Wilson County Department of Social Services

Glenn Osborne, Director

Glenn Osborne, Director

Wilson County Department of Social Services (WCDSS) is a human services agency located in the County of Wilson in the state of North Carolina, USA. Wilson is a medium sized county with a population of 80,000+ citizens for which WCDSS is responsible for providing a continuum of child welfare services from Prevention through Child Protection to Foster Care and Adoption. Under the leadership of our Director, Glenn Osborne, Wilson County has established a reputation for progressive practice, beginning with Leading By Results an achievement-focused, continuous quality improvement framework that has been applied to all agency work with an emphasis on child welfare for over ten years.

WCDSS actively seeks creative, evidence based methods to meet the needs of the children and families we touch, establishing a Prevention Team in late 2001 and adding a clinical team in 2005 that provides outpatient therapy and psychological testing in order to build skills and make positive changes in the coping capabilities of the families we serve. In 2010 WCDSS represented North Carolina in a National Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Trauma and Placement Stability that led to ongoing statewide efforts to address the effect of trauma on children, families and child welfare professionals involved in the child serving system.

Recognizing the need to enhance our engagement with families, to move away from an over reliance on check lists and to build the skill level of our practitioners to achieve a critically thoughtful approach with families, WCDSS developed a research team and began a comprehensive search for a practice model that would transform our child welfare practice. After an intensive review of several models, the research team selected Signs of Safety with the vision of merging our work into a unified practice framework that is safety organized, trauma informed and outcomes driven. This practice framework is intended to be applied to the full continuum of our child welfare practice. We began work with Connected Families out of Chaska, Minnesota in early 2012 with an initial introduction of Signs of Safety to a leadership team and expanded to introduction of Signs of Safety to all child welfare staff in 2013.

WCDSS brought together an Implementation Team of Child Welfare leadership and line staff to advise and direct the implementation process. Recently we mapped our Signs of Safety implementation. Some worker comments about what was working well were:

  • “I ask parents to scale children’s needs.”
  • “In CFTs (Child and Family Teams) it helps families see where they started and what behavioral changes they have made and how to see what else needs to change.”
  • “I am asking families if they have someone they can call on in an emergency. I am assisting families identify what is important to them. I am more focused and actively listening.”
  • “Scaling helps staff, clients and families measure strengths, needs, change, progress. It supports clients’ understanding of the need for services, engagement in services, establishment of goals and evaluation of behavioral change measuring safety.”
  • “Scaling is important to see how the family and/or client feels and where they may like to go. Also, it helps the team see the work that may need to be done in order for the case to optimistically and realistically progress.”
  • “It gives you an opportunity to see how optimistic or pessimistic a family truly is and it lets the worker know what the parent may need to get to the next point in their life.”

Social Workers also indicated their practice had changed in the following ways:

  • “I ask better questions with family members using ears. I’m more engaged with the family’s needs and more task-specific on service plans.”
  • “I feel more allowed to ask questions. I use different words in documentation and with families.”
  • “I’m more focused on harm, danger, looking for strengths, and testing the plan. I’m using EARS, relationship questions, exception questions, and scaling more.”
  • “It has caused me to push clients to become more active regarding the goals put into their service plan.”
  • “I would like to think SOS is helping me to focus more on the immediate danger and harm that caused the child to be removed from the home in the first place.”
  • “The best tool so far is the three houses done in home with the family.”
  • “Spend more time working with family around a safety plan and identifying a safety network for the family.”
  • “The language and mind set when meeting with families.”
  • “I feel I ask more questions to elicit more information from clients.”
  • “Yes…I keep talking about the Harm statements, but this has really helped me to move my cases faster even in staffing…I feel more relaxed with my families talking with them about the harm and letting them come up with a way to eliminate the harm rather than me saying, ‘this is what you have to do’.”

An internal webpage was developed in an effort to place Signs of Safety and Trauma resources at the fingertips of our staff as well as to capture best practices and celebrate good work.

We have currently embedded the mapping practice in our Child and Family Team structure, and have created flow charts to help staff visualize where our Signs of Safety practice fits into mandated practice. We have learned enough about harm and danger statements, safety networks and safety goals to realize we are just beginning to understand and effectively use these techniques.

WCDSS will continue our Signs of Safety path in the next year with a shift in focus to Appreciative Inquiry by using targeted video conferencing and face to face coaching with our Connected Families partners, and with the attendance of our Child Welfare Leadership Team to the Practice Residency in April 2014.

For more information about Wilson County’s implementation of Signs of Safety, contact Kathy Stone, Child Welfare Program Manager at 252-206-4110.