Child Protection Work in Minnesota: A Realistic Job Preview

Child Protection Work in Minnesota: A Realistic Job Preview


(peaceful music) – I’m here with the police department, and this is Jennifer. She’s with social services. Could we come in and talk to you? – There was a report that
came in to child protection. – Do you have any meth
in the house right now? – No, we don’t. – The reality when you
work in child welfare is that you’re working with families that are experiencing a
significant amount of trauma. – [Social Worker] You’re
thinking about people’s lives, and so helping to make those decisions is a pretty important job. I think a lot of people don’t realize that we’re making those
decisions on a daily basis. – Working with kids and families
that really need our help at sometimes the darkest
moments in their lives. – It’s emotional, it’s
extremely rewarding, but at the same time, it will be the most difficult
job you will ever do. – [Narrator] Child protection
professionals in Minnesota work to ensure the safety, permanency, and wellbeing of children. They play a critical
role in helping families create the stable and
nurturing homes children need if they are to thrive. Minnesota is a state
run, county administered child protection system. The Department of Human Services works with Minnesota’s 87 counties, 11 federally recognized tribes, and community based providers to support interventions that
ultimately strengthen families and prevent child maltreatment. This video is designed to
give you a realistic look at child protection
employment in Minnesota. Having an informed and committed workforce contributes to to the safety and wellbeing of children involved in child protection. Research has shown that high turnover in child protection staff
leads to more instability for children and families. Before accepting a job
in child protection, it’s important to consider your fit with the benefits and
challenges of the work. Child protection professionals
work in a broad spectrum of roles across a wide variety
of state and local agencies. Watching this video will give you a feel for the skills and temperament
required to be successful in this challenging field. – If you’re going into
child welfare practice, you need to know that
it isn’t just children you’re working with. You’re working with the
family that that child is in and helping those kids to be
as safe and healthy as they can in their environment. – We’re here to help support families be the best families they can be in the situations that they’re in. – You’re not going to fix people. You’re not going to save people. You’re going to give people an opportunity to make different choices. You’re going to give people an opportunity to make their own changes. They might not be a
rockstar parent at the end, but they might meet the standards, the minimum standards, and the child might be
better off and safe, and that’s really what it comes down to. – [Sorenson] The work within
child protective services requires professionals
who can be empathetic, can be engaging, can develop
relationships and trust, and yet underneath,
what’s being talked about, and behaviors that they’re seeing, to the core issues that child or family may be experiencing. And then to take that information and to be able to work with someone to develop a meaningful intervention that’s going to leave a child
and a family better off. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to do, and that’s ultimately
what we need professionals who are doing this work to be able to do. (soft piano music) – Chisago County intake, this is Bill. Yep, this is Child Protection. – [Narrator] Each year in Minnesota, approximately 25,000 children are reported for abuse and neglect to the child protection system. People whose jobs involve
caring for children, such as doctors, teachers, and therapists, are required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect. It is child protection workers
who evaluate these reports, and then work to support
the families involved to ensure safety for children. – The phones ring all day
long and could be anything. Large volume of looking at allegations, making determinations
based on the information and the law and the criteria. – Each report is received
through our intake worker, and then those reports are
screened on a daily basis. – We compare the statute on does this allegation meet the statute that the state has put out
as a guideline for abuse? – We use that with every
single report we receive to determine if our agency
needs to be involved and at what level. – The power to the home had been shut off. They contacted us. – [Narrator] When a report
of child abuse has been made, a team of child protection
workers will immediately decide which reports require further action. Those that do will be screened in, and the team will then
prioritize and determine what level of response is required. – There are domestic violence
concerns on a regular basis. Sometimes, there’s parents
actively using illegal drugs in the home, and sometimes, there’s sexual abuse. – If a call comes in to intake, and there’s a situation that needs to be immediately addressed, we all take turns being on what’s called emergency coverage. And if something comes
in on your coverage, then you’re the person
that’s going to get it, and the point is to act
immediately on that. (fast-paced music) – And she admitted to using meth? – Yeah, that’s the report we got. – [Narrator] When a report
comes in that a child’s safety is an imminent concern, and meets other statutory criteria, it will require the family
investigation response. – We’re walking into a situation, and we don’t know what’s there. It’s different every time, and it can be kind of scary. It can be kind of unnerving,
anxiety provoking, you don’t know what you’re walking into. – Any time we’re concerned
about the safety of our worker or the safety of a family. Sometimes it’s been a
domestic violence scenario or illegal drugs in the home, law enforcement and the social worker go out on those together. – [Narrator] Child
protection investigators will take whatever action may be required to ensure the child’s safety. (muffled conversation) – Okay, do you guys
have any other questions for me right now? – No.
