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October 2019Vol. 20, No. 8Beyond Strategic Planning: Engaging Families in Plan Implementation

Written by the Children's Bureau's Capacity Building Center for States

States have recently submitted their Child and Family Services Plans (CFSPs) to the Children's Bureau for review and approval. These plans are the result of strategic planning that required a broad array of stakeholders, including youth, parents, and extended families. As recipients of services, family stakeholders bring a critical perspective to child welfare strategic planning. They shine a light on what is working well, gaps in services, and inconsistencies in service delivery. They also bring innovative ideas about how to improve services based on their lived experience. So, how can agencies continue to engage family voice while implementing the CFSP? This article offers tips for getting started and keeping the momentum going.

Get Started

Implementing a CFSP is a process. The plan outlines a state's or tribe's vision and goals to strengthen its child welfare system over the next 5 years. Plans include initiatives, activities, programs, and services to promote the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and families. Just as family voice adds value to the development of CFSPs, it also adds value as agencies begin bringing their plans to life. As teams move toward implementation, they should consider several things:

  • Include youth and family voice across implementation planning. Do not cherry pick projects for youth and family participation. Every aspect of child welfare directly or indirectly impacts the children and families served. Engage families at all levels of agency implementation.
  • Set expectations for continued youth and family involvement in CFSP implementation. Reach out to youth and families that participated in developing the CFSP and solicit their interest in joining an implementation team for a potential program, practice, or innovation.
  • Prepare youth and family stakeholders to contribute effectively. Let them know ahead of time what to expect during the implementation process, including their expected time commitment and specifics about how they can contribute, so they can make informed decisions about their participation.
  • Celebrate the milestones. Once the CFSP is approved, reconvene the planning team to celebrate its hard work and begin planning next steps. This is when the real work begins!
  • Make the process open and welcoming. Have the group develop "working agreements" on how the group will function and communicate. During this process, the facilitator should be specific about what it means to create a safe space and everyone's role in creating and maintaining it. Post these working agreements at each meeting and add to them as necessary.
  • Keep families in the communication loop. Make sure families and all stakeholders are kept informed about the status of the CFSP they contributed to creating. If there is no new information, let families know the CFSP is still under review and the expected return date, if known.

Keep the Momentum Going

So, how can agencies keep youth and family stakeholders involved throughout the process?

  • Break it down into smaller steps. Because an implementation process can be long, it can be difficult to see the progress along the way. As a group, identify the interim goals that will indicate the project is on track. What will the project look like in 3 months, 6 months, and 18 months? By checking in along the way, the group can monitor progress, celebrate milestones, and make course corrections, if needed.
  • Communication is vital at all points along the implementation process. If there are multiple initiatives, programs, or services being implemented, communicate across the workgroups. Hearing what other workgroups are doing and how their contributions are making a difference can be rewarding for youth and family stakeholders.
  • Learn from the process. On a regular basis, gather feedback from youth and family stakeholders on the implementation process and their role. Do they feel heard and valued? Are they receiving regular communication from their implementation team? What could improve their engagement? Checking in regularly gives agencies an opportunity to address any issues that may arise, correct those issues, and learn from the process.

When agencies carry family engagement and family voice throughout the implementation process, they are ensuring that their voice is reflected not only in the plan but in the resulting programs and processes. In doing so, an agency is modeling partnership and open communication and is valuing the contributions of the families they serve.

Additional Resources 

From the Capacity Building Center for States

Becoming a Family-Focused System: Strategies for Building a Culture to Partner With Families

Strategies for Authentic Integration of Family and Youth Voice in Child Welfare

Strategic Planning in Child Welfare: Strategies for Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement (PDF - 270 KB)

Change and Implementation in Practice

From Child Welfare Information Gateway

Child and Family Services Plan (CFSP) & Final Report Resources