Special Projects



The Sauer Collaborative
for Child Well-Being

Introduction and Context: Systems get the outcomes they are designed to achieve, and our child welfare system in Minnesota was getting outcomes that were problematic for children, families, and our child welfare workers. One of the problematic outcomes was the disproportionate amount of foster children staying within the system for longer periods of time than successfully exiting to permanency. In the Spring of 2014, the Sauer Family Foundation hired a systems consultant to create a relational map of the child welfare system in Minnesota in all its complexity. He then analyzed the system to find the highest impact levers for aligning the system to better outcomes for children and families. The consultant interviewed 32 people (PDF, 133 KB) and created individual maps that fed the large, very complex map of the child welfare system (PDF, 128 KB). The people who were interviewed came together to validate the map of the system before it was analyzed in five different ways to determine the highest impact levers. The analysis showed that the system was overloaded and heading into chaos because it was aligned to federal compliance, which was about safety and permanency, without broader consideration of the child’s well-being. In order to get better outcomes for children, the system needed to be aligned to child well-being using the following eight levers that build on each other.

  1. Quality alignment to a standard of child well-being (a positive goal for the system).
  2. Quality of metrics for measuring a child’s current state relative to well-being.
  3. Degree of reliance on evidence-based methodologies for well-being outcomes.
  4. Quality of data and computer systems aligned to the child’s well-being.
  5. Quality of training, development and supervision.
  6. Quality of community resources and relationships.
  7. Quality of the initial child assessment.
  8. Quality of the initial investigation of the case.

With the Sauer Family Foundation providing funding, logistical and other ongoing support to facilitate the work, three teams of people from the Child Welfare System (35 people total) worked on the first four levers over three and a half years. The state of Minnesota does not have a definition of child well-being to define our work with children; creating a definition proved to be more difficult than we first imagined. The following body of work, which includes the most recent working definition of child well-being (created from focus groups with African American and Native American youth and families), practice models, and a document describing a data system for child well-being, is the culmination of the research and Listening Sessions for the Sauer Collaborative for Child Well-Being.

Shared Definition of Child Well-Being: In December of 2018, the Sauer Collaborative for Child Well-Being gathered to hear from African American and Native American parents and youth who have had experience with the child protection system. The team that has been working to define child well-being wanted to hear the voices of those that are disproportionately involved in the system, so they conducted a pilot project of Listening Sessions. The participants talked about what it means to be well, the barriers to well-being and what is needed in the community to support well-being. The members of the team are:

  • Gene Roehlkepartain, Ph.D., VP Research and Development, Search Institute
  • Artika Roller, Child Well Being Community Relations Manager, Hennepin County
  • Kelis Houston, Chair of the NAACP Child Protection Committee
  • Jessica Rogers, Executive Director, Connections to Independence
  • Michelle Chalmers, Executive Director, Ampersand Families
  • Jackie Crow Shoe, Independent Consultant
  • Wenona King Bird, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Child Abuse Prevention Coordinator

Click HERE to access the PowerPoint presentation used to share what was heard in the Listening Sessions. The model of well-being is still a work in progress as the team takes it back to the Listening Session participants for validation; it will be added to our website when it is finalized.

Effective Practice Strategies to Promote and Support Well-Being (PDF, 182 KB) is a document providing the results of a scan of child welfare practice standards, strategies, measurement approaches, assessment tools, and definitions focused on child safety and well-being. The report highlights both Minnesota-based and national approaches to promoting, achieving, and measuring child safety and well-being. One key finding from the scan conducted for this report is that although the term "well-being" is used extensively in child welfare-including in Minnesota-at the time of this report, Minnesota did not have a concrete definition of "well-being" established to guide its work.

National Frameworks for Child Well-Being: As part of the Sauer Family Foundation's work supporting the Child Well-Being Collaborative, information was compiled of the existing frameworks that focus on child well-being for children involved in the child welfare system. These frameworks highlight key considerations and domains of well-being that are instructive for communities and child welfare systems to consider as they seek to understand and improve well-being for children. Click HERE for the Overview of Two National Frameworks for Child Well-Being document. Once the definition of well-being has been finalized, it will give our systems a goal to align to when working with children.

Child Well-Being Practice Models in Minnesota: Minnesota's child welfare system is state-supervised and county-administered, so counties often develop specific approaches to their practice. Click HERE for a document that provides a brief overview of the strategies and practice models being used throughout the state to promote child well-being. This summary information is current as of May 2017. It is not an exhaustive list. All counties and tribes were invited to contribute, this document includes the responses we received.

The Minnesota Child Welfare County Models and Examples of Other State Models: A Brief Comparison report (PDF, 159.99KB) highlights a variety of practice models and associated tools related to child well-being from multiple counties in Minnesota and from other states, with links to extensive resources for additional detail on each of the practice models. This is not an exhaustive list of well-being practice models. The purpose of this report is to:

  1. Review the practice models of selected high-performing Minnesota counties to examine their strategies, methods and tools and why they are effective in delivering quality services to families and children. These counties were invited to contribute practice models and other strategies they have implemented.
  2. Examine national child protection models used in selected states.
  3. Compare the national models to Minnesota.
  4. Examine the Minnesota DHS Practice Model and Competencies to determine how well these documents incorporate evidence-based practices and align with other effective models. Determine what may be missing that could strengthen child protection and if the model and competencies cover all the bases of the "life of each case."

The Child Welfare Data and Data System Needs document (PDF, 200 KB) presents suggested functionality (inputs and outputs) for a robust child welfare system for Minnesota that supports effective practices, data collection, and data use to promote efforts to improve child well-being. Recognizing the diverse ways child welfare data systems are used and the diverse roles of people who need to use the systems, the document includes the recommended functionality for multiple key users of a data system, including front-line workers, supervisors and managers, and other stakeholders (e.g., state agency staff, researchers, etc.).

Our deep gratitude to everyone that is working toward child well-being in Minnesota. The Sauer Family Foundation will continue to support work in Child Welfare with the child’s well-being at its core. If you have any questions, please contact Colleen O'Keefe, Sauer Family Foundation Executive Director, at colleen@sauerff.org.



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