Principle: Creating formalized partnerships with critical stakeholder groups including birth families, family caregivers and young people to provide ongoing information and insight to improve organizational policy, procedures and practices regarding family engagement.
Over the last decade, the inclusion of “consumer voice” has become part of child welfare practice. We have seen most states develop internal mechanisms to include stakeholder voice in both the CFSR and PIP process. Consumer voice can provide vital perspectives on what is "working" and what is not. Further, advocacy efforts not directly affiliated with an agency have also produced policy and practice changes.
|State and Local Programs:
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Family Focus Division Parent Collaboration Group (PCG)
Parent Collaboration Group (PCG) is a partnership between the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and parents who have been recipients of services from the agency. The Parent Collaboration Group provides information to staff regarding what parents experience as recipients of CPS services and what can be improved. The PCG provides stakeholder input to the agency regarding how services may be improved to children and families. The PCG provides training opportunities to workers regarding the parent perspective, provides support to parents, and acts as a catalyst to link parents and the agency in partnership that encompass statewide policy development as well as day-to-day casework practice.
The North Carolina Collaborative for Children, Youth and Families
This volunteer organization is about working together with family members, youth, health, human services, juvenile justice, education, courts and other community partners to better meet the needs of North Carolina’s children, youth and families. It is not part of any agency and has no legal authority to make decisions. The Collaborative provides opportunities for decision makers to communicate, work together, and learn with families, youth and advocates. This volunteer organization grew out of the Improving Child Welfare Outcomes Through Systems of Care demonstration initiative.
Collaborative members work towards improving agency procedures to meet the service needs of children, youth and families with respect. State and local level information sharing is encouraged. Child and family teams are where service plans for children, youth, and families build on strengths and are individualized to meet the family’s needs. We promote prevention and early intervention for children, youth, and families. We are committed to sharing and developing resources for the children, youth, and families of North Carolina. The core principles of system of care guide everything the Collaborative does: interagency collaboration; individualized, strengths-based practices; cultural competence; community-based services; full participation of families and youth at all levels of the system; and shared responsibility for successful results.
Since 2000, The Collaborative has been working to promote System of Care and strengthen practice. In December 2007, the Collaborative endorsed the following definition of child and family teams:
Child and Family Teams are family members and their community supports that come together to create, implement and update a plan with the child, youth/student and family. The plan builds on the strengths of the child, youth and family and addresses their needs, desires and dreams.
This definition has been adopted by the North Carolina Division of Social Services and the North Carolina Division of Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities/Substance Abuse. This definition was made stronger by the input of North Carolina Families United. Collaborative members recognize that speaking a common language is important and believe that the use of this definition will strengthen practice.
The Child Welfare Organizing Project
The Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP) is a parent/professional partnership dedicated to public child welfare reform in New York City through increased, meaningful parent involvement in both direct service and policy planning. Founded in 1994 with a grant from the Child Welfare Fund to the Hunter College School of Social Work, CWOP’s early research led to the conclusion that clients, particularly biological parents, had practically no voice in NYC’s public child welfare system. Today, parents who have had direct, personal experience with the system have formed an advisory board to the ACS Commissioner, work on the NY State Office of Children and Family Services’ Program Improvement Plan, guest lecture at virtually every area school of law and social work, develop training curricula for both parents and professionals, publish their own newsletter and magazine, do extensive media work, are employed as peer advocates by over twenty foster care, preventive, and legal services agencies, regularly testify at public hearings, advise local elected officials and influence their legislative priorities.
Within the same time period, NYC’s foster care population has declined by over 50%. Funding for preventive services has increased, and the leadership of ACS has made neighborhood based parent/professional partnerships part of ongoing system reform efforts. CWOP, with a staff and Board consisting largely of ACS-involved parents, has contributed significantly to this transformation through a wide range of evolving, constituent-driven activities and strategies including: parent education and organizing; facilitating parent dialogue with child welfare policy-makers and parent participation in professional education; helping parents write for publication and work with the media; development of a peer-led parent leadership curriculum orienting clients to their rights and responsibilities within the child welfare system; and preparing parents to serve as both peer advocates and uniquely qualified policy analysts.
