I enjoy talking to people about Case Navigator™, even people who might be critical of it, because it helps me sharpen my message, see where the pushback is (so that I can clarify and/or correct misinformation), and hear what people want and think is most important. The appropriations bill to fund a two-year pilot program has been filed. However, legislative bills are, by nature, written broadly, so talking to people also gives me the opportunity to flesh it out a bit. I thought it might be helpful to highlight some of the discussions I’ve had over the last few weeks with a variety of individuals (though I am not going to identify them by name). But in order to understand where the questions/comments are coming from, a bit of an introduction/overview is in order (though I recognize that some of this is a bit duplicative of a previous post). That’s what today’s post is about. On Monday, I will address specific questions and comments.


Most of us learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs at some point in our lives; usually represented as a pyramid, it tells us that at the bottom are the basic needs—food, shelter, safety, etc. As you work your way to the top, you ultimately get to “self-actualization.” This is the top-of-the-pyramid goal. We also learned that you cannot start there; if people are homeless or hungry, they really don’t care about “self-actualization.”

This same concept can apply to many things—including juvenile court.

Parents who find themselves in juvenile court due to a removal of their children come in traumatized by that loss. They may bring experiences of past traumas to this new one, and are likely dealing with other challenging issues, such as substance abuse disorders or mental health issues. All of these things stretch their cognitive and emotional “bandwith” to the snapping point. But despite knowing all this, when parents enter juvenile court we don’t start with the foundational, bottom-of-the-pyramid things.

Instead, parents have a DHS worker who is focused on top-of-the-pyramid social work issues, such as case plans. An attorney is appointed, and comes in with top-of-the-pyramid legal advice. But again—although those things are all very important, that’s not where parents are. They are at the bottom of the pyramid, wondering what a TPR is, what (and who) FSRP is and wondering what s/he does. They don’t know what an adjudication hearing is, or disposition, or where any of those things fall in the process. They may not even know where the courthouse is (especially since juvenile recently moved), whether they can (or are required to) bring their kids to court, and where to sit in the courtroom. This isn’t about not being “smart” enough to understand these things; it’s that it’s a foreign “language” and experience to them—as it would be for most people.

Case Navigator™ is designed to do one thing: meet the client where s/he is in order to close that “pyramid” gap, so children can safely reunify with their families faster.

Most of the professionals involved in juvenile cases are focused on helping people comply with orders and case plans and become better parents (whether through substance abuse treatment, therapy, or other services) so kids can go home. And those things are really important, of course. But those “services” would be far more effective if parents had the foundational understanding of the process, people, expectations, and terms/acronyms they will encounter along the way.

Case Navigator™ also uses technology in a way that has not been used before. It fosters a team (rather than adversarial) approach, provides up-to-date information, and helps parents become both more self-sufficient and more compliant with their orders and case plans.

Simply providing more money to the processes that are currently in place doesn’t solve the underlying problems. Case Navigator™ offers a new way to look at how we work with families in juvenile court, one that does not ignore the importance of the top-of-the-pyramid work or seek to replace it, but instead provides a strong foundation on which to build that work.


Up next—specific questions and challenges regarding the service. Things like:

  • Are Case Navigator’s™ subject to privilege?
  • How do you define a team? A case?
  • Are you really looking to serve every single family in Iowa that’s involved in juvenile court?
Clarification – Part One
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