Thursday, October 27, 2005

Two Tips for Case Workers Writing Reports

Last week I had a great time in two Write to the Point workshops at the Third Annual Quality Writing for Child Welfare Practice Conference for the New York City Administration for Children’s Services. Some 300 child welfare case workers and supervisors attended the day-long program to discover ways to improve their writing skills.

A Challenging Job

The 80 appreciative professionals who attended my workshops frequently write reports summarizing the conditions, progress, and needs of children—often under trying circumstances. Some have to turn in reports indicating that a child’s well being is at stake. Since time is of the essence in such situations, the case worker is doubly challenged to produce thorough and clear documents. If litigation comes into play, these reports will end up before a judge who must decide what is in the child’s best interest. No small task for the case worker.

Two Tips

During the sessions, I encouraged the participants to write to the point by addressing the critical questions that their readers would ask about the reportable situation. Below are the two main tips that the program participants took away from the sessions.

1. State the point first and the supporting details later. Example:
Upon my visit to the child’s foster home, the child answered the door and allowed me to enter her apartment although she had not previously met me. I asked her if she was alone and she responded that she was. I then asked her if she knew who I was and the purpose of my visit, and she answered that she did not. I then asked her how often she was left alone in the home, and she replied that she walks alone three blocks from school to home every school day and waits until dark before her foster mother arrives. My call to the foster mother’s mobile phone was received by a prerecorded message indicating that the number had been disconnected. I stayed with the child for one-half hour before the foster mother arrived in the apartment. These facts lead me to conclude that she appeared to be unsupervised; therefore, she her safety may be compromised.
The child’s safety is being compromised because she is unsupervised inside and outside the home for lengthy periods. A visit to the child’s foster home revealed the following security-threatening issues:
  • She was left alone in her apartment for at least one hour.
  • She allowed the case worker to enter her apartment although she did not know him.
  • She stated that she walks three blocks home each school day without supervision.
  • She said that she was home alone each school day “until dark.”
  • She cannot reach her foster mother on her mobile phone because it has been disconnected.

2. Make every word count. Example:

WORDY (22 words)

The purpose of this report is to summarize the visit that was made by the case worker to the child’s foster home.

CONCISE (12 words)

This report summarizes the case worker’s visit to the foster child’s home.

The truth is that all professionals must write clearly and concisely on the fly. Yet every field has its challenges of getting to the point. A refresher writing course designed and delivered with your business objectives in mind is a good way to focus on writing to the point.