Green Lake Training SB and UOA

CHILD WELFARE AND MENTAL HEALTH: Cross training and team process

Day 3

December 3, 2003

Green Lake, Wisconsin


Jon S. Matthew


Both professions, child welfare and mental health, benefit by using each other’s strengths effectively. It is easy to complain about each other as was revealed in the secret diaries. Oftentimes our relationship is ambivalent; that is, we simultaneously value and de-value one another. We value each other for the strengths we possess in addressing the needs of children and families. We devalue one another because we might also stand in each other’s way. We can demonstrate our strengths, or we can erect barriers with one another. There are myriad ways that we can interfere with each other’s aims. Maybe such action is appropriate from time-to-time. Sometimes it is unintentional; other times it is just petty and mean.

One of the "hot buttons" for both groups is the way we use our authority with each other.

Let’s consider the elements of each other’s authority:

The mental health professional is the gate-keeper for mental health services, even when those services are court ordered. The mental health professional determines medical necessity for the services, which holds sway with the third party payors, and which can over-ride court orders in many instances.

The child welfare worker has the statutory and the traditional role of advising the court. In this role, the child welfare worker can emphasize some things and overlook other things. Their discretionary powers in the court arena can affect how court orders are written.

The mental health professional and the child welfare worker both have the power to offer resources to the client, or to deny resources. Both have the power to individualize services or not to individualize services. Both have the power to plan effectively, or not. Both have the power to undermine plans, or to support them.

The mental health professional borrows power from the relationship with the client. The child welfare worker borrows power from the court. As a result, both are vulnerable.

The child welfare worker has sole statutory authority for placement of children in out-of-home care. Out-of-home care is a powerful instrument for working with children and families if it is employed creatively.

Child welfare agencies can impose sanctions on children and families through the court process. If employed creatively, this power to sanction can influence changes in clients; if employed poorly, this power can make changes more unlikely.



Original Published Date: 
December 5, 2003

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