Implications for Administrators and Stakeholders
In response to Child and Family Services Reviews, State and local administrators and policy-makers have a tremendous opportunity to enhance family partner involvement across the case, peer, and system realms by prompting and supporting change in policy, in management, and on the front line of service. The nine communities participating in the Children's Bureau's demonstration initiative confirm the consensus of the field that processes, how children and families are served, and outcomes improve when families have an integral part in the decisions that affect them. (Dawson & Berry, 2002; Jennings, 2002; Steib, 2004).
"It was hard for us to work with the families at first. They didn't understand any of the liability issues we had in the agency. It was very frustrating. But, we learned to give up some of our control and partner with the families and community. We learned we didn't have to control everything."
- Agency Practitioner
Partnerships between families and the agency can be the cornerstone of sustained change with sufficient backing from local and county child welfare administrators, State child welfare administrators and program managers, and Federal program and policy-makers in central and regional offices. Senior administrators can take the lead in fostering a collaborative culture within the agency that values the opinions and input of all stakeholders, including families, in child welfare driven systems of care and in removing barriers to family-agency partnership in day-to-day practice and overall system improvement activities. The Child and Family Services Reviews and Program Improvement Plan processes provide numerous opportunities to promote and model family-agency partnerships.
Involving families at multiple levels is challenging and requires agency policies that reinforce the value of family-agency partnerships, from case engagement to continuous quality improvement and accountability for outcomes. Carefully crafted policy can spark systemic changes, but those policies must be operationalized in the practices of middle management and on the front lines of service delivery.
The experiences of communities in the Improving Child Welfare Outcomes Through Systems of Care demonstration initiative provide useful information to child welfare agency administrators, supervisors, families, and community stakeholders nationwide on engaging families as a resource as they develop Program Improvement Plans or launch local system change efforts. Agencies can engage families through:
- Local and statewide public child welfare policy development;
- Child welfare program evaluation and assessment;
- Continued professional development and training for staff, family, youth, and community through community-university partnerships; and
- Youth participation in interagency-community collaborative leadership initiatives.
- These activities can help support the long-term systemwide reforms associated with sustaining a new culture of involvement, engagement, collaboration, and accountability in child welfare driven systems of care.
"[The most positive experience with my agency] was when they set up a family conference to get all of my family and friends together to discuss how they could help with my situation."
- Family Member