Vol. 16, No. 2 May 2012
What You Should Know about CFTs in North Carolina
Unless otherwise noted, this article is based on chapter seven of the North Carolina Family Support and Child Welfare Services Manual (2012).
The use of child and family team meetings (CFTs) is an essential strategy in North Carolina’s child welfare system. To realize the potential benefits of these meetings—for children, families, and themselves—foster parents should have a firm grasp of how CFTs work and how to contribute to their success.
CFTs are meetings during which members of families involved in the child welfare system 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 child protective services (CPS) assessment. Families often have more than one child and family team meeting.
CFTs 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.
North Carolina 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 out-of-home 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 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 CFT 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 given the opportunity to start the meeting off—for example, with a poem, prayer, 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 isn’t helping the family (NCSOC, 2007).
Birth Parents. Family members’ 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 CFTs 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.
Workers must obtain input from the parents as to who they want to attend the CFT.
During CFT meetings social workers and everyone else must communicate openly and directly (subject to the limits of confidentiality). Full disclosure is the goal.
Facilitator. The facilitator’s job is to manage the meeting, making sure all points of view are heard and 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).
Facilitators should receive special training in leading CFTs. 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.
Other Participants. The role of other CFT participants, whether they are extended family members, friends, foster parents, 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 social workers devote time to preparation.
When to Hold CFTs
CFTs 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 when children are in foster care, see box below.
When Are CFT Meetings Held for Children in Foster Care?
For children and youth who are coming into care after having been served in In-Home services, a team should already have been formed, though there will be new members who join the team to support them. A CFT meeting shall be held at the following times after children enter foster care:
Within 30 days of coming into care
Within 60 days of coming into care
Within 90 days after the 60-day meeting, not more than 150 days after coming into care
Every 6 months thereafter
When there is a change in the plan or family and it is necessary to reconvene the team.
These timeframes are the same as the requirements for the Permanency Planning Action Team (PPAT) meeting. As the case progresses, the team may change, especially if the primary goal changes.
If reunification is no longer the goal, CFT meetings shall still be held. A broad definition of family should be used in these cases and children/youth should always be consulted as to whom they would like to have on their team. This is especially important if birth parents no longer attend meetings.
To Learn More
See Chapter VII: Child and Family Team Meetings <http://info.dhhs.state.nc.us/olm/manuals/dss/csm-55/man/>.
~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~