2007 Jordan Institute
13, No. 1
Overcoming Common Barriers to CFTs
Since 2002, public child welfare agencies participating in North Carolina’s Multiple Response System reform effort have been meeting regularly to talk about their work. Child and family team meetings (CFTs) have come up a lot during these get-togethers.
That’s been a good thing. This discussion allowed North Carolina to refine its policy and practice with regard to CFTs. It also expanded our understanding of the problems agencies face implementing child and family team meetings and how to overcome them.
Drawing from what we have learned so far, we offer the following suggestions for overcoming five common barriers to successful child and family team meetings.
1. The Meeting Is Not Really a CFT
This is clear in policy, yet we know some meetings are called CFTs even when one or more of the above is true.
This is not to say that agencies should never hold meetings with families where the family does not have a choice to make. In the world of child welfare there are times when such meetings are necessary. But they are not CFTs.
Mislabeling meetings can create problems for agencies and families. If they come prepared for one kind of meeting and get something else, family members and others may feel they are being subjected to a “bait and switch.” This can leave them confused, resistant, or distrustful of DSS. These reactions are a far cry from the increased family engagement and positive working relationships with families and community partners that research tells us is possible with real CFTs (Duke, 2006).
Attend a True CFT. Supervisors and others who are skeptical should have the opportunity to be present at a meeting where North Carolina’s CFT model is followed faithfully. This will give them an opportunity to see the process and how it benefits the child, family, and social worker.
Attend Training. In partnership with the Division of Social Services, the NC Family-Centered Meetings Project at NC State University offers a variety of training courses to help agencies develop successful CFT programs. To learn more, visit <www.ncswlearn.org>.
2. Insufficient Use of Facilitators
This can be a problem. In meetings without a facilitator the CFT process can easily become unproductive, hostile, or otherwise break down, which is not helpful to families or the agency. This is especially true when the family’s child welfare worker ends up having to facilitate his or her own meeting. Though workers try to be as neutral as possible, it is hard to do. Families can have a hard time believing the process is not biased.
Lack of funding to hire facilitators is the reason most agencies give for not following this part of CFT policy.
Develop Resources Inside the Agency. Some agencies train a number of supervisors and workers from a variety of program areas in facilitation. These people then make themselves available to facilitate CFT meetings, with the understanding that they will not facilitate a meeting for which they or one of their subordinates is responsible. Billy Poindexter, a facilitator with Catawba County DSS, says this strategy has worked well for his agency: “If you train the process well and emphasize the value of the process, not the person, someone from any area of the agency can follow the model and be neutral.”
3. Insufficient Prep Time
Symptoms of Insufficient Preparation
Referral Form. Developing a consistent referral process can help an agency be more consistent about preparation. A referral form helps you get an idea of who’s coming, risk of volatility, etc. For a sample referral form, go to <www.practicenotes.org/cftrefer.pdf>.
Use TALS. The NC Family-Centered Meetings Project also offers something called the TALS program (Technical Assistance and Learning Support). Through TALS, DSS employees involved in CFTs and people identified by DSS agencies as facilitators can request or participate in a variety of activities designed to support CFTs, including specialized training at or near your agency. TALS is free to NC county DSS agencies. To learn more, contact Jenny King, TALS Coordinator (919/326-7463, firstname.lastname@example.org).
4. Problems with Community Partners
Agencies can address this by explaining why we are using this strategy and how it benefits families, children, and the agencies involved with them. Be sure to dispel misconceptions, such as the unfounded concern that meetings require participants to divulge confidential information.
Be Clear about Benefits. Explain to community partners how attending and participating in CFTs will benefit them. For example, explain to school personnel how the meeting and the plan that comes out of it will result in kids coming to school ready to learn.
5. Can’t Find or Involve Family Supporters
Encourage Realistic Expectations. Families often say, “I don’t have anybody.” Some don’t—isolation of families is a common problem among families served by child welfare. If a family truly doesn’t have anyone, we must help them create that network.
But often families can’t name a supporter because they have exalted ideas of what a support person is. If a family is having trouble, ask: who do you call when you get angry or upset? That’s their support person.
Calm Fears. Sometimes families are reluctant to name someone because they fear this will invite DSS scrutiny of their friends and supporters. Reassurance and direct experience are the best way to allay these fears.