Vol. 16, No. 2 • May 2012

Benefits of CFTs: What the Research Says

by Dr. Joan Pennell

Studies in the United States and elsewhere have found that holding family meetings is associated with:

  • Identifying and engaging the natural networks of children, youth, and their families to widen the circle of supports (Pennell & Anderson, 2005);
  • Including white, minority, indigenous, and Hispanic/Latino populations in a culturally respectful manner (Glode & Wein, 2007; Waites, Macgowan, Pennell, Carlton-LaNey, & Weil, 2004; Rotabi, et al., 2012);
  • Encouraging the participation of children and youth and creating circles of support for youth leaving care (Crampton & Pennell, 2009; Merkel-Holguin, Tinworth, & Horner, 2007);
  • Involving fathers or the paternal side of the family in planning (Pennell, 2006; Veneski & Kemp, 2000);
  • Involving families and their informal supports in meaningful and participatory decision-making processes (Pennell, 2006);
  • Raising family satisfaction with child welfare services, improving family-worker relationships (Duke University, 2006, 2007; Merkel-Holguin, Nixon, & Burford, 2003) , and decreasing adversarial court hearings (Burford, Pennell, & Edwards, 2011);
  • Generating plans that are written in a way that reflects the family’s culture (Thomas, Berzin, & Cohen, 2005) and encompass a wide range of children’s needs that would not normally be included in case plans, such as attendance at church (Titcomb & LeCroy, 2005);
  • Creating concurrent plans that place children with relatives while working on returning them to their parents, but with the relatives available to provide long-term care as needed (Desmeules, 2003);
  • Keeping siblings together, stabilizing placements, maintaining children in their homes or reunifying families, placing children and teens with relatives or ‘like family,’ returning children from kinship care to their parents more quickly, and keeping these young people connected with their communities and cultural groups (Pennell, Edwards, & Burford, 2010; Merkel-Holguin, Nixon, & Burford, 2003; Morris, 2007; Titcomb & LeCroy, 2005; Walker, 2005);
  • Decreasing the overrepresentation of children of color and Hispanic children in foster and institutional care (Crampton & Jackson, 2007; Sheets et al., 2009);
  • Achieving these results while increasing the safety of the children (Gunderson, Cahn, & Wirth, 2003) and their mothers (Pennell & Burford, 2000) or without substantially affecting children’s safety (Berzin, 2004; Sundell & Vinnerljung, 2004); and
  • Achieving these results without raising costs (Pennell, 2005).

Joan Pennell directs the Center for Family & Community Engagement at North Carolina State University.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~