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National Technical Assistance and Evaluation Center for Systems of Care
Because such a large percentage of children involved with child welfare reside with their family of origin, engagement with families is essential for achieving successful outcomes. The importance of consumer engagement in system improvement has been well established in the literature (e.g., Chrislip, 2002; Jennings, 2002; Milner, 2003; Parents Anonymous, 2005; Whipple & Zalenski, 2006). As State child welfare administrators work within their agencies and with other public and private stakeholders to develop and implement Program Improvement Plans in response to Child and Family Services Reviews, family inclusion and participation promise to be vital for improving outcomes and fostering system change.
For system change to be effective and sustainable, it must be guided by a cohesive conceptual framework (Milner, 2003). The systems of care approach provides a foundation on which child welfare agency administrators can build a comprehensive change strategy. Family involvement, one of the six principles of child welfare driven systems of care, addresses a strategic partnership designed to further overall agency and system goals by:
- Engaging families as partners in developing their own case plans;
- Recruiting and working with families in developing peer support services;
- Empowering families to participate in decision-making and apply their experience as service recipients to system change activities.
Grant communities funded through the Children's Bureau have identified and addressed challenges to increasing family involvement across the child welfare system. The challenges have included readiness of child welfare staff to change, capacity of family members to partner successfully, and funding to support continuous family engagement. Some strategies for engaging families strengthened well-established child welfare practices, while others tested new approaches. The lessons learned by these communities have implications for how child welfare administrators and their agency partners can engage families as a resource for policy development and management efficiency as well as on the front line of service.
Components of a family-centered organization include a shift in attitudes for professional staff so the family unit is the focus of attention rather than the child or parent alone, a central objective is to strengthen the capacity of families to function independently, families are engaged in planning all aspects of the service delivery system, and families are linked to a continuum of community-based supports (National Child Welfare Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice, as cited in Cohen & Canan, 2006).