“What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.” – Ralph Marston

I recently published a new theory establishing the foundation for a better understanding of the foster care system. If used correctly, this theory will establish change and drastically improve the foster care system. For more on my theory, read The Foster Care Trinity: A New Theory.

The focus of this article will be on a philosophy and a method we can use to lead change and transform the foster care system. This method, Best Interest Leadership, focuses on the Policy aspect of the Foster Care Trinity.

Let’s first take a look at the philosophy. 

Best Interest Leadership

So, what is Best Interest Leadership? It is the conduct of the foster care system by system leaders (think politicians and senior leaders within the child welfare system) with system geniuses (think social workers and foster parents) through the implementation of policy focusing ONLY on what is in the best interest of the child in the foster care system.

Best Interest Leadership possesses six core principles.

1. Form cohesive teams through mutual trust.

2. Create a shared understanding of each individual case and situation.

3. Develop clear goals in the best interest of the child.

4. Exercise initiative in making decisions.

5. Allow system geniuses the ability to make decisions and become strong critical thinkers.

6. Accept prudent risk for the betterment of the child.

Let’s now look at a way to implement Best Interest Leadership within the foster care system. I will use the foster care system in Kansas as an example.

Kotter Change Model

The Kotter Change Model was developed by Dr. John Kotter as he identified an award-winning eight-step process for leading change within an organization. (Read more about Dr. Kotter’s model here.) Using this model integrated with Best Interest Leadership as a guiding philosophy, we can positively change an organizations culture and improve the organization’s climate.

Before I discuss the model, let’s briefly look at what I mean by “culture” and “climate.”

Culture – what we do and why we do it.

Climate – how we feel about the actions of leadership regarding the foster care system.

The Kotter Change Model has three phases and eight stages. Here is how I would use this model to improve the culture of the Kansas foster care system and the overall climate within the system.

Phase A. Overcoming the status-quo and setting the conditions for change.

Stage 1. Establishing a sense of urgency. Children dying in the foster care system and the 70 plus foster children who were unaccounted for in Kansas definitely created a sense of urgency for change. Thus, this stage has already taken place.

Stage 2. Creating a guiding coalition. A recent Task Force was established in Kansas to improve the system. I have my own opinions on the Task Force, but this was a good start. This stage has already taken place as well.

Stage 3. Developing the vision and strategy. This is where the opportunity exists for real change in Kansas. Using the Foster Care Trinity discussed earlier, I would focus on the three elements of the trinity (Policy, System, and Family).

Stage 4. Communicating the change vision. By establishing open networks allowing all stakeholders (think guiding coalition from stage 2) to have a voice, we can effectively communicate this vision. A great example of this would be Open Source Foster Care.

Phase B. Moving from words to actions.

Stage 5. Empowering broad-based actions. This is an extremely important transition. In the Kansas foster care system, it seems as though we hear words, just never any real action . . . so it is time for action. Here is where I would reorganize/restructure the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF).

Stage 6. Generating short-term wins. Next, I would stand up a Lean Six Sigma (LSS) Continuous Process Improvement Office (CPIO) and conduct immediate improvement projects focusing ONLY on what is in the best interest of the child. For more on LSS, read here.

Stage 7. Consolidating gains and producing more change. Here is where we can begin to reap the benefits of change. I would firmly enshrine Best Interest Leadership as the guiding philosophy within the foster care system and realign DCF under the LSS CPIO.

Phase C. Becoming the new status-quo.

Stage 8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture. With DCF now working under the LSS CPIO, I would ensure the people of Kansas were the ones actually running foster care. By allowing the LSS CPIO to report to the Kansas Legislature in some way, we could then make sure that the people and not one person (i.e. the Secretary of DCF or the Governor) has complete authority over the system.

Simply put, the Best Interest Leadership philosophy will help us create a positive climate instilling a sense of mutual trust throughout the foster care system. It will facilitate team formation, foster collaboration, foster dialogue, and create a shared understanding of a situation. Using the Kotter Change Model will help guide us in improving the system as a whole when integrated with Best Interest Leadership.