Vol. 20, No. 2 • May 2016

Making a Difference at Child and Family Team Meetings

by Claudia Kearney

Foster parents and kinship caregivers sometimes find Child and Family Team meetings intimidating. It's easy to see why. At CFTs the biological parents and families are there, talking about what they want and need and what the agency needs the parents to do in order to reunify with the child. Given this, it's natural for resource parents to ask themselves, "What do I have to add?"

In my experience, the answer to this question is: "a lot!" As someone who has facilitated many CFT meetings, I have seen time and again that having resource parents involved in CFTs brings benefits to everyone.

To illustrate this, I'm going to describe the different phases of the CFT meeting process and give an example of how I have seen a resource parent make an important contribution during that phase.

Meeting Phase: Introductions
Use the introductions at the start of the meeting to become a person, rather than just a title, to the people in the room. This is a chance to tell everyone how you would like to be addressed and how you view your relationship to the child.

Example: At one meeting a foster parent said, "My name is Kim and I have the privilege of sharing my home with TJ during this time and being a new member of Amanda and TJ's extended family." The way Kim introduced herself set the tone for the rest of the meeting; I saw others present trying to follow her positive lead.

Meeting Phase: Review of Purpose
Before the CFT someone will contact you to let you know the purpose of the meeting. This conversation is also an opportunity for you to ask questions and identify any resources that may be needed to help the family reach its goals. So when you get to the "review of purpose" phase of the meeting there are no surprises for anyone, including you.

Example: At a meeting, after I reviewed the purpose, I asked if anyone had questions or comments. The foster parent leaned over to the mother and asked quietly, "Does that purpose sound right to you?"

The mother said, "No, but I wasn't going to say anything."

Together they asked me about this and then worked through some concerns with the social worker. Ultimately the purpose of the meeting was clarified and revised to something everyone agreed on.

Meeting Phase: Ground Rules
Ground rules help participants feel safe to speak at the meeting. Along with the agenda, ground rules also help the facilitator maintain the flow and order of the meeting. Foster parents help the meeting when they add to and/or agree to the ground rules.

Example: After I went over ground rules and asked if anyone wanted to add to them, a foster parent said, "I believe we are all here because we want what is best for Johnny and his family. That being said, those of us that are here for support and help do not need to be privileged to personal information." He then encouraged the agencies present to only share relevant and necessary information.

Meeting Phase: Confidentiality
Some counties use a Confidentiality Sheet everyone attending a CFT must sign.

Example: At one meeting, I asked everyone to sign the confidentiality form, including the family. However, during this meeting we had some people coming in just to provide information during the "Options to Consider" portion of the meeting. When these community partners arrived, the foster parent raised her hand and said "I am sorry to interrupt, but they need to sign a Confidentiality Form. Although their role is to only share information, they should be asked not to say what information they shared or any questions they were asked about the information." The young person jumped up and hugged her foster mother and said "Thank you so much!"

Meeting Phase: Information Sharing
This can be the best and the toughest part of a meeting, depending on how and what is shared. During this part of the meeting everyone is invited to share a strength and concern. Resource parents are in a unique place within the family structure, so what they say during this time is crucial.

Example: At one meeting it was extremely hard for people to name strengths of the family or child. Everyone--including the family--was concerned the mother would return to her unhealthy habits and not be able to do what she needed to do to meet her case goals.

When it was time for the foster parent to share a strength, she said "A strength is, despite all you've faced, you're still a family. Not every family facing the same problems would have made it this far."

Her concern for the family was that there were 20 people in the room that had been working with this family for six months and the agencies involved had not yet offered the right resources to the family. As a result of her sharing this concern, the child-serving agencies present thought more deeply about how to offer something different and more relevant to this struggling family.

Meeting Phase: Options to Consider
During this part of the meeting, all options are put on the table.

Example: At one meeting the foster parent offered options that were "outside of the box" and very supportive to the family. Because the foster parent was thoroughly prepared before the meeting, she had had a chance to research options and recommendations and came to the meeting with questions and requests for the agencies that attended the meeting.

Meeting Phase: Making a Plan
In this part of the CFT we create a plan for the family. As a facilitator, I've noticed that often everyone but the social worker and biological family stops talking at this point. Yet I've also seen foster parent involvement in this part of the meeting make a huge difference.

Example: At a meeting the social worker and biological parents were making the plan. Because the plan was so intensive, the biological mother started to get overwhelmed.

I asked her if she needed to take a break, but she said "No, I'm going to do whatever it takes to get my children back."

The foster parent turned to the mother and asked, "What can I do to help you with this plan? I want to do everything I can to help."

In the end, the foster parent became a part of the plan and helped the whole family, not just the children. Eventually the family was reunified and today the foster parents are still active in their lives.

Foster parents and kinship caregivers can bring so much to Child and Family Team meetings. They can be partners to the parents and agencies. They can shine a positive light on a situation and bridge gaps that are otherwise left open.

We are lucky to have you in these meetings and in the lives of families everywhere.

Claudia Kearney is a trainer for the Center for Family and Community Engagement at NC State University.

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