One of the problems I see in juvenile court is that we ask our parents to do a lot of things—very challenging things, given their situation—but we don’t make it easy to succeed. For example, their “to-do” list might pull things from a court order, a DHS case plan, and family team meeting notes, among others. Not only that, but all of those documents have a lot of other information (much of it written in legalistic/social worker language), as well as including things other people on their team are going to do.
All of this means that parents—who are already traumatized from having their kids removed—now have to sift through all these sources of information, figure out what their part is, figure out what, exactly they are being asked to do, figure out how to do it, and then actually do it (which can also be challenging if they have transportation issues or a job that makes it difficult to get time off during the week).
Case Navigator™ helps to alleviate this challenge by creating one monthly task list, pulled from all the sources (orders, DHS case plans, FTM notes), and limited to only what the parent is to do. The monthly task list is divided into three sections: critical tasks, important tasks, and agreements.
- Critical Tasks include only three things: therapy, substance abuse treatment, and visitation. If the parent is not on track with any of these tasks (assuming they are ordered in their case), an alert is sent to the attorney so s/he can follow up if necessary. This helps keep the client on track, and it also prevents the attorney from being “surprised” to learn at the hearing that his/her client has not been complying with the order or case plan.
- Important tasks are those that are important, but not one of the critical three. Noncompliance with these does not trigger an alert. Often, these are “one-off” things that don’t really have a deadline. For example, “apply for WIC” is something that might go here. “Schedule the child’s doctor appointment” is another example. There is no limit to the number of things that can be on this list, or how long a particular item is on the list (though if it’s on for several consecutive months, follow up may be needed to determine why this hasn’t been done, or whether it’s no longer necessary/relevant).
- Agreements are items that are important, but they are typically things that are ongoing and would have to be measured in the negative. For example, “Comply with your criminal no contact order” is obviously important, but, as the saying goes, it’s hard to measure a negative. “Remain substance abuse free” is another example.
The benefits of this letter are several. First, it makes it easier for the client to know what they are expected to do, which in turn makes it easier to comply with what they’re being asked to do. They are not as likely to miss something because it’s buried within a lot of legalese or a big report. Second, it helps the other professionals spot a potential problem much earlier, allowing them to be more proactive in helping their client get back on track faster. Third, it helps therapists focus on helping their client work on what’s most important. And if parents need more information, they can still go back to the original documents. This list doesn’t replace those documents, it just consolidates the critical “to do” pieces into one easy-to-understand document.
The point of all the “asks” is to help parents get healthy and be a better parent. The point isn’t to measure whether or not they can read an order, DHS Case Plan, or FTM notes and then synthesize all that information into a list. If we can help parents know and understand what is being asked of them so they can do the actual work they’re being asked to do, we help them become successful.
And isn’t that ultimately what we all want for them—and their children?