– No. – All right, I’m sorry, you guys. I know. – Just a very intrusive process because we don’t need releases, we don’t need their permission. We’re able to get any of
that information we need, and then continue to try
to work with that family and help them, you really have to approach carefully and try to keep the peace while getting the information you need to help the kids. – Understand that just your presence as a child protection investigator, the fact that you’re
knocking on their door, has an impact on a family. And you’re going to ask them
incredibly personal questions. You’re going to get in the
depths of the worst time of their life. How you present to them is
going to make a huge difference. And ultimately, you’re there
because you want to make sure that child, those children are safe, and then help change the situation. (soft guitar music) – So, they have a really
good relationship, the dad and the son do. The mom’s in prison. – And so that may also have an impact on the children’s ability to be in school. – [Narrator] When a report does not meet statutory requirements for
an investigation response, a child maltreatment
report may be assigned the family assessment response. Child protection professionals
will interview children, parents, and others to assess for safety, risk factors, and family
strengths and needs. – Asking a lot of questions, listening, explaining our perspective, explaining the report that we received, explaining what our concerns are, and then talking about how can we mitigate those concerns. – I work with families on services that could help them get
past whatever allegations were presented to us. I had a recent case when there was issues with domestic violence
that was reported to us. We went in the residence,
kind of scoped it out, and were able to talk
through what was happening and figuring out some
services to help her with. ‘Cause there was some concern
about with her daughter witnessing a lot of domestics ’cause when we were there, people were raising their voices, she did this with her ears, which is a pretty big indicator that she’s probably heard
a lot of screaming before. So getting her little girl some services. And she had a new baby in there, too, so looking at getting public
health in there as well to make sure that child
development is on track and make sure there’s no
safety issues in the house and things like that. – Always assess for safety. Refer clients for services, provide any type of support that would alleviate any safety concerns as far as
child protection is concerned. (soft piano music) – [Bailiff] All rise. This court is now in session. – In the matter of the
welfare of the children of Justin Johnson and Christine Anderson. – I will refer to the social worker to provide more information to the court. – [Judge] Thank you. Go ahead. – Your honor, the two children were found during the execution of search warrant. – [Narrator] In some cases,
children may need to be removed from dangerous situations
and placed in foster care until a court decides the
best way to provide them with a safe, nurturing,
and permanent home. – And work with social
services as to visitation. – Often times, we need
to involve the court. There’s something called the CHIPS, Child in need of Protection or Services, and that is a court
proceeding that we follow. If a child is in out of home placement due to safety reasons, we always have a CHIPS in court involvement in those cases. – Having a good relationship between the child welfare worker and
the families they work with really helps paint a good picture for the attorney to make the decision about whether a CHIPS
petition is needed in court. The more information that we
get from the social worker, the better informed we are, and the better decisions
we can make for families. – The child welfare worker
will take the information that they have garnered
through their investigation and integrate it into a plan. And it’s a plan that is articulated clearly to both the judge and the family that is at issue. – It’s one of the most difficult pieces for child protection workers because as a child protection worker, you’re a social worker. You’re there to help and assist families, You’re looking to provide
families and children with the services they may
need to be healthier families. And the court process, bringing a family into the court process can be frustrating for the family. They’re upset. And they should be upset. They just had their
children removed from them, and they’re being brought into court, and they don’t feel all the time that you’re on their
side when you do that. – Yeah, it can be difficult
working in the system. You may not get the result
that you’re looking for. And you have to be okay with it, that’s why we have the system. That’s why we have the courts, and that’s why we don’t make the decision. The court needs to hear everybody’s facts and everybody’s information and make the decision
that they think is right. It may not be what the
worker thinks is right. And that can be really difficult. (soft, guitar music) – [Narrator] Family
investigations and assessments are completed within 45 days. – Some cases conclude an assessment, determination, yes or no, no services needed. Can close that way. Some cases go on to case management either with court involvement or voluntarily. – Because of the way that child protection is portrayed in the media, it’s often believed the child, the role of child protection
is to remove children. And that’s not true in
the majority of cases. And always the role of child protection is to reunify children with their families and to support families whenever possible. – His DC zero to 3 assessment
diagnosed him with anxiety. – [Narrator] Regardless of outcome, the goal of child protection workers will to be to try to first
work with the child’s family to ensure a safe environment. Usually, an ongoing child
protection case manager will be assigned to the family. And they will work together
