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2007 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 13, No. 1
December 2007

Child Welfare CFT Meetings in North Carolina

Before taking steps to enhance or expand their use of child and family teams (CFTs), child welfare workers and agencies may wish to review the key elements of the CFT model set forth in NC Division of Social Services policy. Unless otherwise noted, this article is based on chapter eight of the Family Support and Child Welfare Services Manual.

Definitions
First, it is important to distinguish between child and family teams and child and family team meetings.

Child and family team meetings are events during which family members and their community supports come together to create a plan for the child that builds on the family’s strengths, desires, and dreams and addresses the needs identified during the CPS assessment. Families often have more than one child and family team meeting.

CFT meetings are structured, guided discussions with the family and other team members about family strengths, needs, and problems and the impact they have on the safety, permanence, and well-being of the family’s children. CFT meetings always have a clear but open-ended purpose. They always involve options or decisions for the family to make and they always involve the family in developing specific safety plans and in lining up services and supports.

A child and family team is just that: a team that remains active throughout the life of the family’s case and that focuses on developing partnerships and relationships that help families navigate systems and handle crisis (NCSOC 2007). Though membership is flexible, the team often consists of those who attend the initial CFT meeting.

Who Attends
Policy requires agencies to engage every family receiving involuntary child welfare services in the CFT process.

A CFT meeting usually includes parents, the child (if appropriate), other concerned family members, members of the community identified by the family as part of their support network, a facilitator, the social worker, any relevant service providers, and foster parents or other care providers (if the child is in care).

General CFT Process
The CFT process has four stages:

1. Referral. In some agencies a request for a CFT is referred to a designated CFT coordinator, who then schedules the meeting and makes arrangements with a trained facilitator. The referral process may involve a meeting between the family’s social worker and the facilitator to ensure that they both understand the purpose of the meeting and any safety concerns or special considerations.

2. Preparation. It usually falls to the family’s social worker to make sure that everyone who will attend the CFT understands the CFT process, why the meeting is being held, and how he or she is expected to contribute. Identifying and engaging team members early on is key to a meeting’s success. The social worker and parents should work together and contact potential team members to explain the purpose of the team and invite them to the meeting.

3. The Meeting. CFTs typically begin with introductions followed by a review of the purpose of the meeting. Often the family is then given the opportunity to start the meeting off—for example, with a prayer, poem, or song that unites the family. This is followed by a review of the ground rules for the meeting and an information sharing phase, during which family members and others discuss the family’s strengths, needs, and problems. The team then comes together to make the family’s plan, creates plans for following up after the meeting, and adjourns (NCSOC 2007).

4. Follow-up. Following up allows for changes when a plan is not working. It is more important to acknowledge the need for a revision in a plan than to continue to support something that is not working for the family (NCSOC 2007).

CFT Roles

Parents. Parents play a central role in CFT meetings. If they aren’t present and participating, it’s not a CFT. Generally speaking, their task in meetings is to honestly examine their strengths, needs, and problems and to come up with a plan that will enable them to provide safe care for their children.

Child Welfare Worker. It is the family’s social worker’s job to educate and empower the family about child and family team meetings and encourage them to participate fully. Workers must help families understand that it is their meeting and that, regardless of the meeting’s specific focus, the intent is to help them come up with their plan.

Discussions with families about the CFT process can happen as early as the assessment phase, if there are indications that the agency may require involuntary services. At the latest, the social worker must discuss CFTs with the family at the face-to-face meeting that occurs within 7 days following the case decision. Workers must obtain input from the parents as to who they want on their team.
During CFT meetings social workers and everyone else must communicate openly and directly (subject to the limits of confidentiality). Full disclosure is the goal.

The child welfare worker should incorporate discussion of the Family Risk Reassessment and Family Assessment of Strengths and Needs into every team meeting.

Facilitator. The facilitator’s job is to manage the meeting, making sure that all points of view are heard and that all participants understand what is being discussed. The facilitator encourages the team to generate creative ways to keep children safe and maintain family attachments, while building consensus among the group.

According to NC policy, CFTs that occur while the family has a “high” or “intensive” risk rating must use facilitators (unless they involve case closure).

Some agencies contract with individuals outside the agency (e.g., mediation centers) to provide facilitation for CFTs. Others rely on supervisors from other work units within the agency. Agencies should avoid asking individuals from within the agency who are directly connected with the family’s case (e.g., the family’s social worker’s supervisor) to facilitate CFTs.

Facilitators should receive special training in leading CFTs. To learn about NCDSS training for facilitators, go to <www.ncswlearn.org>.

Other Participants. The role of other CFT participants, whether they are extended family members, friends, or helping professionals, is to communicate openly, respectfully, and directly and to actively contribute to the family’s effort to create a plan that meets their needs and keeps their children safe. To succeed in this role, other participants rely on the social worker to help them understand their role and the CFT process. This underscores how important it is that social workers devote adequate time to preparation.

When to Hold CFTs
When should child and family meetings occur? They should be convened by the child welfare worker to develop or update the In Home Family Services Agreement, any time a significant decision is to be made that impacts the child or family, or any time there is reason to believe that there is a need to discuss a child’s health, safety, or permanence. For more on timeframes, see box below.

Timeframes for CFT Meetings

Agencies are required to hold a CFT meeting no later than 30 days after an assessment case decision requires involuntary services. Subsequent team meetings must be held at the following points during the life of the case:

  • Quarterly while the case remains open for CPS In-Home Services (or as often as needed to update the service agreement).
  • At critical decision points in the case (e.g., removal of a child from the home or a change in placement).
  • Any time a significant change in the In-Home Services Agreement is needed to ensure the safety of the child.
  • Prior to any petition or court action.
  • To address the unique characteristics, and possible resolutions, for “stuck cases.”
  • At case closure (when requested by the family or a service provider).

 

When Safety Is an Issue
Although North Carolina policy urges child welfare agencies to consider the use of CFT meetings with all families, it also acknowledges in some cases—especially when there is domestic violence—the CFT process will need to be modified to ensure the safety of everyone involved. For more on this, consult the portion of the policy manual pertaining to domestic violence (Chapter VIII, Section 1409).

What About CFTs Outside of Child Welfare?
While they must know about and follow NCDSS policy, child welfare agencies should also keep in mind that other systems serving families and children in North Carolina have their own versions of CFTs. For example, CFTs are used in some school systems, mental health agencies, and other organizations.

This should not be a problem. Because most forms of child and family team meeting share a common ancestor—the family group conferences that emerged in New Zealand in the 1980s—they usually have the same fundamental assumptions and are structured in a similar way.

When your community partners have their own approach to CFTs, the thing to do is to communicate, find common ground, and work together to offer a joint CFT meeting that empowers families and addresses their needs.

To Learn More
See Chapter VIII: Protective Services 1412, CPS In-Home Services <http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/csm-60/man/CS1412.pdf>

 

References for this and other articles in this issue