System of Care (SOC) is a strength/needs-based (SNB) approach to child welfare practice that seeks safety, permanency and wellbeing for every child involved with the state's child welfare programs. An additional goal is the integration of SNB practice within the broader DHS reorganization efforts, such that children and their families have access to all departmental resources in order to achieve better outcomes for their lives.
In a 1995 legal settlement agreement, attorneys and child advocates from the Juvenile Rights Project (JRP), an affiliate of the National Center for Youth Law, and Oregon's child welfare system addressed issues facing children in Oregon's foster care system and children at risk of foster care placement. The agreement targeted improvements in quality and effectiveness of the services we provide to children in our system. The phase-in process of system reform began during 1995 and will be fully implemented statewide in 2003.
Within the framework of the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (AFSA) individualized planning for every child and family receiving child protective services is the goal. Each child's case plan has individualized goals related to safety, permanency and wellbeing that are complementary with ASFA expectations and fit within a set of overarching values. SOC includes the following goals:
- Protect children from being abused or neglected while ensuring attachment to their family and community.
- Design services that build on the strengths of children and families while offering intervention and support for needs.
- Involve as many family supports and community resources as possible and promote a "caring community" for children and families.
- Ensure that the family has a voice in the planning and implementation of services.
- Address system barriers to allow for flexibility so that each plan is tailor made for children and families.
- Establish a permanent and stable living situation for children as quickly as possible.
System of Care and the Strength/Needs Based Approach represents:
Seeing families as the problem
Focus on deficits of parents
Plugging families into existing services
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Seeing families as part of the solution
Focus on needs of the children
Crafting, individualizing and tailoring services around specific needs
SOC has, at its core, best practice related to engaging the family in change as the means to reunification and family preservation. Caseworkers must constantly balance the principles of best practice and the philosophy of engagement with the expectations that exist for parents due to the legal relationship that exists if there is court involvement. To this end, SOC follows three major principles that include the following:
- Developing the family's capacity for meeting the needs of their child is the most potent factor in changes they are able to make.
- Services facilitate naturally occurring healing aspects of clients lives.
- It is the client, not the caseworker, therapist, or technique that makes a plan works.