2007 Jordan Institute
13, No. 1
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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 Safety Is an Issue
What About CFTs Outside of Child Welfare?
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.
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