services county partners recognized the benefits of M&M conferences and how the process could translate effectively to the child welfare system. The approach eliminates any blame or punishment, setting the stage for an effective learning experience. To chart the course, we gathered a multi-disciplinary team that included representatives from the medical field, the district attorney’s office and child welfare management, as well as specialists in training design, child protection and administrative review. The team spent two years reviewing findings and research related to Colorado’s child welfare outcomes and determining how to apply the M&M model within a child welfare context.

The team focused the learning experience around a Social Ecological Model and The Timeline, which creates a visual experience of a family’s history with the child welfare department in a way that highlights all possible opportunities for intervention. Essentially, this allows participants to examine the question, “If we had a chance to work this case again, could it have ended with a different outcome?”

The course was designed for child welfare supervisors and managers to come away from the class with the ability to lead their workers through this type of thinking and behavior, extending the reach of the knowledge gained in a way that is purposeful, effective and meaningful. With increased understanding, supervisors can influence casework practice so that informed decisions will be made to reduce risk, increase safety and create sustainable change to prevent future maltreatment.

Course Details

Under the instruction of a child welfare manager, a medical doctor and an administrative review professional, learners are introduced to the key aspects of secondary and tertiary stress in the workplace and are prepared for real-time case practices. This learning experience was designed to create a safe space for supervisors to acknowledge their fear, explore their struggles, and learn about and adopt strategies that prevent harm. As a result of this learning experience, child welfare leaders can:

  • recognize their value as a critically important resource for caseworkers handling the complex work of child protection
  • use tools that capture critical information and supervisory strategies to help prevent future abuse and neglect
  • describe and use focused and strength-based inquiry, and apply clinical questions to promote critical thinking throughout the assessment and case planning processes.

Learners are engaged in meaningful discussions that reflect on their years of experience and reveal their wisdom through guided discussions. They engage in consultation conversations reviewing practices that boost critical thinking and affirm the importance of thorough assessments to produce robust safety and support plans to mitigate risk for children.

For more information on ‘Sleep Tight the Kids Are Alright’ or other courses, visit www.coloradocwts.com.

Multi-disciplinary team of contributing course authors:

  • Kasey Matz, Child Welfare Training System Director, Kempe Center
  • Michelle Howard, Learning and Development Manager, Kempe Center
  • Jing Yu, Instructional Design Manager, Kempe Center
  • Kelly Parsons, Learning Delivery Manager, Kempe Center
  • Andy Sirotnak, MD, Child Protection Team, Kempe Center
  • Allison Gonzales, Administrative Review Division, Kempe Center
  • Marc Mackert, ARD, Kempe Center
  • Michelle Dossey, Child Welfare Manager, Arapahoe County
  • Angela Mead, Child Welfare Manager, Larimer County
  • Kelly Zebroski, Child Welfare Supervisor, Jefferson County
  • Danny Norris, Crimes Against Children Detective, Mesa County

About the Author

Kasey Matz, MA, works for the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse (the Kempe Center) as the project director for the Colorado Department of Human Services Child Welfare Training System (CWTS). Utilizing a network of providers skilled at engaging busy, adult learners, CWTS delivers training strength-based, family-centered, competency-based training programs for child welfare professionals and para-professionals by delivering specialized courses for caseworkers, supervisors, case services aides, foster parents, and other child and family serving personnel. 

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Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline
1-844-CO-4-KIDS (1‑844‑264‑5437)
Available 24 hours a day, every day. Don't hesitate to call and get help. 
Anyone witnessing a child in a life-threatening situation should call 911 immediately.