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November 2013Vol. 14, No. 8Site Visit: Comprehensive Family Assessments in Contra Costa County

In 2001, the California State Assembly passed the Child Welfare System Improvement and Accountability Act, a State initiative modeled after the Federal Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSR). The act directed counties to undergo a self-assessment and system improvement to enhance performance on key child welfare outcome indicators. In 2003, the State CFSR found that California did not meet the national standards for any of the seven outcome measures. Using a Children's Bureau grant, Contra Costa County Child & Family Services (CFS) implemented the Comprehensive Assessments for Positive Family Outcomes (CAPFO) project to address outcomes identified in the California CFSR.

The CAPFO model built on existing policy and practice strengths in line with the eight key components and the 10-step Comprehensive Family Assessment Guidelines. These strengths included strong family engagement practices, a family assessment practice model, and enhanced strategies to support family-driven case plans. The model also incorporated new practices such as the use of the North Carolina Family Assessment Scale, Motivational Interviewing, Parent Partners, Learning Communities, Coaching Circles, and a strong focus on father engagement.

In 2006, Contra Costa County CFS received over 10,000 referrals for abuse and neglect. Approximately 17 percent of the cases were substantiated. CAPFO aimed to impact the process by which families are assessed, the practice of family intervention, and the outcomes experienced by families served. They planned to accomplish this with a more comprehensive and empowering model of assessment and corresponding case planning and execution. The target population included children and families entering the child welfare system at the point of referral. The children and families were randomly selected and assigned to services and control groups at the point of referral. The CAPFO services continued for as long as the case remained open. Long-range goals for the CAPFO project include reducing recidivism in referrals, reducing substantiations, reducing the number of children in out-of-home care, and reducing the time children spend in out-of-home care.

Innovative features used by CAPFO include:

  • The Parent Partner Program. The Parent Partner program draws upon the strengths of families and engages family and community members in program planning. The program seeks to enlist as staff mothers and fathers who have experienced child removal, services, and reunification. These individuals are trained and supported to provide direct services to parent clients seeking reunification with their children. CAPFO staff indicate that Parent Partners have been an invaluable component to their work in collaborating with clients. 
  • Team Decision-Making. The basic premise of a Family Team Meeting is to promote family involvement and empower families to come together to generate a plan that first promotes safety and then works to engage other members of the family and community.
  • Assessment of Father Involvement and Incarcerated Parents. Trainings continue to support staff in family engagement and the inclusion of fathers. Working with incarcerated parents was also a project focus for engaging those fathers who have not been included in planning, safety, and permanency for their children.
  • Motivational Interviewing. Participating staff received training on the Stages of Change Motivational Interviewing techniques; the CAPFO process; and the implementation of coaching, case teaching sessions, and feedback meetings. Universally, caseworker staff stated that the high-quality training received for Motivational Interviewing resulted in practice change.

Evaluation of the program is ongoing. The CAPFO model has been recognized by staff and families as family-focused and supportive. There was also a focus on improving performance in placing sibling groups together and, in fact, Contra Costa County has seen improvement in CFSR Performance Indicator 4A, Siblings.

As these practice changes have been implemented to reflect the philosophy of viewing the family as a unit rather than individual components, changes in the tracking of families in physical case folders is moving to one folder for a full family rather than child-specific case folders.

For more information on the Comprehensive Assessments for Positive Family Outcomes (CAPFO) project, contact Neely McElroy, Division Manager, at

The full site visit report is available on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website: 

The Comprehensive Assessments for Positive Family Outcomes (CAPFO) project is funded by the Children's Bureau (Award 90-CA-1755).This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from Children's Bureau site visits.