Last week, I gave an overview, clarifying some of the things I’m hearing about Case Navigator. And now the “conversations.”

And now the “conversations.”

Question/Comment: You talk about the “team” having access to documents, contacts, and resources. Who is on the team?

Response: The team consists of the client/parent, the attorneys (including the Guardian ad Litem, the parents’ attorneys and the county attorney), the DHS worker, the FSRP worker, CASA, and Case Navigator™. This may change depending on the dynamics of the case. For example, if there is domestic abuse between the parents, that might change how the “team” is configured in order to protect the individual being abused.

 

Question/Comment: How do you define a “case”? How is your definition different from that of DHS or the courts?

Response: In court, a case is defined as one child. In Case Navigator™, a case is one family. That means that DHS’ records might show Case Navigator™ serving many more “cases” than 50. For example, if one family has four kids, DHS’ records would show four cases. Case Navigator’s™ records would show one. If every family that Case Navigator™ served had four kids, Case Navigator’s™ records would show 50 cases, while DHS’ records would show 200. There are a number of good reasons for counting this differently; if you would like to know more about this, please contact me, and I will be happy to explain my thinking.

 

Question/Comment: SF79 states that there will be a cap of 50 cases during the Pilot Program

Response: This is a small clarification that needs to be made in the language of the bill itself. The dollars requested in the bill are accurate, but the numbers are not. There will be no more than 50 cases in any given month. But if one month has 50 cases, and then one drops off, another can be added the next month. In other words, at the end of the two-year pilot program, Case Navigator™ will have likely served many more than 50 families total; but no more than 50 in any given month.

 

Question/Comment: Who does Case Navigator™ serve, specifically?

Response: Case Navigator™ serves the team, by providing a place for everyone (other than the court) to go to get consistent, current information.

Case Navigator™ serves the parents in three primary ways:

  • Teaching – helping parents understand the terms, acronyms, logistics, procedural issues and expectations so that they can focus on the higher-level legal, mental health, social work, etc. issues.
  • Personal Accountability – providing parents with the tools (e.g., the task letter and text notifications) to increase attendance at hearings and family team meetings, and increase compliance with their court orders and case plans; and
  • Resource – Providing links to community and governmental resources they may need, as well as information. Acting as a first contact resource for questions. Helping them develop strategies for the post-closure “phase” of the case.

Case Navigator™ serves attorneys, DHS, and other professionals by:

  • Provides a centralized location for critical documents (e.g., orders, case plans, FTM notes) and contact information. This allows clients and professionals to update information in ONE central place that all members of the team can access, rather than requiring multiple emails. For example, FTM facilitators can upload the meeting notes to the site, rather than send out emails, which often results in people being “missed” because the email list is not current. The facilitator does not have to spend time tracking down current emails and editing the mailing list. However, there are no attorney/client privileged or work product documents, and no confidential documents that the team would not otherwise have access to.
  • Reminds clients to update their information whenever they sign on to the site. Clients no longer have to remember to send out multiple emails/texts to every member of their team when their information changes.
  • Providing and implementing the teaching pieces so that the professionals can focus their time and energies on the things they are uniquely qualified to do (e.g., legal advice, social work assistance (problem-solving, parenting education, etc)). This also allows attorneys to “recapture” billable hours.
  • Helps keep clients on track, leading to better outcomes.

Case Navigator™ does NOT:

  • Attend hearings, family team meetings, or staffings
  • Meet with the client on a regular basis
  • Create a case plan
  • Directly assist in obtaining services, whether ordered by the court or otherwise (though Case Navigator™ may provide information regarding services, such as links to housing resources, for example)
  • Provide legal representation/advice, or any type of medical, mental health, or substance abuse disorder treatment.

 

Question/Comment: Are Case Navigator’s™ subject to any privilege? 

Case Navigator™ focuses on information, accountability, and helping the team work better together: not on legal, medical, or mental health advice/treatment. Case Navigators™ are not given privileged information, nor do they have access to it. Confidential or privileged information is not put on the site/app.

Everything on the digital site is already available to everyone on the case, (e.g., court orders, approved DHS Case plans (pulled from the court order), Family Team Meeting Notes, etc.). Additionally, everyone on the “team” (DHS, Attorneys, GAL, CASA, FSRP) has access to the site, so there is nothing Case Navigator™ would know that would be a “secret” to anyone else on the team. If therapy or substance abuse reports are uploaded, that is because the client—on the advice of his/her attorney—has waived rights with regard to privilege/confidentiality; and the documents have been uploaded by the attorney—not Case Navigator™.