to resolve what ever issues are contributing to an unsafe situation. – My role is to do all of the ongoing child
protection case management. If it’s a placement case, I keep it through when
permanency is reached. In a placement case, that means that the child is
in the custody of the county, and we’re working a case
plan with the parents to reunify the child with them. – [Narrator] The goal of
child protective services is always to keep families
together whenever possible. Research shows that children do better if they can remain with their parents. After a case is opened, parents must demonstrate
that they’re willing and able to ensure their child’s safety. To do that, a case plan is created that includes specific goals
and a timeframe for completion. – Case plans are very extensive. They involve safety,
wellbeing, and permanency, which are they three
categories of child protection. And within each category, there’s different tasks
for the parent to do, as well as the child. And it takes a lot of work. – [Narrator] The case manager will monitor the family’s progress and try to keep them on track. – I have six months to get this family to get over something that they’ve probably
been doing for 20 years. Sometimes, they’re going to fall short, and sometimes they’re
going to be successful. So often times, it’s just
about the communication and developing a rapport with people. Just say, “Hey, what do you need from me “to help you be successful?” – I won’t drive the bus for my clients, but I’ll be the tour guide. They have to do the work. Otherwise, they don’t
develop an independence that will lead to success. – [Narrator] The worker
may connect the family with other community resources, like chemical health facilities, housing agencies, early
childhood family education, and will also collaborate
with counselors and therapists to help parents deal with whatever issues are challenging their
children’s wellbeing. – We had a case where we
removed three children, struggled tremendously with the parents. They weren’t understanding
the need to make changes. There was a multitude of
their mental health issues, there were drug issues. We ended up terminating
all parental rights for all three of those children. Mom gets pregnant. Comes back to us again
’cause we’ve terminated. She did really well. The time we spent
stabilizing mental health and chemical dependency, we’d already done that. So we were able to start in
a different place this time. We were able to start
with parenting education, with public health. So I think it had a rough
ending in one respect, but then they came back around, and they did really well, they actually did. We filed the CHIPS, and we worked through the whole plan, but they got to keep the last child. I just saw them at a recent county event, and they chatted with
me for a while about it. They were pretty excited. – It involves a lot of communication, a lot of team meetings and collaboration, and being really clear about whose role is what. And a lot of times, we’re able to back out and allow that support to continue without child protection being involved. (soft music) – [Narrator] Each of
Minnesota’s counties is unique in terms of diversity,
size, economic disparity, and available local resources. – Chisago County is a more rural county. We don’t have the services
other people have. And it’s harder to coordinate everything. – We serve about half of
our population actually between all of our programs, We’re a small poor county. So we serve quite a few
people through our agency. – In a smaller county like this one, the case manager does everything. There is a little bit more variety I think working here, and I like that. – Being in Hennepin County, there’s a lot of service
providers that are available. We have a very culturally
diverse population that we work with. So there’s different providers, culturally specific providers for pretty much every service we provide, which includes parenting education, domestic violence programming, there’s chemical treatment, therapy, and a lot of times, we can at least provide
somebody who fits culturally, but also linguistically. So if somebody speaks
something differently, then we’re able to provide them services in their first language as well. – Hennepin County has worked aggressively to build a workforce that
looks like the clients that we serve. And you need that diversity
because of language, because of culture, because you understand things
at a whole different level when you’re working with families from a cultural perspective. When we look like them, then we can better serve them, and the families really believe that we’re committed
to their best interest. – And quite often with child protection, there are diverse situations, and to the make the best
team decision possible, it’s great to have people
from different backgrounds. – [Chenevert] I believe the
skills that are really essential are a recognition of one’s own stereotypes and values that may have an impact on your ability to be fair and objective and equitable in the
decisions that you’re making. – I want someone that’s compassionate, someone that has good empathy, someone that’s understanding of life and client situations, that’s not judgemental, someone that’s welcoming
of all types of families. – In Minnesota, we have a lot
of history of disparities, particularly with our African American and American Indian families in our state. And what that means is that they are often over represented in our system. So we have been working,
partnering with our communities, partnering with our workforce, and trying to figure out what are, all of the ways that we can
start approaching this topic because it’s not one solution. It’s a systematic, pervasive issue that we need to really
attack from many angles, and we need to look at all of the opportunities available to us to address the disparities in our system and try to turn the tide. – Knowing that Minnesota has
