This piece was originally published in the December 2021 issue of Policy & Practice magazine.

In 2017, the Fairfax County Department of Family Services’ (DFS) Children, Youth and Families (CYF) Division committed to significantly changing the way it responds to allegations of abuse and neglect, partners with families, addresses systemic barriers adversely impacting communities of color, and partners strategically with community stakeholders. Despite a strong vision, the organization struggled to maintain a dual focus on transforming for tomorrow while ensuring children’s safety today — a challenge for most child welfare agencies undergoing a change journey.

Only through authentic partnerships can we co-create a future that both strengthens current practice and delivers equitable outcomes for families.

In 2017, Fairfax County DFS adopted a new practice model with an aim of changing how it approaches child welfare services and reducing the system’s historically disproportionate impact on children and families of color. In working to operationalize the new practice model, the organization experienced a series of fits and starts as urgent mission priorities kept eroding momentum. By 2020, the team was navigating even more complexity and disruption.

In the face of this complexity, Fairfax County DFS accepted that there is never a “right time” to take on systems-level change. The team also realized they could not achieve the needed transformation on their own. Rather than repeating earlier tactics, they made a strategic decision to succeed differently.

With a spirit of purpose and humility, they committed to innovative, authentic community and public-private partnerships. And as Fairfax County DFS has integrated partners into workflows, they have been looking to those partners to help carry the weight of this transformational work.

This Policy & Practice article — co-authored by Michael A. Becketts from Fairfax County DFS and Adan Hernandez from Accenture — shares more about how the organization tackled collaborative change for collective impact.

Looking ahead

Fairfax County DFS has organized future efforts into five strategic areas.

Aligning

with DFS’s Equity Statement and Equity Impact Plan.

Implementing

the Safe & Connected™ model to identify racial disparities and other oppression and improve practices of the child welfare service delivery system.

Constructing

data development and analysis strategies to better understand the extent and nature of racially disparate outcomes and inform system redesign.

Conducting

training on how systemic oppression, bigotry and violence impact the lives of children, families, communities and the institutions supporting them.

Restructuring

existing partnerships and developing new ones to assist with and support disparity-reduction efforts through continued community engagement efforts.

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Adan Hernandez

Senior Manager – Public Service, North America


Michael A. Becketts

Director – Fairfax County Department of Family Services

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