In recent years, CWOP has engaged in an increasing range of cooperative ventures with ACS, most of which involve parents with ACS experience in direct service roles. These include staffing ACS Family Team Conferences as Community Representatives in three boroughs, serving as Visit Hosts and Coaches for families with children in foster care, and piloting a Family Interview Instrument as a component of ACS’s “Scorecard” Preventive Service evaluation system.
California Youth Connection
California Youth Connection (CYC) is guided, focused and driven by current and former foster youth with the assistance of other committed community members. CYC promotes the participation of foster youth in policy development and legislative change to improve the foster care system, and strives to improve social work practice and child welfare policy. CYC Chapters in counties throughout the state identify local issues and use grassroots and community organizing to create change.
California Youth Connection was founded in 1988 by a group of foster youth and supportive adults to provide a vehicle for California foster youth to learn leadership and advocacy skills and to engage directly with policymakers to improve the foster care system. Founded on the model of youth empowerment, almost twenty years later CYC maintains a dual focus on policy and youth development. CYC is the only organization in California to engage foster youth in the policy making process, and is now a national model. Every year, CYC serves more than 500 foster youth members, ages 14-24, through 30 county-based chapters throughout the state. Core CYC activities include: training members on legislative and policy advocacy; educating policymakers and providers about foster youths experiences; presenting members recommendations for legislative and policy changes; and providing input to county and state policymakers as they work to implement policy changes and improve the foster care system.
The foster youth leaders of California Youth Connection have created a fundamental paradigm shift in child welfare policy in California, and now foster youth are at the center of child welfare policymaking for the first time in history. They are full partners at the policy table, their priorities are shaping reform, and the rate of reform is rapidly increasing. CYC has a 20-year track record of policy accomplishments, has trained advocates in 12 states, and has set a new national standard others are eager to emulate.
CYC members have repeatedly raised concerns about permanency and sibling togetherness, emphasizing that relationships with caring adults and siblings are fundamental to overcoming the loneliness and sadness in foster care due to being separated from their families. Members have addressed these issues several times, creating recommendations at CYC statewide policy conferences and participating at regional speak outs. Several of their recommendations have become law. Additionally,
In 2000, CYC helped pass AB 1987, which requires social workers to include information on sibling relationships and plans for visitation of siblings in court reports, as well as notify youth of significant events in the lives of their siblings. However, in 2006 during regional speak outs, members once again identified that youth were not being placed with their siblings and that communication and visits between siblings were still limited. The subsequent implementation recommendation that was proposed at the speak outs is to focus on the logistics of sibling contact, by ensuring “that there is a court order for sibling visitation, and that the order specifies practical details such as who will pay for long distance calls, who will provide transportation and who will initiate contact.”
Additionally in 2003, CYC successfully advocated for the passage of AB 408, which requires that social workers collaborate with youth to ensure that every young person emancipating from the foster care system has a permanent connection with an adult. However, the 2006 speak outs also identified that this law is widely not being implemented. Some recommendations from the speak outs to improve permanency efforts were to increase prevention services for families to prevent youth from entering foster care in the first place; group homes should be reformed to remove barriers to developing emotional and social connections to others; parents should be given more time to reunify with foster youth; services for relative caregivers should be expanded so they have equal access to support and care for foster youth; and foster youth in kinship care should be eligible for all independent living and emancipation support services. The implementation idea was to have counties work with the YOUTH Training Project to train child welfare social workers on how to communicate with foster youth about permanency and identifying people who are important to them, because many social workers want to support those relationships but need tips on starting those conversations.
In 2009, CYC is sponsoring legislation on permanency or sibling relationships, and it is supporting two of California’s child welfare bills that address these challenges in the system. AB 938 will ensure that within the first couple of hours of a youth entering foster care, social workers speak with the youth in an age appropriate manner about aunts, uncles, and older siblings to see if there are any family members the youth would like to be placed with. The social worker would be required to contact those relatives within 48 hours and schedule a dependency hearing. AB 743 will address youth who are initially placed with siblings but subsequently separated due to a need for placement change. AB743 will address this issue by involving the youths’ attorneys in decisions to separate siblings ten days before the actual separation occurs, so that the attorneys, as advocates for the children, can weigh in and work to preserve the placement and/or keep the siblings together in an alternate placement.
