The Utility of Checklists

The field of child protection is complex. Ask any child welfare administrator, manager, or social worker, and you will hear just how complicated their jobs are. Handling the safety and well-being of children and families, meeting statutory timeframes, and completing thorough documentation are only a few of the tasks we ask child welfare workers to do every day.

Looking at other complex professions, can the field of child protection learn any useful strategies? Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, argues that the most effective solutions to complex problems are not very complicated at all. Certain fields, such as construction and aviation, have devised astonishingly simple methods of handling their inherent complexity: checklists.

According to Gawande, checklists can break down complicated tasks, provide opportunities for slower and more thoughtful thinking, and bring focus to areas that represent the most danger if missed. Gawande was part of a team that implemented a 19-item, two-minute checklist for surgical teams in eight hospitals around the world. After adopting the checklist, these hospitals saw surgery complication rates fall 35%; death rates fell 47%.

While the Structured Decision Making® assessment tools are certainly more than simple checklists, they have the potential to provide the same benefits—a systematic process for making complex decisions, an opportunity for thoughtful contemplation, and a focus on known trouble spots within the life of a child protection case.

Learn more about Gawande’s work by watching this talk he gave at a TED conference.

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