Classic Case - Child Welfare Services in El Paso County, Colorado: Where Human Services and the Courts Meet

Child Welfare Services in El Paso County, Colorado: Where Human Services and the Courts Meet


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  • Product Description

    When he takes the reins of the El Paso County, Colorado, Department of Human Services (DHS) in 1997, David Berns has ambitious goals for the department's struggling child welfare services division. He must deal with a rising caseload of children placed in foster care, and new federal and state mandates that shorten the timeframes in which said cases must be resolved, through either familial reunification or adoption. At the same time, Berns aims to transform the way services are delivered to children and their families, by reframing the mission of child welfare services and DHS. This pair of cases looks at Berns' efforts from two different angles. The first (1701.0) describes his desire to use funds that the county received for low--income families, to combat child abuse or neglect in families living at the poverty line. The new director's efforts, however, must take place within legal constraints imposed by the courts. These courts also oversee cases in which children are placed outside the home. The second case (1702.0) takes a closer look at the relationship between the courts and the department. Like DHS, the courts operate under new statutory timeframes, designed to achieve "permanancy" for children in foster care more quickly. Berns must reconcile his innovative attempts to deliver welfare services, with legal precedents that the courts are charged with enforcing. Although DHS and the courts share a common goal, providing safe, permanent homes for their young and vulnerable charges, tensions arise when their manner of doing so diverges.

    Learning Objective:
    These cases highlight the complexity of innovation in a public sector context. They include innovative uses of "categorical" funding streams, as well as the challenges of restructuring while carrying out a newly reframed mission. They also examine the difficulty of reshaping a program in which other institutions, such as the courts, play a prominent role.

  • Other Details

    Publication Date: January 01, 2003
    HKS Case Number: 1702.0
    Case Author: Esther Scott and Chris Berdik
    Faculty Lead: Esther Scott
    Pages (incl. exhibits): 19
    Setting: United States
    Language: English
    Funding Source: Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service, University of Southern Maine
    _pages: 16-25
    _geography: US & Canada
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