With the most recent mass shooting, an incomprehensible tragedy, it’s a reminder that those in the helping profession are increasingly faced with trying to navigate a perilous journey while maintaining the safety of themselves and those they are trying to help.
While we tend to think of first responders as police, firefighters, and medical personnel, first responders are also in-home services workers who are on the front lines helping families. Let’s look at the issue of safety through one type of in-home services, Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS).
From the beginning, safety has always been the highest priority of IFPS. For over four decades, IFPS has had a stellar safety record. There have been very few deaths of a child during an IFPS intervention despite the fact that IFPS serves high-risk families. There are no known deaths of an IFPS worker during the course of an intervention.
Safety is baked into the model of IFPS. Frequent contact with the family, 24/7 availability of the worker, and very small caseloads serve as a protection for family members and assure a rapid response when a crisis occurs. The worker’s safety is enhanced through a high degree of training and skills, 24/7 back-up, and constant support of a supervisor. And the IFPS workforce share many traits in common with emergency responders such as integrity, communication skills, flexibility and adaptability, dedication, and team player.
In effect, the IFPS model itself contributes to the safety of the family and the IFPS worker. Thus, the best reason for model fidelity is that when it is weakened or abandoned, child deaths are the inevitable result. A tragic example occurred when the child welfare administrators in the state of Illinois thought they could keep families together and still save money by assigning workers high caseloads. Then a child was killed by his mother in 1993 and Illinois completely abandoned any resemblance to family preservation. Within a few years, Illinois had the highest rate of out-of-home placement in the nation. The foster care system was overwhelmed. Child abuse deaths statewide increased and there were also child abuse deaths in foster care. Not until Illinois again embraced preserving families through best practice did the deaths decrease along with a dramatic decrease in out-of-home placements. Safety outcomes also improved.
Here are some steps that we can all take to increase safety:
1. Be alert and prepared. We need to become more aware of our surroundings and what action to take if safety is threatened. When I’m in public places, I look for exits and places to take shelter if the worst happens. Ask your local emergency responders how to prepare for situations that threaten your safety and the safety of others around you.
2. Train your organization’s staff on safety. Here is one online resource for safety training for in-home services workers and it also includes training on ethics:
3. Advocate for keeping children safely in their homes and not overwhelming the foster care system. Here’s a summary of what happens in foster care panics: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B291mw_hLAJsMGdWQ2NhYTM2Ulk/view.
4. Advocate to strengthen and expand IFPS programs as a strong safety model of in-home services. For a comparison of the safety record of foster care vs. IFPS visit https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B291mw_hLAJsMGdWQ2NhYTM2Ulk/view
5. Find ways to help your community. You have skills that are needed not only by your agency but also by your community as a whole. The community will benefit and so will you by investing in the well-being of your community.
Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director