"I know our limits, it's our own thinking."

September 6, 2023 at 3:33 PM |
Posted by: Katie Miller
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What’s possible? How far can we take this? Would that really work? If only we could… <fill in the blank with an audacious dream or ideal scenario>.

These questions of possibility paved way for new practice in the jurisdictions in the Alia UnSystem Innovation Cohort. They met monthly from 2018 to 2021 and the work of mindset shift was one of the top focus areas of the five participating jurisdictions. 

Mindset shift is deeper than learning new information, it’s shifting your vantage point and letting new ways of seeing permeate you until you see the world differently in a way that’s undoable. In child welfare, mindset shifts about parents, families of color, poverty, safety, surveillance, control, government, giving and getting help, and maybe most importantly what is possible changes the approach to system transformation.

Here are a few examples of where kids and families remained safely together when Cohort members imaged new possibilities:

  • Instead of automatically removing the 12th baby born to a woman who already had 11 children removed from her care, one jurisdiction provided resources to support the safe connections between baby and mom.
  • When there was no known, trusted immediate caregiver available, a social worker with a close connection to the child had his employment status on hold so he could temporarily become a child’s foster parent yet return to work once permanent placement was secured.
  • One 17-year-old was discharged to “independent living” with his dad.

These case-by-case decisions had significant impact in the safety and belonging of the families involved, and are clear expressions of the Cohort’s collective aspiration for change, which is to be agencies where, “Family connections are always preserved and strengthened.”

Sky is not the limitIf the intention is set, possibilities aren’t dismissed but explored, more kids and families could remain safely together, positively affecting the trajectory of their lives.  

So what’s holding us back? "I know what our limits are, it's our own thinking,” said Chip Ammerman, then-Director of Cass County Human Services in North Dakota. He’s right. 


Read more in the Early Release Cohort case study and if you’re short on times, just read pages 6-8!