Hi there! My name is Serena Peloza. I’m one of your ALC facilitators. I work at WCWPDS, and I coordinate the Applied Learning Communities, or ALCs, and I love it!

I love it for a lot of reasons, but I’ll start with this. . . Like many of you, I professionally “grew up” in CPS. I started as an Initial Assessment worker when I was 23 years old. I continued in that role for 8-years. There were evolutions to my work. As I learned more about myself, the work, and the families I served, the more satisfied I was with it. That’s why I was reluctant to transition to the Department of Children and Families, or DCF when the opportunity presented itself.

I remember talking to my colleagues and protesting the idea of leaving direct practice. I would tell them I didn’t want to “leave the kitchen table.” I knew the most important work happened in the family’s home, not at a desk. My favorite work happened after the dust settled with families and partnership become possible. It was when solutions started to emerge, and hope came into view. This work often happened at a kitchen table. It’s why I didn’t want to leave it. Eventually, I did though.

When I transitioned to DCF as a policymaker, I had one focus. I wanted to contribute to change. I wanted policies to be written in a way that made sense, and I wanted them to be effectually practical. My work at the Department of Children and Families was rewarding and included two programs that I am proud to say I implemented and managed (Alternative Response & Systems Change Review).

My work on these projects gave me the chance to work with Wisconsin counties, tribes, and DMCPS. These partnerships reminded me of my love for the practice, and the power of policies and programs when they require practice to evolve. It also taught me that evolution in practice is only possible if the people who do the work (i.e., CPS professionals) believe in it and want to make the change.

In the book, Street-Level Bureaucracy, the author Michael Lipsky, coins the term “street-level bureaucrat.” It refers to local, public servants, for example, teachers, police officers, and social workers, who bring policies to life every day even though they don’t write them. Essentially, “street-level bureaucrats” ultimately determine whether policies are implemented. I know this is true from my work as a CPS professional and policymaker.

For that reason, when the opportunity to develop and implement the ALCs came up, it was an obvious choice to apply and accept. My vision for the ALCs is to develop a program where CPS professionals can step away from their busy days, study the policies that govern their work, and discuss how the policies work in real-life. From this place of targeted study, I believe CPS professionals can improve practice in their own work, at their agency, and throughout the state. The ALCs simply provide the structure and community for that to happen. With that in mind, you can appreciate why I love my job and how the ALCs came to be. Read on to learn what we’ve done so far and what our work together will look like in 2021.

In 2019, we studied the case transition process, and it led to these recommendations at a local and state level. In 2020, we studied the use of virtual contacts and provided a snapshot of what CPS professionals were experiencing so local and state leaders can consider their input when thinking about the sustained use of virtual contacts in the future. Check out the 2020 work here.

In 2021, we’ll take 3-months to study a section of the Access policy. As you may know, we originally planned to offer this training in 2020; however, we tabled it when the COVID-19 pandemic presented new training needs. We’re happy to pick this back up now and offer it to you! Rather than offer virtual, day-long sessions, we’ve modified the curriculum so you can do most of your learning from your desk or kitchen table! I’m excited to see how this approach works and whether it has the potential for future ALCs. Even though we won’t meet in person until April 15th, I look forward to getting to know you through the Learning Applications you submit between now and then. When we come together on 4/15, I look forward to hearing more about your learning experience and introducing you to some of my former colleagues at DCF. They’ll join us to talk about how they review documentation and our shared contribution to the Continuous Quality Improvement effort to elevate Child Protective Service delivery in Wisconsin.

Take care and see you soon!