some of the worst disparities in the nation, in both African American and
American Indian communities, having workers understand
those communities, have relationships in those communities, be from those communities, is really essential, and us being able to address disparity and disproportionality. – [Narrator] When cases involve
Native American families, workers are required by the
Indian Child Welfare Act, known as ICWA, to involve the family’s registered tribe in all decision making. Tribal child protection
workers are professionals who have important roles
and responsibilities in these cases. The goal is to keep
American Indian children with American Indian
families whenever possible. – It’s very important information as to whether the child has
Native American heritage, whether there is an
affiliation of membership with a tribe. – So we have to consult
with the tribe often, collaborate with the tribe. We don’t make decisions with regard to placement or permanency without the tribe being consulted and being on board. – We’ve had great
relationships with the tribes in the state. And they have social workers
that they also assign to the case, and we end up teaming it. (peaceful music) – [Narrator] At every stage, child protection work
presents many challenges. Workers need to be able to recognize their own personal biases
and develop empathy with their clients. They need to deal with
disappointment and disagreement. They need to have the professional skills to navigate the court system, law enforcement, and
documentation requirements. And they need the dedication
and determination to persist, despite heavy workloads
and time constraints. – In child protection, there’s no such thing as a typical day, and you don’t know what
it’s going to be like when you get in. – Your day will never go
just as you had planned it or just as you had scheduled it. You have to be ready to jump from one task to another task. – The regulations regarding
paperwork and documentation really take up a lot of time. – You’re doing paperwork, you’re doing background checks, you’re doing all of this kind of stuff because you have to
gather the information, and what you do, you have to write it down. Write down every single thing that you do. – There’s never enough time in the day. The social workers, they work very hard. The case loads are high. – Everything is so fast-paced
and changes so quickly. You’ve got scenarios coming at you from all different angles that you don’t know the answers to. – In Minnesota and nationally, research has shown that
one of the primary reasons that child protection
workers leave their roles is because of bureaucracies. Workers in my experience
that have been successful in their roles have done that because they figured out how to stay true to the core work of child protection with children and families, and doing that while still being bound by statute regulations and rules. – You need to be organized
and be able to prioritize. And it is a high stress, fast environment, so you have to be able
to roll with the punches. – You will have kids
crying, parents crying, everybody thinking that you’re not there to serve the family, but you’re there to break up the families. It’s always hard. I don’t think anybody can
ever get used to doing that. – You can’t take thing personally. You just can’t. – And it is really important
for the child protection worker to be able to still try to engage and not back off because of the discomfort of dealing with a hostile family. – Probably the most important skill is being a good listener,
an active listener. And I think just person-centered. Always trying to see
and hear from the person where they’re at because each family that
we serve is different. (soft music) – [Narrator] Minnesota gives employees who are new to child protection work as much preparation, training,
and support as possible. – Just started in the field less than, well two and a half months ago actually, so everything is extremely
brand new to me still. I am still doing a lot of training, a lot of reading. – At the state, we operate the Minnesota Child Welfare Training System. And the purpose of the training system is really to provide support to workers, particularly new workers
who are coming in. All new child protection
workers across the state need to have what we call
foundation trainings, so basic kind of understanding of theoretical background, as well specific practice
policies and methods that workers need to
know right off the bat. – I was signed up for a
lot of online trainings and even classroom trainings. But the best trainings that I’ve gotten are just the shadowing and just being able to go
out with a lead social worker and just see how they handle it. There’s always backup. If I have questions on anything, they’re always there. There’s been times where
I’ve been out on a field, and stuff would come up, and I just was like, “What do I do?” And I was able to call my supervisor, and she was able to walk
me right through it. So, yeah, I’ve always had that support. – I have routine
supervision with my workers. I meet with them at
least every other week. I have an open door policy. Workers can come in and talk
to me whenever they want to about a case situation. But we for sure sit down every other week and go through the entire caseload. – Sometimes, the newer social workers are not used to that level of supervision, but it’s very important. When you’re in the child protection field, you want somebody to
be reviewing your work all the time because it’s you out there in the field, and you want somebody to be
knowing what is going on. You want somebody to have your back. – Be open to learn and to grow. Expect that it’s going to take two years to get up to speed when you
start a brand new position. It took me like, at least
a year, year and a half to get to that point
where I felt comfortable, where I didn’t feel like I have to ask my supervisor, our lead worker, “What am I supposed to do? “What am I supposed to do?” – When folks have been in the
