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90-Minute Child Welfare Simulation

Gaining New Perspective is a 90-minute experiential activity for 12-40 participants who take on the role of a child or biological parent involved in the child welfare system. During the simulation, participants complete a series of activities and draw red or blue cards that determine their journey through the child welfare system. 


The simulation is designed to help participants "see" the child welfare experience through the perceptual lenses of the children and families who have become involved in the family preservation or foster care system. Participants will experience roadblocks and successes that impact their family's journey and the outcome of their involvement with the Child Welfare System.

 

The simulation can be facilitated as a stand-alone activity and was incorporated into a more extensive workshop, "Working to Keep Families Together." The more extensive workshop aims to provide participants with an experiential workshop that allows them to explore their personal approach to working with children and families and develop tools that enable participants to see the "big picture" impact of their decisions.


Participants analyze their perspectives and values towards children and families involved in the child welfare system and focus on applying critical thinking when determining if a child is safe to remain at home or with the family before deciding to remove them and place them in foster care.
 

Throughout the project, I worked with our contract liaison, Susan Gile, Program Administrator, and Melinda Kline, Adoption Services Supervisor for the Kansas Children's Service League sub-contracting agency. During the assessment phase, they identified the following behaviors or experiences they wanted to incorporate into the solution:

  • Paradigm shift

  • Realistic examples/experiences

  • Use critical thinking in decision-making

  • Understand the "big picture" and the impact of their decisions

  • Widen their perspective

  • Walk in someone else's shoes

  • Experience misuse of power - both intentional and unintentional

  • Experiential activity similar to Homelessness and Domestic Violence simulations they had participated in

I researched the identified experiential activities and other available simulations to gather ideas and understand the desired experience. I focused on three main themes:

  • An emotional and challenging first-person experience

  • Storyline and activities relatable to families' real-life experiences

  • Widening perceptual lenses and experiencing unintended consequences of worker decisions

During the simulation, participants take on the role of a family member, either adult or child, who has entered the child welfare system. After receiving brief, high-level verbal instructions, participants start their journey at their home station. There are eight different stations, each with its own activities that determine success or failure and the next step in their journey. Because consequence (positive and negative) cards are randomized, no two groups experience the same outcome.

Throughout the experience, participants incur additional obstacles that can have a negative impact on their final outcome. After 20 minutes, they add up their final score and learn the outcome of their journey. The facilitators take on two different roles: one focuses on pointing out everything the participants do incorrectly and distributing negative consequences, and the other is assigned to one family and provides support throughout the simulation.

The processing following the simulation is a powerful experience that allows participants to connect their simulation experience to the real-life experiences of the children and families in the child welfare system. The conversations, "aha" moments, and gaining a new perspective helped participants identify what they wanted to do more or less in their work with families. 

 

In 1997, the State of Kansas privatized and contracted their family preservation, foster care, and adoption services, keeping only child abuse and neglect investigations as a direct role for state social workers.

Over time, this created an environment where the social workers assigned to investigate and recommend the removal of children from their families didn't have direct experience with the experiences children and families experienced after the initial investigation was completed. Without the big picture, it becomes increasingly difficult for investigative social workers to see outside their perceptual lenses and understand the long-term impact of their decisions.

In 2013, through a State training contract I managed, I worked with the Department of Children and Family Services leadership to design a learning solution to help investigation workers "experience" the difficult journey children and families experience when they enter Child Welfare services.

In addition to the loss of a well-rounded perspective, investigation workers were experiencing an increase in their caseloads and decreased available resources.

The impact of the simulation exceeded our expectations, whether it was facilitated as part of a larger workshop or as a stand-alone activity. Participants routinely reported they gained a new perspective they hadn't understood until they took a "walk" in the family's shoes.

I facilitated the activity as a part of a larger workshop, along with the support of Susan and Melinda, at all eight regional Department of Children and Families offices across Kansas. We conducted the simulation as a stand-alone activity at two state conferences. I also developed and delivered a Train-the-Trainer workshop and provided basic kits for all participants.

During one of the state conferences, a participant was a Junior League of America member, and one of the train-the-trainer participants facilitated the workshop for her local chapter.

The Children's Alliance of Kansas continues to sell the simulation kit on its website at www.childally.org/mapp-store/p/simulation.

As part of the evaluation process, we sent out a post-training survey after 30 days and asked participants to describe the impact of their learning.  Below are highlights of the responses. 

**Participant's responses are anonymous, and confidential information is removed**

  • I am trying hard not to get caught up in "What if" scenarios and focus on factual information.  I have reflected a lot on the simulation exercise and thought a lot about how that affected me.  My viewpoint about removing kids has changed, not just from your training, but also my own experiences, but your training is one more piece that makes up my overall approach when making these kinds of decisions.  

  • This training has helped me to remain mindful of how having DCF involvement affects the children, the parents, and the family system.

  • I have had numerous discussions with peers and supervision in which we discussed the impact that removing a child has on that child.

  • I received an intake for physical neglect and the conditions of the home were not sanitary. Instead of jumping to conclusions, I worked with the family and allowed them to address our concerns. The family was able to clean their home and keep it clean without having to take further action.

  • With every family I work with, I am reminded to think of how my involvement with the family will impact them now and, in the future, and to try and keep an open mind when speaking with them.

  • After the training, I had to step back and really think if the child is unsafe. 

  • After the training, I had to step back and really think if the child is unsafe. 
    Recently, we temporarily removed children from their mom, we actually quoted from this workshop and came up with a creative, new approach that kept the children with family instead of in foster care. Mom supported the plan because she understands we want to work with her and help her succeed.

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