 

Comment/Question: How are CINAs, TPRs, and Appeals different as they relate to juvenile court and Case Navigator™?

Response: Not only is there a difference in how cases are counted with regard to numbers of individuals involved, but also the type of case. A Child in Need of Assistance (“CINA”) petition is filed first. If, at some point, DHS does not believe the family can reunify within the statutorily prescribed time period, the county attorney will file a Petition for the Termination of Parental Rights (“TPR”). This is a separate case, with a separate case number; and again, one for each child in the family. Case Navigator™ will note this different case number, but will not count it as a new case, the way the court does.

CINAs and TPRs are filed with the district court, while Appeals are filed with the Appellate Court. But Case Navigator’s™ services end when the case closes or when the parents’ rights are terminated. Case Navigator™ is not involved at the appellate level. This is because the goal of Case Navigator™ is to prevent cases from going to and/or being “TPR’d.” Once parental rights are terminated, there is nothing more Case Navigator™ can do to help. Appeals are not a “second bite at the apple” — they are considered on the facts presented to the district court. Thus, unless the court made a mistake at the district court level, the ruling will not be overturned, even if the parents are now doing what they are “supposed to” be doing.

 

Question/Comment: “If you expand this to every CINA case in Iowa, that will be a huge amount of money!”

Response: “Statewide program” is not the same as “take every case that is filed.”

 I always say that juvenile cases fall into one of three categories: cases that will reunify without the assistance of Case Navigator™; cases that will not reunify no matter how much assistance any of us provides (usually when there are multiple issues, e.g., substance abuse and mental health issues, and domestic violence); and those that could go either way. While that last group is obviously the “sweet spot” for Case Navigator™, the problem is that you don’t know where any given case will fall at the start of the case. Sometimes, the cases that seem “easy” are the ones that derail, while parents in the “hopeless” cases get their lives together and reunify.

Because of that, one of the purposes of having a pilot program is to collect data so that at the end of the pilot program, we can determine which cases are best served by Case Navigator™. The pilot program is the time to take cases on a random basis so that we can make those decisions based on evidence, not speculation. That means that although the service would ultimately be offered in every county (i.e., statewide), not every case would qualify for the service. This is already true of the services CASA offers, so it’s simply a matter of determining where best to spend our resources.

 

Question/Comment The Service is Duplicative. Aren’t DHS/Attorney/Parent Partner/ FSRP, etc. already doing this?

Response: In a word—no. I would (gently) say that while Case Navigator™ may appear duplicative on paper, it is not duplicative in reality. The foundational work is not being done consistently or well, for some very good (and, I would guess, not so very good) reasons. For example:

  • Both attorneys and DHS have time constraints, though they play out a bit differently.
    • If you do the math (total dollars allowed per case, divided by the hourly rate), attorneys have only about 35 hours to spend on the ENTIRE case[1] (not including TPR, which is a separate “case,” or appeal). This means that they will understandably and quite reasonably spend those 35 hours on the legal issues—not procedural and logistical ones.
    • DHS has a different time issue; they are drowning in paperwork and have large caseloads.[2] They have the more generally understood “not enough hours in the day” problem.
  • Here is what I have heard (from very good, competent professionals):
    • “I often get to the hearing and only then find out that my client hasn’t been going to therapy. I wish there was a way I could find out sooner.”
    • “Best practices are not always ACTUAL practices.” ~DHS
    • “It’s embarrassing to have to call DHS and ask if they have my client’s current phone number because s/he hasn’t updated me.” ~Attorney
    • “I wish there was one place everyone involved in the case could go to get information; things fall through the cracks when we rely on emailing information to various people.” ~DHS/Parent Partners
    • “I wish there was a way to send text notifications to parents to remind them of their hearings. We waste so much time rescheduling because they get the date/time wrong. Our dentists and hairdressers use this—why would we not use it for the much more important things like court hearings?” ~Polk County Judge
    • “I give my clients the Juvenile Court’s Parent Handbook, but I don’t have time to talk about everything that’s in it. I just hope they read it.” “~Attorneys
    • “Parents in juvenile court aren’t reading the handbook, even if I give it to them.” “~Attorney
    • I wish there was a way to remind my clients that they need to schedule an appointment with me before the hearing. But I wish that reminder didn’t have to come from me (i.e., adding another thing to MY to-do list). ~Attorney
  • While GALs obviously want to know what the parents are doing in order to make the best recommendations for the children they represent, it is not their job to monitor the parents.
  • Case Navigator™ is not interested in replacing other professionals; the role of Case Navigator™ is to come alongside these professionals and help them do their jobs better by relieving them of some of the base-of-the-pyramid tasks so they can focus on the top-of-the-pyramid ones.

