Case-Related Interviews

An important part of the case review process involves review pairs conducting case-related interviews with key individuals who are involved in the case. These interviews are not conducted as "customer satisfaction surveys," but rather serve as an opportunity to confirm case record documentation or collect information that might be missing from the record. 

One of the early lessons many child welfare workers learned in relation to maintaining case files is this one: “If it isn’t written down in the case file, it didn’t happen.” In the CFSR process, though, that motto should actually be: “If it isn’t written down in the case record, it still might have happened.” It becomes the reviewers’ responsibility to ask the right questions of persons important to the case to determine whether or not it really did happen.

Thus, interview information “weighs” just as heavily as information obtained from the case file documentation. Sometimes, information obtained during an interview may conflict with the documentation contained within the case record or obtained from another interview. In these cases, you and your partner have a responsibility to pursue the issue across multiple interviews until you can determine the most accurate response to the relevant questions. The case-related interviews are critical to gathering all the information needed to correctly complete the OSRI.

Key Individuals

The following key individuals related to a case will always be interviewed unless they are unavailable or completely unwilling to participate:

  • The child, assuming he or she is school age.
  • The child's parent(s).
  • The child's foster parent(s), pre-adoptive parent(s), or other caregiver(s), such as a relative caregiver or group home houseparent (if the child is in foster care).
  • The family's caseworker. If the caseworker has left the agency or is no longer available for interview, it may be necessary to schedule interviews with the supervisor who was responsible for the caseworker assigned to the family.
  • Other professionals knowledgeable about the case. When numerous service providers are involved with a child or family, it may be necessary to schedule interviews only with those most recently involved, those most knowledgeable about the family, or those who provide the primary services the family is receiving. More than one service provider may be interviewed.

Conducting the Interview

While there is no set agenda or checklist to use during a case-related interview, there are general tips you and your review partner should follow to ensure that each interview is as productive and informative as possible. These tips can be divided into three categories: pre-interview, interview, and post-interview.

Pre-Interview

How do you get the most out of the interviews you conduct? Here’s what you should be sure to do before the interview even takes place:

1. Complete case record review quickly but thoroughly. Review the case record quickly but carefully before the interviews, noting the areas in which information is incomplete or missing or areas in which the information should be confirmed by another party.

2. Recognize that time may not be on your side. Ideally, you would have an hour and a half to two hours to review the case file before your first interview; however, this isn’t always the case, depending on the availability of participants.

3. Become very familiar with item questions. Review the questions for each item, noting especially those sections of the instrument for which you did not identify sufficient information during the case record review. This is just another reason that it’s essential for you to be completely familiar with the OSRI so that you’ll know—even in a limited amount of time—which questions to ask which participants. Remember that the OSRI does provide some guidance on where you might find information for each item. This includes where in the case file to look for information as well as appropriate interviewees for each item.

4. Prepare interview questions specific to items and interviewees. Prepare a list of questions that are specific to the items you are rating and the role of the person you are interviewing. This will help you get the most out of the responses and more easily complete the instrument using those responses. There may be some questions that you’ll always want to ask certain parties, particularly to confirm or corroborate other information.

For instance, it’s advisable to always ask birth parents about item 17, needs assessment and service provision, and item 18, Involvement in Case Planning, as well as item 20, caseworker visits. You may also want to ask the child and caseworker—and perhaps the foster parent—about item 14, maintenance of the child’s connections, because many times this information is difficult to find or is missing from the case file. You’ll need to give some thought, either before the review or as it begins, to these “core” questions that you’ll want to ask different parties, particularly in terms of corroboration of information. Thinking through and jotting down “core questions” to be asked before the review begins will help you be more efficient in your interviews, ensure that all needed information is gathered, and more accurately assess and fully justify your item ratings.

Experienced reviewers often have “standard” questions they ask certain parties, like the birth parent or caseworker, to ensure that all relevant information is gathered. If you haven’t already developed some standard questions to ask specific interviewees, we encourage you to think through the items and come up with your own list of questions ahead of time so that you’ll be certain to cover all the important issues.

Interview

There are also several points you should keep in mind when the interview actually begins:

1. Introduce yourself and the interview process. Let interviewees know the approximate amount of time that the interview might take. You may find that you normally spend about 30 to 45 minutes in your interviews, although the interview with the caseworker will likely take longer. Let the participant know in advance that you will need to take notes while he or she is talking. You should not tape-record any interviews.

2. Provide an overview of the review process. Provide individuals with a brief overview of the purpose of the review process and the interview. Explain that the Federal and State governments are looking at how well the State is helping children and families achieve positive outcomes. Let parents or foster parents know that you are interested in learning about their experiences because it will help to determine how the State can better support children and families.

3. Reassure participants of confidentiality. Emphasize that the comments of particular individuals will not be identified by name in any report. Reinforce participants’ confidence in confidentiality by not revealing the comments of other persons interviewed, particularly those involved with the family. Stressing confidentiality is particularly important when interviewing children, parents, or foster parents. Note, however, that if concerns arise regarding the safety of the child, such concerns become subject to mandatory reporting laws. In addition, situations that you believe put the child at risk, such as individuals of whom the agency was not aware living in the home with the child or caregivers allowing a child in foster care to have visits with a non-custodial parent without the knowledge of the State, must be reported to the agency.

4. Explain your neutrality. Another important concept for your interviewees to understand is that you are a neutral reviewer with no ability to affect the case that you are reviewing. This is especially important when you are interviewing birth parents, who may see you as someone who can intervene on their behalf in a case plan or a case’s goals. You’ll need to be very clear that your role is not to specifically help or advocate for them, but to help the State know how to better meet the needs of families in the future. While you should acknowledge complaints raised by interviewees, you should not commit to checking on their situation or to getting back in touch with them.

5. Be flexible in your interview style and approach. Also, as you know, your interviewees may cross the spectrum from child to grandparent to therapist. You’ll need to be very flexible in your interview styles to accommodate the particular parties that you’re interviewing. At the same time, remain focused on what you need from each interview so that you obtain critical information while still using your limited time as efficiently as possible.

6. Get caseworker contact information. We advise you to get a phone number for the caseworker during the interview, and to ask if you may call him or her if further information is needed. It’s been the experience of many reviewers that they need to contact the caseworker again after the initial interview to ask for clarification or obtain further information, particularly if the caseworker is one of their earlier interviewees.

Post-Interview

Once the interview has concluded, you and your partner should:

1. Immediately report child safety concerns. If you hear information in an interview or observe something while interviewing that raises concern about risk or the safety of a child, immediately report that concern to your Local Site Leader (unless it is an emergency that requires you to immediately call 911). The Local Site Leader will work with you and the child welfare agency to address the issue. 

Note that you should always strive to ensure that children are not upset by these interviews, and normally, they aren’t. However, in the event that a child appears upset after an interview, be sure to immediately tell a Local Site Leader so that the State can respond to the situation by providing support to the child.

2. Record the interview results. Immediately after the interview, you should record your interview notes more completely into the appropriate sections of the OSRI. Note that you should not tape record interviews.

3. Schedule additional interviews as needed. You may discover that additional interviews beyond those scheduled by the Local Site Coordinator are needed in order for you and your review partner to complete a thorough case record review. If this happens, you should immediately consult with your Local Site Leader about the possibility of scheduling a new interview. Depending on where you are in the review week and with your case load, this may or may not be possible.