field for a couple of years, they kind of get a better
sense of what it is that they don’t know or skills that they’d like to develop. And we try to have a great, catalogue and complement of trainings available for them as well. – Ongoing staff development
is really important in child protection services. And that’s something that we strive to do within the training system as well. Keep curricula and
trainings offered at a pace that allows people to continue to develop themselves professionally, expand their skillsets, to go deeper into issues
that are of interest to them. (piano music) – [Narrator] For those
who have made a commitment to child protection work, the rewards are unsurpassed. – My most favorite part about it is just seeing changes in families. That is the one thing that
probably keeps me going, is seeing somebody make progress, and they’re happy about it, and they’re, it’s just so life changing. – Maybe we make a safety
plan to keep those kids safe and to get an offender out of the home, to get an abusive person
away from the kids, we help them get orders for protection, we help them get to
domestic violence shelters, we help people get into treatment, we help people to get into
parenting and anger management, and all of these things that are helping to better their lives. And they do get their kids
back or keep their kids. – At the end of the day, when I know a child is someplace safe, that gives me fulfillment. – To connect with people, to empathize with them, to offer them services and support, to explain why or why not
services are provided, to be able to make that process as informative and as fair
and as helpful as possible is really, really good work. So despite it being difficult, it’s the best job I’ve ever had. – The most rewarding part
of being in this field are the people and the
families and the children. Even if the end is not great, even if you terminate parental rights, to see that child go through the process and be adopted, and to see them, and I say this to my staff, be the star of their own show, and get to have a family where they are number one. There’s nothing that beats that. – [Narrator] Despite the rewards of positively impacting a child’s life or helping a family grow stronger, the physical and emotional challenges of child protection work are significant. – Working in child protection is potentially the best
experience in the entire world. There is nothing I would
rather do than this. There are also times when
it is the worst experience. And it breaks your heart, and you feel like, you just want to give up. – You cannot detach your
emotions from this job. It’s impossible to believe
that you’re going to go home and not think about these
children and families when you’re not on the clock. – Dealing with kids that are being abused at different levels, certainly the sexual abuse, can be very emotionally trying. – When you’re dealing
with crisis after crisis after crisis every single day, it can wear you down. And you have those days
where you have tears. You sit in your bosses
office, and you cry. – You have to be able to
talk with other people about what’s going on. You can’t, it’s all confidential stuff. You can’t talk, you can’t go home and talk to anybody. You can’t go talk to
your friends about it. Your colleagues are the ones that you have to be able to
kind of process things through, who understand what you’re, kind of what you’re going through. – So in a sense, you have
to stay very vulnerable and open, but at the same time, to avoid burnout, you have to protect your heart. You can’t take this home with you. But what you do, is you give all of yourself. 100% when you’re at the job. But you keep family, your family, your personal life separate from the work that you do here. The more balanced you stay as a worker, which means taking care of yourself first, the better job you can do
when you’re working here. When you’re on an airplane, when the mask drops, they tell you to put your mask on first before you help those who are with you. That’s what you have to do here. To be able to endure and
persevere and stay long in this career, you have to take care of yourself first. – Secondary traumatic stress, burnout, compassion fatigue, it goes by a number names. But what we know is that
child protection workers experience all of these things. So finding ways for workers to be able to take care of themselves, seek the support that they need, and most importantly, having agencies that can provide that concrete support for
the workers doing the work is essential. (peaceful music) – Do your friends typically
bring methamphetamine to the home? – Your attorney will be there. – [Keezer] Child protection is a career. It’s not a job. It’s a commitment. This is something that you
have to have a passion for. It’s something that you
feel strongly about. – You will be very happy at times. You will be very sad, you will be mad. And you could have all of
that within like, two hours. – We’re here for the children
and for the families. And we’re not here to fulfill our own, whatever dream we have of saving the world ’cause child protection
is not saving the world. Child protection is making
sure that children are safe and families are successful. – No college class really prepares you for the people in the scenarios that you’re going to deal with. But I think in your heart of hearts, if you love people, and
you want to help people, it is a great profession. – [Narrator] We hope
this video has given you a new appreciation for the
challenging and valuable work done by the dedicated people who staff Minnesota’s
child protection system. If you’re thinking about making a career in child protection, having a realistic idea of what’s involved will help you make a better decision. And if you do decide to enter the field, knowing what to expect will improve your chances of success. (soft guitar music)

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