Series: Bulletins for Professionals|
Child Welfare Information Gateway. |
|Year Published: 2010|
State and Local Examples of Family Engagement Strategies
State and local agencies throughout the country are at various stages of implementing and strengthening family engagement efforts. Following are selected examples of family engagement initiatives. The examples are presented for information purposes only; inclusion does not indicate an endorsement by Child Welfare Information Gateway or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau.
- California: Parent Partners Program
- Iowa: Family engagement tools and programs
- Maine: Practice model
- Massachusetts: Father engagement
- Minnesota: Court-initiated family case planning conferences
- New Mexico: Foster and birth parent icebreaker meetings
- North Carolina: Multiple response system
- Texas: Family group conferencing
- Virginia: Birth, foster, and adoptive family relationships
Contra Costa County, California: Parent Partners Program
In Contra Costa County, parents who have experienced child removal, child welfare services, and reunification are trained as parent advocates to mentor and support other parents new to the child welfare system. Parent Partners help other parents navigate the child welfare system and access services with the goal of moving families toward reunification.
The Parent Partners Program was implemented as part of Contra Costa County's Child Welfare Systems of Care grant. The County hired two full-time Parent Partners as contract staff and additional part-time Partners on an hourly contract basis. When feasible, Parent Partners were trained alongside child welfare staff.
While each partnership varies with the circumstances of the families involved, Parent Partners generally:
- Share their own stories and experiences and offer encouragement and hope
- Provide information on the child welfare system in everyday language and help parents understand their rights and responsibilities
- Coach families on how to act appropriately in court and at meetings
- Connect parents with formal and informal community resources and services
- Attend court hearings and team decision meetings, as requested by parents
- Provide ongoing emotional support, often during nights, weekends, and holidays
Research on the Parent Partners Program suggests that the parents' common experiences help inspire trust and hope, which in turn promotes engagement and may facilitate the change process (Anthony, Berrick, Cohen, & Wilder, 2008; Cohen & Canan, 2006). Findings from a process study reflected positive responses about the benefits of the program from parents, Parent Partners, and social workers. Moreover, preliminary results of an outcome study revealed that reunification may be more likely for children whose parents were served by Parent Partners (Anthony, et al.).
For more information, contact Danna Fabella at 925.335.1583, or Linda Canan at 925.335.7100.
Iowa: Family Engagement Tools and Programs
The State of Iowa champions engagement as the "primary door through which we help families change" (Munson & Freundlich, 2008). Iowa strives to engage the family in case planning, case management, and case closure processes. The State's commitment to family engagement efforts is reflected in and enabled by:
- The State's child welfare practice model. One of its four guiding principles states: "We listen to and address the needs of our customers in a respectful and responsive manner that builds upon their strengths." Specific standards of frontline practice specify: "The child and the child's parents are actively engaged and involved in case planning activities."
- Regularly held family team meetings. These are used to assist the family network in building a common understanding of what is pertinent to the case and in developing a plan that will protect the child and help the family change.
- A published set of practice standards for family team decision-making. The standards present values and beliefs that support family teams and are intended to guide daily practice; they also include indicators of effectiveness.
- An online toolkit that offers resources, checklists, and handouts for planning, preparing for, and following up after family team meetings.
- An evaluation handbook for family team decision-making that provides policies, guidance, and assessment support.
- A Parent Partner Program that trains, coaches, and supports parents who have been safely reunified with their children to serve as mentors for parents currently involved with child protective services. In addition to working one-on-one with other families, Parent Partners are involved with policy, program, and curriculum development in collaboration with child welfare staff. As a result, the experiences and insights of Parent Partners have been integrated into birth parent orientation and support groups, foster and adoptive parent recruitment and training, new child welfare worker orientation, local and statewide steering committees and conferences, and community partnership participation.
- Parent and youth involvement on advisory councils that is tracked annually. Online surveys and toolkits support the recruitment and retention of advisory council representatives.
For more information, visit the Iowa Department of Human Services website.
Maine: Practice Model
Maine's Bureau of Child and Family Services (BCFS) began developing a new vision in 2001, including a detailed strategic plan for the Bureau. This ongoing reform initiative incorporates goals and strategies that address many of the findings of the State's 2003 CFSR and support greater family engagement. One of the stated goals of Maine's strategic plan was to "broaden family involvement from report to best outcome for child and family."
More recently, the BCFS expanded its initial statement of beliefs and values into a practice model. This practice model was developed with the thoughtful input of caseworkers, supervisors, and managers at all levels of Child and Family Services from every district. In addition, BCFS asked for input from approximately 20 stakeholders, most of whom had helped to develop the Program Improvement Plan after the first Federal CFSR.