The Youth Leadership Advisory Team (YLAT)
The Youth Leadership Advisory Team (YLAT) is a team of Maine youth in care (in state custody), ages 14-21, engaged in the education of the government, general public, caregivers, and peers regarding the needs of children and young adults in the child welfare system. Advocating for positive changes in the child welfare system, YLAT members help develop, guide, and revise the Bureau of Child and Family Services policies in order to create safety, comfort, and opportunities for all kids in care.
YLAT is a group of youth in care working together to have fun and...
- Advise, assist, and connect with other youth in care
- Speak out to educate government, general public, care givers, and peers
- Promote positive changes in the system while working with the Department of Human Services (DHS)
- Build positive long-term relationships in the community
- Perform community service projects
What YLAT Has Done
- Created "Answers" Handbook for youth in care
- Advocated for passage of a college tuition waiver bill
- Worked with DHS to revise and create policies
- Spoken on panels (with CASA’s, judges, GALs, and many others)
- Provided pre-service trainings (foster parents and caseworkers)
- Planned the Annual Youth Leadership Summit
- Planned the Annual Teen Conference
- Created a newsletter, "The Quarterly Advocate"
Children & Families of Iowa's elevate
Children & Families of Iowa’s elevate program is a group of youth stakeholders using their personal stories of hope to impact and alter the child welfare system in Iowa. Youth, ages 13 to 28, who have been in the foster care/adoption system hold positions on most legislative, mental health, child-welfare and judicial boards/committees so that policy changes/questions can be immediately addressed by youth voices. To date, there are over 30 boards/committees and councils with elevate youth on them. These young people advocate for all youth in foster care by offering a stakeholder viewpoint. They represent themselves, their birth families, their foster families, and adoptive families if applicable. They believe advocating for the adults in their lives will positively impact them and their futures. In Iowa, they have directly presented five bills to the legislature; all five passed and they are now policy. In addition, they have advocated and supported many other bills in conjunction with the Department of Human Services, The Department of Education, the Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parent Association and Juvenile Justice.
Engaging Birth Parents, Family Caregivers And Youth
This resource was developed jointly by the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections and National Resource Center for Youth Development. Birth parents, family caregivers and youth are critical stakeholder groups in the planning and decision making processes of the child welfare agency and all stages of the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) process. This resource provides participants with knowledge and skills to enhance their involvement in the agency’s work.
2007 CFSR Toolkit for Youth Involvement
The 2007 CFSR Toolkit for Youth Involvement is available from the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement (NRCOI) and the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Youth Development (NCWRCYD). The toolkit promotes youth involvement in the CFSR process and delineates the ways youth can be more effectively engaged when evaluating child welfare services. Toolkit resources include:
- Information to keep in mind when partnering with youth
- Feedback forms and debriefing strategies for youth and adults
- A CFSR youth involvement checklist
- Condensed descriptions of the CFSR purpose, process, and components
- A glossary explaining CFSR terminology
- Strategies for implementing surveys and conducting focus groups
- Sample survey instruments and focus group questions to solicit youth input
- PowerPoint presentations that can be adapted for States
The toolkit is available in print form with digital files or as a web document that will be regularly updated with best practice information from the field.
Partnering With Youth: Involving Youth in Child Welfare Training and Curriculum Development
Morse, Markowitz, Zanghi, & Penthea (2003)
Serves as a starting point for agencies interested in involving youth in the development of child welfare curriculum and staff development projects.
14 Points to Successfully Involving Young People in Organizational Decision Making
This a comprehensive guide to youth involvement, from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, that includes guidelines, worksheets, tips, and a resource directory designed to help young people and adults work together.
Permanency Planning Today, Spring 2009 contains the following:
- From the Desk of the Director
- New Mexico’s Ice Breakers for Foster and Birth Parents (Reprinted from Children’s Bureau Express)
- Familyconnect Guides: Putting the Pieces of Family Visits Together
- Immigrants and Refugees: The Intersection of Migration and Child Welfare (From a Webcast Interview with Dr. Ilze Earner and Dr. Alan Dettlaff)
- Highlights from An Introduction to the Practice Model Framework (Adapted from Document by NRCOI and NRCPFC)
- Addressing Racial Disproportionality in the Child Welfare System (An Interview with Joyce James, Assistant Commissioner, Texas CPS)
- Listening to Parents (Youshell Williams, Reprinted from Rise Magazine)
- Willing to Listen (Sylvia Perez, Reprinted from Rise Magazine)
- Tidbits from the States