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February 2009Vol. 10, No. 1Family Organizations Promote Systems Change in Child Welfare

Family organizations are demonstrating that families can be effective partners in child welfare systems change. The Kansas Family Advisory Network (KFAN) is an organization that exemplifies this kind of partnership. Established as part of the Children's Bureau's Improving Child Welfare Outcomes Through Systems of Care demonstration project for the State of Kansas, KFAN's mission is to impact and influence child welfare policy and practice by creating collaborative relationships in the community.

KFAN is composed of family partners, family partner groups (organizations in which at least 51 percent of the members are family partners), and community partners and agencies. The goals of KFAN are to establish, engage, educate, support, and sustain family involvement in child welfare and promote collaboration and partnerships among birth parents and other caregivers including, but not limited to, foster resource parents, adoptive parents, relatives, child welfare services, social service practitioners, law enforcement, court services, policymakers, and society at large. This broad collaboration helps service providers view families as partners in the process of child welfare systems change. As Ruth Heitsman, President of KFAN puts it, "This whole view of 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree' is a concept that has to be overcome when you're talking about relative care."

Ms. Heitsman explains that she and Angela Braxton, Vice President of KFAN, knew that it was critical for the family partners to join together throughout the State and become an organization that would be sustainable after the systems of care grant ended. "As long as we kept working in our own little world, our own circle, that would never happen," explained Ms. Heitsman.

Formerly the Kansas Family Advisory Council, which began in 2005, the current KFAN entity received its State of Kansas Articles of Incorporation in 2007. In November 2008, KFAN obtained 501(c)(3) status, making it the first nonprofit group of its kind in Kansas. This important accomplishment underscores the importance of KFAN's work and the involvement of families in child welfare systems.

KFAN's many accomplishments in just a short time include:

  • Planning a national Family Summit for the nine systems of care grant sites
  • Creating a Child and Family Services handbook
  • Providing a family voice in the development of two Family Navigator (family-to-family mentoring) pilots in Cherokee and Reno Counties
  • Assisting in a parent leadership conference
  • Developing Partnership and Leadership Strategies (PALS) training to encourage and assist with collaboration between practitioners and family partners

KFAN's current activities focus on advancing the systems of care principles of family and youth involvement, community-based services, individualized strengths-based care, interagency collaboration, cultural competency, and accountability. Additionally, KFAN is developing and distributing literature, developing and supporting existing and new Family Advisory Councils in Kansas, and serving as family representatives to policy development groups.

Ms. Heitsman stresses the difference that KFAN is making in the field of family involvement in child welfare. "We have to realize it's not about the past, it's about the future. It's about what we can change to help kids in the future and families in the future, not changing what has already happened."

For more information, please visit the project website:

Many thanks to Ruth Heitsman, President of KFAN, and Angela Braxton, Vice President of KFAN, who provided information for this article.

Related Item

To read more about the nine systems of care grantees, see "Interagency Collaboration Improves Child Welfare Services" in this issue of CBX.