The practice model is stated in plain language intended to be accessible to parents, foster parents, community providers, teachers, students, new employees, and any other members of the community. Bureau staff are responsible for giving these statements life, through practice at all levels of the organization. All policies and trainings are also under review to ensure adherence to the practice model.
The key principles of the model include:
- Child safety, first and foremost.
- Parents have the right and responsibility to raise their own children.
- Children are entitled to live in a safe and nurturing family.
- All children deserve a permanent family.
- How we do our work is as important as the work we do.
Each of these principles is supported by statements that emphasize family involvement and a strength-based approach.
The practice model philosophy and principles are provided on Maine's website.
Massachusetts: Father Engagement
Recognizing the significance of a father's involvement to the well-being of his children, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families is working to counteract the tendencies of social workers to overlook fathers in child protection practices. To create a culture of father engagement, the agency:
- Conducted a policy and regulation review to clarify that caseworkers are required to work with both parents, including parents out of the home, in all phases of case practice.
- Established Fatherhood Education Leadership Teams in seven area offices throughout the State. The teams meet once a month and are composed of social workers, supervisors, area directors, and representatives of community agencies that work with fathers. The teams identify gaps in practice, develop procedures for improving practice, train caseworkers in engaging fathers, and collect data on father engagement in different phases of case practice.
- Developed a systematic framework for engaging fathers. The framework calls for routine engagement of fathers in all phases of case practice, beginning with a diligent search for fathers early in the case. It also includes methods for measuring progress.
- Established a differential engagement approach that calls for working with fathers in different ways, depending on their strengths and risk profiles.
- Implemented staff training on working with men, enhancing caseworker skills in respectful, culturally informed, and strength-based approaches to developing positive relationships with fathers, including those who are initially avoidant, angry, or hostile.
- Developed tools and resources to support implementation and help caseworkers integrate practice changes. For caseworkers, there are tip sheets on topics such as co-parenting issues when parents are not together, the basics of respectful father engagement, what to say when the father has been physically abusive to the mother, and helping fathers re-engage when they have been out of the home a long time. For fathers there are tip sheets on a variety of topics, such as being a good role model, playing with children, disciplining appropriately, and caring for crying babies.
For more information, contact Fernando Mederos at firstname.lastname@example.org
Olmsted County, Minnesota: Court-Initiated Family Case Planning Conferences
Family engagement is a key feature of Olmsted County's Parallel Protection Process (P3). Begun in 2002 as part of a Children's Justice Initiative, P3 offers an alternative justice intervention for juvenile court cases involving children at high risk of child maltreatment. P3 has been highlighted as a promising approach on the Children's Bureau website.
For up to four cases a month in which a petition is contested, the court can order a family case planning conference (FCPC). The FCPC has two primary goals:
- Negotiate a settlement on the admission or denial of the Child in Need of Protective Services petition
- Develop the immediate next steps in the child protection or agency case plan
Judges order all parties to the case planning conference, which is a facilitated process that includes the family, extended family, community supports, social workers, supervisors, court attorneys, family attorneys, guardians ad litem, and other relevant parties. The conference begins with introductions and the family's presentation of their family system. Next, everyone participates in information sharing on the incidents that brought the family to the attention of social services, risk to the child or children, complicating factors (i.e., conditions or behaviors that contribute to difficulty for the family), family strengths and protective factors, and ideas to build safety. Efforts are made to develop a balanced view.
The next step is a deliberate match between the legal language in the filed petition and the information shared at the meeting. Negotiations aim to determine one or more areas of agreement among the family with their attorneys, social services, and the county attorney. Once a settlement agreement is reached, the full group then discusses the immediate next steps (i.e., case plan) to address the family's needs in the context of the identified risk.
In the first 2 years, more than 90 percent of the P3 conferences resulted in settlement agreements that were accepted by the court. Initial findings from participant surveys reported positive responses among families, social workers, and attorneys involved in the process. Early indicators suggest that the program:
- Encourages less adversarial and more meaningful involvement of families in a court-ordered process
- Reduces court processing time and hastens family access to supports through "front loading" of services
- Leads to individualized case plans for children based on family needs and risks
- Safeguards children from repeated maltreatment
- Contributes to child permanency (Lohrbach & Sawyer, 2004)
For more information:
- Read Creating a Constructive Practice: Family and Professional Partnership in High-Risk Child Protection Case Conferences
- Contact Rob Sawyer, Director, Olmstead County Child & Family Services, at email@example.com
New Mexico: Foster Parent and Birth Parent Icebreaker Meetings
Among New Mexico's family engagement efforts is an innovative child welfare practice of using "icebreaker" meetings to bring together foster parents and birth parents. The meetings promote information sharing about a foster child and are intended to encourage easier adjustments for the children in care, as well as for the parents.
