The Child and Family Leadership Exchange
By Gerald Kelley
To me, teamwork is a lot like being part of a family. It comes with other obligations, entanglements, headaches, and quarrels. But the rewards are worth it.1
- Pat Summit
Police departments continually strive to maintain and improve their relationships with those they serve. Such positive connections benefit the community and increase an agency’s effectiveness. Of Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing, five directly mention relationships with the public as essential for law enforcement organizations to perform their duties.2
Similarly, a police agency’s partnerships with its professional associates are just as crucial for effectiveness. Collaboration and coordination among working partners brings about information sharing that makes each organization’s decision making more thorough. This is especially true of police units that investigate crimes against juveniles in particular, those targeting children.
In Ohio, state law mandates the coordination of child abuse investigations with the county’s children’s service agency, as well as with children’s advocacy centers, whose members include both public and private organizations.3
While these dual investigations by separate entities both are directed at protecting the child, they have different focuses. Law enforcement departments want to make an arrest and remove the threat of the suspect. Social service agencies strive to protect the well-being of the child and provide assistance to the victim and the family. Complications arise because children’s service agencies follow state-mandated time restrictions for the completion and reporting of their investigations. However, law enforcement investigations can continue longer before a case decision is made, especially if the criminal case depends on DNA or other forensic tests that may take months for completion. The individual agencies involved do not always understand others’ time policies and investigative practices.
To provide a mutual understanding of the different roles each organization has in the protection of children, the Summit Forum, a collaboration of local private and government officials, developed the 1-day Close Up program, included in the county’s month-long Child Abuse and Family Awareness program. Through the interaction of area professionals, Close Up illustrated the process of service delivery to children and families at risk. Drawing from the success of the 1-day program and the interest of other service providers in involving their organizations’ processes, the Child and Family Leadership Exchange (CFLE) began.
The mission of the 10-month CFLE is Ato promote excellence in leadership among Summit County professionals serving children and families.”4 Participants gain an in-depth understanding of the county’s child and family services from point of discovery through assessment, legal intervention, case management, and treatment. The program incorporates a detailed examination of the system’s strengths and weakness and identifies techniques for cultivating and advocating for improved services.
CFLE begins with an orientation luncheon, which gives class members the opportunity to meet one another and learn about each other’s job and background. A community leaders’ reception follows. This introduces the participants to past CFLE graduates, as well as local political and business leaders. At the end of the program, class members participate in a graduation ceremony. A series of individual sessions constitute the majority of the 10 months.
The monthly sessions last mostly 1 day and are grouped into common service-provider categories. Prior to each session, class members participate in related preclass assignments hosted by the agency providing the upcoming presentation. This gives each participant firsthand experience with the organization. After each session, class members evaluate the day’s activities and the preclass assignments. Each year, the executive committee reviews the past year’s curriculum and suggests ways to improve CFLE using these evaluations as a starting point. Recommendations then are reviewed with each session head, and, if necessary, the program is changed for the next year.
This longest session lasts a day and a half. Participants learn about challenges facing the community in helping families meet demands posed by societal changes, how the human service system functions to create a network to help families become whole and complete, and methods to promote awareness of issues that interfere with the well-being of children.
It begins with a discussion, “The Challenge of Changing Times,” conducted by a panel consisting of representatives from children’s service agencies, job and family service organizations, health departments, organizations specializing in mental retardation and development, children’s hospital, the legal system, police departments, and additional agencies as needed. These entities discuss their roles in providing community services and the challenges they face in both day-to-day activity and long-term planning. Following the panel discussion, participants cover current issues during follow-up sessions. Recent topics have included bullying and family violence issues. Subjects vary from year to year and reflect both community and national concerns involving children and families.
Investigation and Assessment
This session shows how agencies involved with investigating child abuse work together. Preclass assignments include riding with a uniformed police officer during a shift, training on a firearms simulator, and observing as a social worker meets with a client. A prosecutor and representatives from the children’s service board, children’s hospital, and law enforcement all explain their part in the criminal justice system and how their investigations interconnect.
Law enforcement discussions involve the investigative process from assigning the initial case to determining if an arrest is to be made. This includes a review of past investigations and the problems encountered while conducting them. Questions asked by members of the class often begin with “I saw on TV where” and this leads to a discussion on admissible evidence, police practices, criteria needed before an arrest can be made, and elements of a prosecutable case.
Following the investigative session, the program covers the role of the court. This is not only the criminal court when an arrest has been made but also the civil court where custody of the children becomes an issue. Representatives from the domestic relations, probate, and criminal courts participate in this session.
In addition to presentations by each agency, the class tours the various facilities, including the juvenile detention center. The session ends with a panel discussion and a hypothetical scenario.
Family Support Services
The objective of this session is to promote awareness of the range of resources and services available in the community. Preclass assignments include visiting the agencies, giving class members an opportunity to both observe the organization and ask questions concerning its operation. Representatives participating include those from the areas of mental retardation and development, housing, and health care, as well as the Urban League. At the suggestion of past class members, participants also include representatives from the metro transit authority, which provides clients without available transportation a way to get to scheduled appointments.
Media Relations Day
This event brings in members from the local print and broadcast media. They explain how the media interacts with community agencies and keeps the public informed of available services or the lack thereof. Discussions have included the First Amendment and the role of the media in the community. At the end of the session, class members are Ainterviewed” by a local TV reporter so they can experience the receiving end of the camera.
Follow-up treatment is very important for victims. In this session, representatives from the Child Guidance and Family Solutions and the Community Health Center, both based in Akron, explain the services they provide in both group and individual sessions. If available, clients of one of the services address the class and explain how they were helped and what problems they encountered during the process.
Leadership and Important Decisions
During this session, the class travels to the state capital and meets with government leaders. Participants review a proposed law that involves children and families and question the state representatives about it. This includes whether they support the law or not and why. If available, the class observes hearings on the bill that they reviewed.
Close Up and Prevention Programs
The last session focuses on an emerging area of concern for professionals serving children and families and discusses available programs. Topics vary from year to year, and the answers to the problems are not always what the class expects. It highlights what the professionals face in making decisions that have lasting effects on the involved individuals and community services. Last year’s topic, date rape, produced many questions and varying viewpoints.
Since the CFLE began, over 375 participants from 28 agencies have completed the program. It certainly seems to cultivate excellence among Summit County professionals and provide a sense of cooperation among the various organizations. One attendee said, “Meeting and interacting with others in similar fields provided me with many different perspectives of addressing similar problems.” Another stated, “I have already used the contacts I made in assisting me in my work.” A third participant declared about newfound knowledge of other agencies, “I have learned so much that will forever change my view of their work.”
Throughout the year, the Child and Family Leadership Exchange stresses that working together as a team can make the task of providing better service to the community’s children and families easier. It recognizes the problems that individual organizations have with outside collaboration, such as agency-specific policies, procedures, and interpretation of laws. The program works to identify, address, and overcome these issues or at least have one agency understand another’s point of view. By working together, the community’s child protection professionals can improve the services they provide to the individuals they serve.
Lieutenant Kelley is the unit commander for the Juvenile Bureau of the Akron, Ohio, Police Department.