In the mid-1990s, the Child Protective Service (CPS) system of Linn County, Iowa, fell under criticism from both youth program participants and parents. Although CPS was designed to keep children safe, those who had reported abuse frequently regarded the system as non-responsive and ineffective, all too prone to leaving children in dangerous situations. Those being investigated by CPS found the system intrusive and overzealous, too quick to investigate and label parents for minor infractions.
In response to these criticisms, the Linn County Department of Human Resource Management initiated the "Patch Project," aimed at improving service outcomes. The Patch Project uses a neighborhood based, multi-agency team to proactively respond to families' needs. The term ‘Patch' refers to a small geographic area, usually consisting of about 10,000 residents, which is served by a local team of human services workers.
A key feature of the Patch Project is the redeployment of public sector workers to centralized locations within each neighborhood, or patch. By engaging with both formal and informal social service networks, the Patch Project builds on families' and communities' strengths and resources. Through frequent and informal contact with families, Patch teams closely monitor the safety of children on CPS radar. Patch Project team members join efforts with families, neighbors, voluntary and statutory agencies, churches, schools and neighborhood organizations to collectively address both individual and community-wide problems.
By emphasizing prevention, early intervention, and diversion, the Patch approach strives to keep children safe and reduce families' involvement with the formal child welfare system. The Patch Project cites its interventions as the single greatest achievement of the program. By maintaining a close degree of observation, Patch Project teams have been able to help parents address difficulties before they escalate to a point at which CPS must intervene. By supplementing CPS's efforts with its proactive community involvement strategies, and working in collaboration with private and nonprofit entities, the Patch Project has kept dozens of families together.