 

Question/Comment: If we are going to put money to this, why don’t we pay the lawyers more since that seems to be the reason the lawyers aren’t doing it now? We already have a GAL, DHS worker, County Attorney, Mom’s Attorney, Dad’s Attorney, possibly an attorney for a child, and I know other people can be involved as well. Maybe we should just give the more money to do what they should already be doing, instead of adding another person into the mix.

Response: With regard to lawyers, the issue isn’t the lawyers’ hourly rates—it’s the cap on the case. Paying lawyers more/hour doesn’t help the time issue. Additionally, because the attorneys can make an oft-granted motion to “exceed fees,” that suggests that it might not be the time issue; instead, it’s the perhaps unspoken rule that they don’t get paid to, for example, talk about the process, terms, and acronyms; they get paid for legal work. While I agree that court-appointed attorneys in juvenile court are underpaid, that agreement is a separate issue from this.[3]

Case Navigator™ helps indirectly in the following ways:

  • By allowing Case Navigator™ to work alongside the professionals (whether attorneys, DHS, or others), the teaching, accountability, and resource pieces are no longer their responsibility, and they can “spend” their hours on the higher level issues, which is what they are uniquely qualified to bring to the table.
  • When cases don’t go to TPR, it frees up money that would otherwise be spent on TPR and appeals to be spent on other cases/families. For DHS, it frees up money that would be spent on foster and adoptive care subsidies to be spent on services that will help reunify other families.
  • When all of the most important documents reside in one place, the whole team can, at a glance, see what services are being offered, whether the client is participating as ordered, and quickly and easily change and access contact information and critical documents.[4] They don’t have to call FSRP, look for current email addresses, or try to find the client on Facebook.
  • Attorneys, FSRP, and DHS are less likely to spend time answering the “tell me again when my hearing is” question, or repeatedly providing other information (e.g., contact information for DHS, answering procedural and logistical questions, etc.) because Case Navigator™ provides that, either on the site, or as a first contact resource person. This again frees up time that can be converted to more productive, billable tasks.
  • It helps the client become more responsible for their case, because they do not need to rely on the professionals to “hold their hand,” but can instead more actively partner with them on the top-of-the-pyramid issues. And because Case Navigator™ is providing consistent, excellent teaching, as well as helping facilitate the accountability piece, the parents can make better decisions, which makes the professionals’ lives easier.[5]

Additionally, all of the professionals are, in a sense, doing the SAME things—providing top-of-the-pyramid work in the form of either legal counsel, or social work-type assistance. No one is focused on the foundational pieces, and no one has the technology piece that allows everyone to work together as a team. I would also (gently) note that when everyone thinks someone else is doing something, that often means no one is doing it. I have had people ask me the same question with only one telling variable: “Shouldn’t               be doing this?” The “              “ has been filled with everything from DHS, to the attorney, to CASA, to FSRP, to Parent Partners.

With regard to funding and whether that should go to attorneys, DHS, or Case Navigator™, I would say this: simply spending more money on the same processes does not solve the underlying problems; it just gives you more of what you already have. Case Navigator™ has a simple, yet innovative approach that not only addresses this “pyramid gap,” but also indirectly frees up resources for DHS and Attorneys to “spend” elsewhere.

 

[1] I understand that they can request, and be granted, additional fees, but that requires additional paperwork, the judge must approve, the SPD must approve…and it is unlikely that this approval will be given for “teaching, procedural and logistical” matters.

[2] While it may be true that their caseloads have gone down, my understanding is that they are still higher than recommended. This isn’t to say that DHS is doing anything wrong or improper in how they are counted—just to say that the they still have a fairly extraordinary workload.

[3] My belief is that they deserve to be paid more because they do extraordinarily important work, yet are paid far less than their private attorney colleagues.

[4] The “whether they are attending” part of the technology is something I have to confirm with the technology consultant and FSRP

[5] Many of these benefits also apply to DHS as well.

Clarification – Part 2
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