Across the State, the icebreaker meetings are held soon after a child's placement, ideally within 2 days. Discussions are focused on the child. Birth parents share information that will assist the foster parent in caring for the child, for example, their likes and dislikes, bedtime routines, and favorite pastimes. The foster parents, in turn, offer information about the child's new environment and daily activities in the foster home. The meetings are facilitated, generally by a trained former foster or adoptive parent, who ensures that the discussions remain focused on the child's needs. In some cases, there may be additional facilitated meetings and contacts.
In addition to making it easier for the child to adjust, the meetings help the foster and birth parents recognize their common concern for the child. As a result, the foundation for a respectful relationship can be formed.
For more information, contact Maryellen Bearzi at firstname.lastname@example.org
North Carolina: Multiple Response System
North Carolina's Multiple Response System (MRS) is an effort to reform the entire continuum of child welfare throughout the State, from intake through placement and permanency services. The reform is based on the application of family-centered principles of partnership through seven strategies:
- Collaboration between Work First (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and child welfare supports can prevent the involvement of child protective services (CPS) and helps prevent recidivism by providing financial, employment, and community services to families.
- A strengths-based structured intake focuses on family strengths as well as needs.
- A choice of two responses to reports of child abuse, neglect, or dependency protects the immediate safety of children in the most severe cases while engaging some families in services that could enable them to better parent their children.
- Coordination between law enforcement and CPS ensures that those who harm children are held accountable while minimizing the number of interviews children experience, thereby reducing retraumatization.
- A redesign of in-home family services allows caseworkers to engage families in the planning process and provide the most intensive services to families with the greatest needs.
- Child and family team meetings during in-home services acknowledge the birth family to be experts on their own situation and encourage the support and buy-in of both parents, extended family, and community in the planning and assessment process.
- Shared parenting meetings during the first 7 days of out-of-home placement keep the birth family actively involved in their role as parents and cultivate a nurturing relationship between the birth parents and foster parents.
A report to North Carolina's General Assembly in June 2006 found that families in counties implementing the MRS reform were receiving needed services more quickly. There was no evidence that children's safety was negatively affected by the reforms (Center for Child and Family Policy, 2006).
For more information, visit the North Carolina Division of Social Services website.
Texas: Family Group Conferencing
Working toward a more family-centered approach to child welfare, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services introduced a family group decision-making (FGDM) initiative. Texas' approach, which incorporates family group conferencing, promotes group discussions among CPS, family members, relatives, friends, and others in the community and also provides private family time for case planning.
Texas' implementation of FGDM has evolved and expanded over time. Attempting to address deficiencies identified in the State's 2002 CFSR, Texas began to lay the groundwork for increased family engagement. Staff participated in information exchange during a meeting with other States using FGDM models, received technical assistance and support from Casey Family Programs, obtained legislative permission to redirect some foster care funds into support services for kinship care, and hired five district FGDM specialists and a State liaison. In 2003, FGDM specialists began using the new approach in five cities as a pilot program targeted primarily to families experiencing the removal of a child. In later years, family conferencing services were expanded throughout the State and additional family team meetings were introduced to engage families during the investigation stage of services.
An evaluation of FGDM was conducted for the period March 2004 to July 2006, reflecting a total of 3,625 conferences. Findings revealed that, compared to children receiving traditional services, children involved with FGDM:
- Were more likely to be placed with relatives immediately following a family group conference
- Experienced shorter stays in care
- Were more likely to return to their families
- Were reported to be less anxious and better adjusted, particularly when placed with relatives
In addition, parents were more satisfied with family group conferences than traditional services (Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, 2006).
For more information:
- Visit the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website
- Read Casey Family Program's Focus on Foster Care: Family Group Decision-Making: How the State of Texas Adopted a Family-Centered Approach to Child Welfare, available through the Information Gateway library.
Virginia: Birth, Foster, and Adoptive Family Relationships
Northern Virginia's Bridging the Gap program is a self-driven collaboration of public and private child-placing agencies with a unified vision for child welfare practice. Bridging the Gap refers to the process of building and maintaining relationships and communication between birth and foster families involved in a youth's life, with the goal of supporting family reunification or another permanency plan. The bridging process is sometimes extended to other families involved in the child's life, such as extended birth family, relative caregivers, and adoptive parents.
Facilitated icebreaker meetings held within 7 days of placement provide an opportunity for birth parents and foster parents to meet and share information about the child's needs. Plans for ongoing communication and contact between the families are individualized, and may include opportunities for the foster family to support, help, teach, and/or participate with the birth family in a variety of ways.
Although Bridging the Gap is not a new strategy, the cooperative effort in Northern Virginia seeks to standardize this process as part of foster care practice.
For more information, contact Claudia McDowell at Claudia.McDowell@fairfaxcounty.gov
This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway.