D4: A Team-Based Approach to Conspiring Against Bias at All Levels in the Child Welfare System

Area of Focus: Innovative Programs and Practices

Bias lives everywhere. It lives in each of us, in the teams we work in, the organizations we work for, and the systems around us. It impacts our lives, communities, and workplaces. Taking action to disrupt the impact of bias on decision making is an increasing priority in the child welfare system and human services fields. But implicit bias training alone has been shown to be inadequate at addressing bias in decision making.

AWAKEN is a practice for conscious decision making that provides actionable steps to take child welfare professionals working in a fast-paced, emotionally charged environment from automatic, bias-based thinking to values-based critical thinking.

How individuals and organizations navigate bias and perspective sharing affects organizational culture, and that’s where mindful organizing comes in. Mindful organizing is a team-based practice that allows teams to manage complexity and bias in decision making (Sutcliffe, 2011). AWAKEN provides teams with mindful organizing strategies to co-conspire against biases in ourselves, systems, and communities. AWAKEN uncovers the critical consciousness to make equitable decisions that foster safety, trust, and belonging. It helps us identify bias at all levels and its impact on our decision making, so we can call out systemic biases (racism/sexism/heterosexism/ableism) to advocate for social justice and system transformation. It also helps us call-in cognitive biases, (fundamental attribution error/hindsight/ severity bias) before critical decisions are made. 

AWAKEN is being implemented across the South Carolina Department of Social Services child welfare system. It can be found in new caseworker and experienced caseworker trainings that give professionals actionable strategies to dismantle bias, strengthen teaming, and encourage multi-perspective thinking at critical decision points.

The National Partnership for Child Safety, supported by Casey Family Programs and the University of Kentucky Center for Innovation in Population Health, is implementing AWAKEN in advanced trainings for critical incident reviewers in over 30 public child welfare jurisdictions. Aligned with safety science, AWAKEN is an emerging best practice confirming blameless, supportive inquiry to learn from fatalities/near fatalities, and leveraging learning to inform system transformation.

This presentation covers nearly all of the SPARK 2023 areas of focus: Brain Science; Innovative Programs and Services; Workforce Resilience and Leadership; and EDI, Belonging, and Justice.

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the elements of the AWAKEN framework and actionable strategies to apply in their communities
  • Describe how AWAKEN was implemented at the South Carolina Department of Social Services and the National Partnership for Child Safety


Christina Rosato
Affinita Consulting, LLC

Dr. Shaneé Moore
Child Welfare Training Director
South Carolina Department of Social Services

Santana Jones
Associate Policy Analyst
Center for Innovation in Population Health at the University of Kentucky

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