The goal of the National Child Welfare Leadership Institute (NCWLI) is to build leadership skills in mid-level managers in public and Tribal child welfare agencies to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families. Participants select a topic for change in their agencies and receive support throughout the training process about how to implement the change effort.
Nominated by the Vermont Department for Children and Families, Ruth Houtte, a director in 1 of the 12 district offices in the Family Services Division (FSD), participated in the training provided by NCWLI. Ms. Houtte's topic for change was to implement family group conferencing (FGC) in her St. Johnsbury District Office.
During her NCWLI session, Ms. Houtte developed a vision statement for FGC in her district, which she later presented to her staff. This was important to determine whether staff values were in line with those embedded in this practice, to air any resistance if it existed, and to create buy in for the change. After hearing staff input and having internal discussions, the district office decided to incorporate FGC into its case practice, initially with cases involving teens.
There was minimal resistance to the practice change, with most staff in agreement with the FGC approach and values; some saw it as being very much in line with their social work roots. St. Johnsbury staff reported that they believe that FGC has helped establish or reestablish family relationships, increased the options available to families, opened the lines of communication between the families and the agency, and led to positive outcomes that would not have been possible using a traditional child welfare approach.
The NCWLI training also had an impact on a larger scale. In addition to introducing FGC in her district office, Ms. Houtte helped support a broad system change effort, including incorporating family engagement throughout FSD. This systemwide reform effort was spurred on by the State's 2007 Child and Family Services Review and subsequent Program Improvement Plan and was driven by the agency's Transformation Plan, which was written by Deputy Commissioner Cindy Walcott, along with input from staff. As part of her contribution to promoting broad system change, Ms. Houtte co-chaired the Transformation Steering Committee, which oversaw how various workgroups coordinated the change process. Ms. Houtte also co-chaired workgroups that developed the Vermont Family Time Policy and Guidelines and the FSD Practice Model. The NCWLI training helped her structure committee meetings efficiently and advance the process effectively.
Ms. Houtte said that NCWLI was one of the most amazing experiences of her professional career. She was able to use what she learned immediately on her return to the agency, and she received a lot of support and consultation from NCWLI staff in her work.
Reprinted from Children's Bureau Express, "Site Visit: Leadership Training to Promote Family Group Conferencing" (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov).