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Hennepin County, Minnesota Partners with KVC Health Systems to Transform Its Child Welfare Approach

Minneapolis Skyline - Hennepin County KVC Child Welfare Partnership

KVC Institute Model Eases Transition from Child Protection to Child Well-being

Hennepin County is flipping its child protection system from reactive to proactive — to improve outcomes for children and families, address the system’s disparities and transform the workplace culture.

KVC’s Safe & Connected™ Consultation & Information Sharing Framework® has been instrumental in making this shift.

“It helps us look at the case from a different perspective,” said Annie Jordan, Hennepin County child protection practitioner.

Responding To a Need for Change

Hennepin County is the largest county in Minnesota, with 1.25 million residents and 274,000 children. In 2018, Hennepin County’s Child Protection Intake took 18,005 referrals. Of those, 8,873 were screened in as child protection reports and went to investigations. With a high number and volume of child protection involvement and disproportionate number of Native American and African American youth involved, transformation has never been more important.

Jennifer DeCubellis Hennepin County Minnesota Child Welfare KVC Health Systems Safe & Connected Foster Care


Deputy County Administrator Jennifer DeCubellis and other leaders have identified intersecting issues that play a role in family stress and well-being. Hennepin County leaders are shifting resources to early identification, intervention and prevention – moving services upstream to help families sooner, prior to child protection involvement, with the hope of preventing trauma from ever happening.

“Child maltreatment is a problem that has multiple roots – poverty, domestic violence, mental illness and chemical addiction – in families and in our society,” DeCubellis said. “We know that incidents of maltreatment will continue to increase unless we change our approach from reactive to proactive.”

Transforming the Approach to Child Protection

Hennepin County’s Children and Family Services began a partnership with KVC Health Systems in January of 2018. KVC consultants spent the first four months getting to know Hennepin County’s structure, processes, and practitioners. Then they slowly began introducing the consultation framework in high priority areas in child protection and children’s services. By the end of summer, the Safe & Connected™ framework was implemented across all of Children and Family Services.

This evidence-backed KVC model is helping Hennepin County’s Children and Family Services transform their approach to child protection by:

  • Infusing critical thinking, collaboration and transparency throughout the decision-making process.
  • Using collaborative decision making at key points in the child protection process, from intake and screening to investigations and ongoing case management.

The Safe & Connected™ framework has also been implemented in children’s mental health, education partnerships with schools for county-involved youth, and the courts.

Using the Safe & Connected™ framework takes more time up front, however, by slowing down the process, Hennepin County is starting to see results. Practitioners are sharing knowledge, involving families sooner and using critical thinking to approach cases differently and solve problems. Together, teams of practitioners are embracing a new practice that is better serving children and families.

Shifting From “I” to “We”

Thanks to the KVC model, a multi-disciplinary review team comprised of representatives from child protection, public health, and the attorney’s office collectively decide what happens to child protection referrals. The Intake Review Teams are led by a neutral facilitator through a discussion using the Safe & Connected™ framework. Together, they agree on what avenue a referral should go down – screened out or screened in – and whether other services and supports could benefit the family.

“We are shifting it from ‘my work’ to ‘our work’ – it’s not just falling on one person’s shoulders. Now it’s on the shoulders of the entire team,” said Child Protection Intake Program Manager Michelle Seymore.

Autumn Heller, an ongoing child protection supervisor agreed: “My whole unit has appreciated the framework because they can process cases together and receive input from one another,” she said. “Practitioners are saying they don’t feel as alone. They feel validated for their hard work and decisions.”

See photos from the partnership:

Sue and Michelle
SueJodieAbyShawn copy
3 women
Genogram workshop
Genogram 2
1 - Electronic Framework
PSOP family for web
PSOP children
Casey Fam Program and NORC and Hennepin Co

Infusing Critical Thinking and Shared Problem Solving

Practitioners have more time for processing and problem-solving. Using the framework helps them take a step back and look at the larger picture.

“We get flooded with details…. this helps us take a more distant perspective,” said a child protection supervisor, Cassandra McClurg.

“It’s helped us have conversations about cultural differences, race, and religion…to take that into account,” said David Maghakian, child protection practitioner. “We are constantly putting on different ‘glasses’ and keeping each other in check about our biases.”

The framework allows for discussions about complicating factors and gives space for the ‘grey areas,’ which leads to more thoughtful critical thinking about a family’s situation.

Focusing on Families to Build Trust

In addition to adopting the KVC model, Hennepin County uses evidence-based practices such as Family Group Decision Making and Critical Family Response meetings to involve families sooner. These voluntary meetings bring together family members, supporters, stakeholders, and practitioners for a discussion with a neutral facilitator. Together, the group identifies resources and supports, and collectively solves problems.

“Instead of being reactionary and defensive, we are slowing down and working with families like the human beings they are,” Leah Olsson, child protection practitioner, said. By operating intentionally from trust, honesty and openness, “The communities and parents trust us more.”

Hennepin County Minnesota Child Welfare Safe & Connected KVC Foster Care Prevention

A Hennepin County, MN family that participated in the Parent Support Outreach Program, an early intervention and prevention program for families. Safely preventing the need for foster care is a primary aim of child welfare agencies.

Lindsay Guthrie, Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) child protection practitioner, described her experience. “I detected a lot of emotion because the family finally had the space to express their worries for mom and children in a safe space,” she said. “The mom had her own voice and talked about her concerns as well.”

“The family wanted things in the safety plan that we hadn’t even talked about. They came up with their own unique plan – they made it in a way that would work for them,” Lindsay said.

Overall, practitioners have been enthusiastic about using KVC’s Safe & Connected™ Consultation & Information Sharing Framework®. The process has helped them to slow down and work more effectively as a team, share knowledge and engage in critical thinking – and ultimately serve families better.

By flipping the system to focus on well-being and early intervention, practitioners are better equipped to prevent crisis and trauma. In the process, Hennepin County’s Children and Family Services is strengthening and supporting families and communities.

Independent Evaluation

This implementation of Safe & Connected™ is part of a developmental evaluation through NORC at the University of Chicago with two research partners, Dr. Meg Hargreaves and Dr. Erin Watson. Hennepin County and KVC Health Systems look forward to sharing the results of this independent evaluation of the child welfare transformation’s effectiveness.

Learn More

KVC Health Systems helps health and human service agencies excel at caring for families with the most complex needs through a proven model that improves people’s health, their experience of care, and costs. Learn more about our areas of expertise in child welfare, behavioral healthcare and population health or explore training, consultation and ongoing partnership opportunities.

Special thanks to Liz Wiggen, Communications Specialist for Hennepin County Human Services, and Dr. Suzanne Lohrbach, creator of Safe & Connected™ and Executive Director of the KVC Institute, for their assistance with this article.

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