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September 2010Vol. 11, No. 7Child and Family Team Meetings Improve Utah Outcomes

Child and Family Team (CFT) meetings have transformed child welfare practice in Utah, moving the State's Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) toward more family-centered practice and changing the culture of child welfare service delivery. In response to a lawsuit brought against the State in 1993, DCFS instituted a number of reforms, including the adoption of a practice model and the use of CFT meetings, which began in 2000. DCFS initially explored several teaming models, finally settling on the CFT, which employs the case manager as the initial meeting facilitator.

Over the last 10 years, the use of CFT meetings has saturated statewide practice. Caseworkers in every region of Utah know and expect that they will be building a team around a family. "It's how we do business," said Practice Improvement Coordinator Jeff Harrop. Caseworkers receive 9 weeks of training on the Utah Practice Model including 24 hours on teaming and issues such as how to handle difficult situations in a team meeting. Caseworkers also are mentored by experienced workers until they are comfortable with the process.

CFT meetings are used with families whose children have been removed as well as families receiving in-home services. The first meeting can occur within a few days of DCFS involvement or child removal. Prior to the first meeting, the caseworker reaches out to all family members and other people important to the child and family so that everyone can participate as part of the team. The caseworker takes care of the logistics, including addressing any barriers posed by distance, language, safety, or other issues.

The agenda at an early CFT meeting includes:

  • Reviewing the purpose, roles, and outcomes for the meeting and the confidentiality agreement
  • Defining the current problem, what enduring safety and permanency will look like for the child, how the family will reach that goal, and who will do what, when, and how
  • Discussing concurrent plans
  • Identifying all resources, services, and formal and informal supports, such as service providers, legal personnel, Tribal resources, friends, neighbors, relatives, and community members
  • Creating or updating a Child and Family Assessment
  • Creating a Child and Family Plan based on input from the family and team members
  • Making arrangements for the next meeting

While caseworkers initially facilitate meetings, a youth, parent, or foster parent ideally takes on the facilitator role at subsequent meetings. Later CFT meetings focus on updating the family's long-term view (enduring safety and permanency), reporting on progress toward plan objectives, and updating the assessment and Child and Family Plan. Later meetings also incorporate new team members—such as therapists, teachers, and other service providers—as the family's supports and team grow. Meetings are held as often as the case demands or at least every 6 months as a family stabilizes.

DCFS conducts internal reviews to measure the impact of CFT meetings on outcomes, using indicators directly and indirectly tied to teaming. Results, as tracked in a database, have been positive. In addition, good teaming has been related to strong performance on assessing, planning, and intervening.

While Utah's DCFS has had success with CFT meetings, the State's recent Child and Family Services Review helped DCFS identify challenges related to engaging fathers and paternal relatives. Caseworkers are sometimes reluctant to bring a parent or relatives into CFT meetings if they have not been involved in a child's life. One way the State has started to address this challenge is through the placement of kinship specialists at the State level and in all five regions. The specialists support caseworkers, assist with locating and involving kin, and provide support to kin regarding available services.

While DCFS staff will continue to revise and improve the CFT process, they are pleased with the changes that teaming has brought about over the last decade. Not only do CFT meetings facilitate shared decision-making and distribute the burden of the work, but they also enable families to do their own problem-solving and provide parents and youth with the skills and resources they need to succeed after they leave the child welfare system.

Many thanks to Linda Wininger, Director of Program and Practice Improvement; Jeff Harrop, Practice Improvement Coordinator; and Aude Bermond Hamlet, Practice Improvement Coordinator, Utah Division of Child and Family Services, for providing the information for this article.