Wilson County DSS earns award for child welfare program

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The Wilson County Department of Social Services has earned an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties for implementing Signs of Safety in its child welfare program.

Signs of Safety is a child protection practice model developed in Australia and used in 12 countries. Officials say the goal is always child safety. Signs of Safety emphasizes the importance of setting clear, behavior-driven goals and building true collaboration with the family.

“We are extremely pleased to receive this recognition from NACo,” said Wilson County DSS Director Glenn Osborne. “The practice of Signs of Safety is making a positive difference in the lives of children and families throughout the county. Our social workers are better able assist to families in building stronger safety networks for their children.

Osborne said in North Carolina, foster care numbers are up by 25 percent over the last five years, creating a foster care crisis.

“During that same five-year period, Wilson County DSS’s implementation of Signs of Safety has helped the agency realize a 45 percent reduction in its foster care numbers,” he said.

Osborne said reducing the number of children in foster care “positively impacts the local court system, resulting in fewer cases requiring court intervention.”

“However, first and foremost, the safety of children comes first and the safety of children has not been compromised, as the annual percentage of abused/neglected children in Wilson County who are not repeat victims of maltreatment has remained at 100 percent,” he added.

The success of Signs of Safety has led other county social services departments to consult with Wilson County DSS, officials said.

Having provided informational sessions for 13 other counties so far, Wilson County DSS is now exploring the option of hosting Signs of Safety forums to build capacity for child welfare practice within the state, according to officials.

They said it will help build greater practice consistency as families move across county lines.

NACo awards honor innovative, effective county government programs that enhance services for residents. NACo recognized award-winning counties during its 2017 Annual Conference and Exposition held in July in Franklin County, Ohio.

Nationally, awards are given in 18 categories that reflect the vast range of services counties provide. The categories include children and youth, criminal justice, county administration, information technology, health, civic engagement and more.