Vol. 18, No. 1 • November 2013

Child and Family Team Meetings Support Trauma-Informed Work with Foster and Adoptive Parents

by Billy Poindexter

Foster and adoptive parents and kin caregivers are often the ones with the most first-hand information about how children in foster care are doing and what they need. Other members of the team--social workers, therapists, birth families, physicians, school personnel--need to know this information so they can help the children and support their caregivers. If only there were a way to get information to everyone at the same time!

Luckily, there's something that can do just that. It's called the child and family team (CFT) meeting process.

CFTs bring everyone to the table for information
The CFT process is about bringing the support system for a child and or family together for the sharing of information. Seldom do providers have the opportunity to see what services others provide, the parameters of those services, and how each can better deliver those services. Sometimes information comes to the CFT meeting in the form of personal representation or a written report, but everyone hears it at the same time. The meeting provides the format for everyone to identify, clarify, and coordinate with each other.

CFTs are flexible . . .

  • In purpose. CFTs should always have a clear, defined purpose that flows around the child. A purpose can be broad--for example, "exploring options for treatment and family support," "clarifying roles, schedules, expectations, and family needs," or "providing clarification and answering questions regarding a diagnosis." The CFT process is even flexible enough for a parent to have a meeting to "express family frustration with the system and identify options for support."
  • In frequency. A CFT can be called at any time. Although North Carolina policy requires them to be held at certain intervals, CFTs can be held as needed.
  • In who calls them. Child and family team meetings are tools for families as well as social workers and community providers. As a foster or adoptive parent, ask for and expect to receive this process from your foster care agency.

CFTs are safe
An effective CFT meeting process is guided by preparation which identifies a mutually understood purpose, agreed-upon ground rules, and a neutral third party facilitator. This provides an environment for the group to do their best thinking while acknowledging the emotional roller coaster a family may be experiencing. This is a valuable aspect of this process--it is not judgmental or simply directive, but provides a safe place and a controlled process that allows the many voices in the family's situation to be heard.

They're interactive
In CFTs, all parties present should be able to interact together around a defined purpose. Families aren't expected to automatically know how to deal with trauma; it is understood that in this and other areas they will need understanding and support from their system. A well facilitated CFT promotes the asking of questions, clarification of information, and mutually agreed upon steps for achieving goals.

And CFTs are respectful

  • Of vulnerability. It can be uncomfortable to admit you don't know how to parent a traumatized child. The CFT environment accepts this and seeks to promote understanding.
  • Of parenting's emotional impact. Some behaviors may not appear until well after a child is placed in foster care. When this happens, the impact on the family can be powerful. The CFT meeting process is a place where honest emotions are expected and respected as real and deserving of support.
  • Of the challenges families face. Foster parenting involves integrating a traumatized child into the biological family system. This can lead to mixed emotions. The CFT process provides a place for healthy discussion of these challenges and productive input from the support system.

A coordinated system, flexibility, safety, interaction, and respect--are these not what we want for children? The CFT process is a way to bring these benefits to our foster/adoptive parents as well.

Billy Poindexter is a CFT facilitator with Catawba County DSS and a trainer for the Center for Family & Community Engagement at NC State University.

To Learn More about CFTs . . .
Read Fostering Perspectives, vol. 16, no. 2

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