Section 1, Chapter 1 (Practice Model Overview)

(Effective 04/02/19)

Table of Contents

1.1 Five Domains of Wellbeing Overview

1.2 Trauma Informed Practice Overview

1.3 Signs of Safety Overview

1.4 Team Decision Making Overview

Practice Model Overview

Frontline staff and those who support them are in a position to be agents of positive change in the lives of children, youth and families.  Children’s Division staff members are child welfare practitioners driven by a sense of mission, purpose, and professionalism.  Missouri’s child welfare system is driven by four key priorities focused on increasing safety, permanency, and wellbeing:

  1. Seeing families accurately through the full frame of their lives allows us to better understand behavior, emphasizes curiosity and critical thinking, minimizes tradeoffs, and moves beyond symptoms and compliance to sustainable change.
  2. Engaging children, youth, families, and communities as partners improves working relationships, which are fundamental to developing safety and wellbeing networks in families and communities.
  3. Making informed decisions through inclusive processes, data, research, and evaluation ensures decisions are based on reliable information, includes diverse perspectives, and leads to individualized and realistic goal setting and cross-system accountability.
  4. Strengthening frontline practice and supporting what works through a clear and evolving practice model based on values, principles, experience, and results.

The Five Domains of Wellbeing, Trauma-Informed Practice, and Signs of Safety are the foundational elements and frameworks of a clear practice model anchored in values and practices.

1.1 Five Domains of Wellbeing Overview

The Five Domains of Wellbeing is a strengths-based, evidence-informed framework which recognizes all people have universal, interdependent needs for Social Connectedness, Safety, Stability, Mastery and Meaningful Access to Relevant Resources.  Children’s Division’s application of the Five Domains of Wellbeing focuses practice on people-centered and family-centered responses that improve outcomes and increase the efficiency of existing programs and systems.  This framework ultimately improves the wellbeing of the families we serve.

The Five Domains are critical for all people and families, not only those served by the Children’s Division.  How a person meets their needs in each domain may look different depending on many factors including family culture, economic status, caregivers’ capacities, and family structure.  When strengthening one domain creates problems in another domain, maintaining wellbeing means that families have to balance trade-offs to minimize losses in a given domain.  By building enough assets in each domain over time, trade-offs can be made without compromising overall wellbeing and families are empowered to make change that is sustainable. 

Key Concepts of a Wellbeing Orientation

These concepts are the cornerstones of a wellbeing orientation.  Aligning organizational culture, practice, and policy to increase access to wellbeing requires recognizing these concepts, and developing our work to intentionally support these principles and beliefs. 

    • Shift the focus from fixing problems to fostering wellbeing.
    • Work with whole people, families, and communities; not with problems.
    • All people are made up of more than the worst experience they have had or the worst thing they have done.
    • Start with and build on assets.  What is going well?
    • Everyone is hardwired to meet their needs for wellbeing and everyone is trying to experience things essential for health and hope.
    • Wellbeing is dynamic.  It is not something a person has or does not have.
    • Experiencing wellbeing is not all up to the individual.  Policy, history, context, and community play a significant role.
    • Wellbeing is deeply personal and individual.  Context and identity (race, gender, sexual orientation, and more) impact wellbeing.  What may be an asset for one person may be a challenge to others.
    • Experiencing wellbeing is not a linear, step-by-step process with a completion date.  Our experiences of the Five Domains are interdependent and evolving.
    • Experiencing wellbeing requires weighing tradeoffs between and within the Five Domains.
    • Making change is hard and sustaining change is harder.  Minimizing tradeoffs is important to helping people make and sustain change.      

The Five Domains of Wellbeing framework is based on the recognition that all people are more alike than different, and that in order to achieve wellbeing and thrive, we all strive to build resources in and minimize tradeoffs among these domains:

Social Connectedness 

Social connectedness is the degree to which a person has and perceives a sufficient number and diversity of relationships that allow her or him to: give and receive information, emotional support, and material aid; create a sense of belonging and value; and foster growth.


Stability is the degree to which a person can expect her or his situation and status to be fundamentally the same from one day to the next; where there is adequate predictability for a person to concentrate on the here-and-now and on the future, growth and change; and where small obstacles do not set off big cascades.


Safety is the degree to which a person can be her or his authentic self and not be at heightened risk of physical or emotional harm.


Mastery is the degree to which a person feels in control of her or his fate and the decisions she or he makes, and where she or he experiences some correlation between efforts and outcomes.

Meaningful Access to Relevant Resources

Meaningful access to relevant resources is the degree to which a person can meet needs particularly important for her or his situation in ways that are not overly onerous, and are not degrading or dangerous.

