NASWMalick and Suzzane 9921Child protection sometimes requires that life-or-death decisions be made in an instant. In order to prepare case workers for those crucial moments, skill, patience, time, and data must connect to create targeted improvement plans.

The Center’s Dr. Suzanne Sutphin is the meeting point for that crucial connection.

As part of our Research Team, Dr. Sutphin analyzes and interprets child protection casework data for the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS), allowing them to identify strengths and target improvement areas in their Program Improvement Plans (PIPs). Where does this data come from? Much of it comes from the Center’s Quality Assurance Team, which conducts county-by-county reviews of DSS casework.

“The [most recent] data we’re giving to DSS is the richest yet,” Dr. Sutphin says. “We have quantitative data from the ratings of case worker practices and qualitative data from the narratives of the cases. We have data from the new Intake hubs, record keeping from CAPSS and responses from focus groups made up of a wide cross-section of DSS staff. It’s amazing to have all of this gathered together. We have so much to offer our client.”

Malik Whitaker, Director of Policy and Continuous Quality Improvement at DSS, has great hopes for this data. “We want to use this data on a program-wide level. Our vision is to use the data not just as an audit of areas needing improvement but reinforcement of good practice.”

An example of a finding Dr. Sutphin helped DSS leverage is the discovery that quality case worker visits with the parents of children in care are the biggest single indicator of strong casework practice. In other words, tracking that particular metric can give a county office a good indication of how well their staff is doing on the job.

Dr. Sutphin and Mr. Whitaker have worked together on this project for an extended amount of time and their connection has been a boon for the project. “Relationships are important,” Mr. Whitaker asserts. “Suzanne cares a lot about the relationship between our organizations. She makes the data very user-friendly and we trust her. That’s how we succeed together.”

Dr. Sutphin feels the same: “I’ve often been the only non-DSS person in the room during our process and I always feel welcome. They see me as a partner, not a judge. We’re working together to improve the system and I feel very positive about our work together.”

[Photo: Malik Whitaker and Suzanne Sutphin]