1.2 Trauma Informed Practice Overview

Due to the level of trauma and toxic stress children placed in state custody may have experienced as well as their families it is critical that staff understand how trauma can impact a child’s developing brain and affect their perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and functional capacities.  To be trauma informed means Children’s Division:

  • Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  • Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  • Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  • Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.

MO Children’s Division uses the MO Model: A Developmental Framework for Trauma Informed to guide the cultural change that occurs.  This model relies on the Trauma Informed Principles developed by Maxine Harris and Roger Fallot (R.D. Fallot & M. Harris, Creating Cultures of Trauma-Informed Care (CCTIC):  A Self-Assessment and Planning Protocol, 2009) and adapted by the MO State Trauma Roundtable.  These five principles and the adapted definitions are listed below:

  • Safety: Ensure physical and emotional safety, recognizing and responding to how racial, ethnic, religious, gender or sexual identity may impact safety across the lifespan.
  • Trustworthiness: Foster genuine relationships and practices that build trust, making tasks clear, maintaining appropriate boundaries and creating norms for interaction that promote reconciliation and healing.  Understand and respond to ways in which explicit and implicit power can affect the development of trusting relationships.  This includes acknowledging and mitigating internal biases and recognizing the historic power of majority populations.
  • Choice: Maximize choice, addressing how privilege, power, and historic relationships impact both perceptions about and ability to act upon choice.
  • Collaboration: Honor transparency and self-determination, and seek to minimize the impact of the inherent power differential while maximizing collaboration and sharing responsibility for making meaningful decisions.
  • Empowerment: Encouraging self-efficacy, identifying strengths and building skills which leads to individual pathways for healing while recognizing and responding to the impact of historical trauma and oppression.

Trauma Informed is not a program or service.  Rather it guides the culture of the organization and helps shape policy, practice and environments.  We LOOK through the LENS of trauma not only with children, but with their families, and our co-workers and partners.

1.3 Signs of Safety Overview

Signs of Safety is a strengths-based, solution-focused framework for child protection practice and was first developed in the 1990s in Western Australia by Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards.  It has since spread to numerous jurisdictions throughout the world.  Signs of Safety is not simply a theoretical framework, but one that was developed and is continuously molded by frontline practitioners of child welfare.

Signs of Safety should be utilized in all program areas.  Risk assessment and case planning begins during the Investigation/Assessment phase.  Due to the short time period of the hotline and the focus on addressing immediate safety needs, the Investigation/Assessment worker will generally not utilize all of the Signs of Safety components.  When it is determined that the Children’s Division needs to be involved beyond the Investigation/Assessment phase, the ongoing case manager will more thoroughly assess the family and work toward developing the Signs of Safety safety plan. 

Three Core Principles of Signs of Safety:

    1. Working Relationships: Family members are valued and recognized as the experts in their own lives.  Collaboration with the caregiver of the child(ren) and other professionals involved with the family should always be sought.  To build constructive working relationships with everyone involved, Children’s Division staff should strive to be as transparent as possible.  It is important to try to limit pre-judgment of families and manage biases, and to also recognize that everyone has their own perspectives.
    2. Thinking Critically, Fostering a Stance of Inquiry: It is vital that Children’s Division staff be actively curious about any situation.  It is usually impossible to know the full truth, so it is important to ask questions before making judgments.  It is okay to admit when a mistake is made.  When we believe we know the truth, there is a tendency to stop searching for information that does not support our hypotheses.  This can interfere with our ability to partner with families to build an effective safety plan.
    3. Landing Grand Aspirations in Everyday Practice: Practice should be driven by what works well for families and frontline staff.  Signs of Safety was developed and is constantly evolving from what has been learned from the successes and challenges of direct practice.  Taking the time to reflect on your own experiences with families is essential to providing quality service.

Signs of Safety is built upon solution-focused therapy which stresses the importance of relationships, critical thinking, and workers as change agents through getting the answers to three important questions:

  • What are we worried about?
  • What is working well?
  • What needs to happen?

In addition, a scaling question is used to make judgments about how safe the child is, from the perspective of the worker, the family, their networks, and other professionals, to develop understanding between the parties and to drive change.

1.4 Team Decision Making Overview

Team Decision Making (TDM) is a core element of Children’s Division’s practice model.  This evidence-informed process is supported by the Annie E Casey Foundation.  At the core of the model is a belief that placement-related decisions (whether initial removals or moves with the foster care system) should be made by a team of people who are closest to the child.  This is includes relatives, neighbors, the child welfare agency and community partners.

Team Decision Making meetings are held as soon as possible when it is believed a child should move from their current location and should include all relevant persons close to the family.  The meetings are led by a specially trained facilitator that is not involved in the case work for that family.  The meeting follows a specific six stage model.