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September 2023Vol. 24, No. 7Engaging Young People and Families in the CFSR and Agency CQI

By Mary-Kate Myers and Julia Mueller (Consultants at the Center for States) and Center for States Staff

Meaningfully engaging young people and families with lived experience in efforts to improve child welfare systems, such as the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) and other agency continuous quality improvement (CQI), helps agencies better identify challenges that communities face, strategize solutions, and draw attention to potential unintended harm. Such engagement represents a unique opportunity for agencies to begin or build on ongoing, sustainable relationships with these partners. (For more information on the CFSR, please visit the Children’s Bureau’s CFSR Information Portal and the Capacity Building Center for States CFSR topic page and review the Center’s Child and Family Services Review Technical Bulletin #12.)

Despite the benefits of engaging people with lived experience in all aspects of the CFSR and agency CQI, child welfare agencies often face challenges doing so sustainably, including not knowing how to identify or reach out to new partners, preparing agency staff as well as families and young people for engagement, and sharing data and information in a relatable, digestible way.

Best Practices for Sustaining Engagement of Young People and Families in the CFSR and Other CQI efforts

The following best practices identified by people with lived experience and examples from child welfare agencies can help you build new relationships and support ongoing engagement with young people and families with lived experience:

  • Engage with partners early and often. Before beginning CFSR tasks as a team, consider who else can be at the table to better reflect the communities served. Also take this time to identify ways to compensate partners appropriately for their time.
  • Prioritize and support ongoing racial equity conversations at every agency level. By doing so, everyone understands the benefits of team representation of people from the racial, ethnic, and intersectional groups in the communities the agency serves.
  • Welcome new partners, diverse perspectives, and honest feedback. While this may mean that the agency sometimes hears negative feedback or opposing views, these are essential to child welfare system improvement efforts. For the same reason, try to not rely on one or two recurring partners with lived experience for most of your feedback—seek out new partners with lived experience and multiple perspectives from all the communities an agency serves.
  • Facilitate goal alignment and transparency within the group, especially regarding the purpose of engagement, expectations, timeframes, and activities. This can include creating team norms, collaboratively identifying team responsibilities and tasks, or setting up time to share expectations, ask questions, and offer considerations.
  • Enable team member participation by offering support. If you are able, offer smaller, local meetings as well as hybrid options for team meetings. Consider whether partners with lived experience have barriers to participation—such as speaking English as a second language; lacking access to transportation, technology, or childcare; or other barriers—and then work together to identify strategies to overcome these barriers. For example, agencies can offer a translator and documents in multiple languages, provide a ride share or transportation voucher, provide internet access and laptop, and allow individuals to bring older children to meetings.
  • Set preparation and group debriefing times as needed and appropriate to encourage authentic engagement. Provide partners with easy-to-understand background information (e.g., CFSR overview video or factsheets for youth or parents and caregivers) to increase their understanding and offer opportunities for discussion with all team members.
  • Create data visualizations and share information in plain language. By showing the data in different ways and using common language, the team can appeal to more participants, increasing engagement and sustainability.
  • Identify an agency and team champion or champions to prioritize ongoing engagement with people with lived experience.

Engagement Strategies From Jurisdictions

Several states and jurisdictions currently participating in CFSR Round 4 have implemented some of the above strategies to successfully engage with young people and families. Some examples include:

  • Hosting focus groups to collect qualitative data to support ratings for the Statewide Assessment and to prepare for Program Improvement Plan development—these were available to various partner groups, both internally and externally, at various times of the day and different days of the week to better meet availability and increase participation
  • Integrating partners and creating roles within workgroups to be responsible for different portions of the Statewide Assessment, composed of various internal and external partners, including those with lived experience and those from legal and judicial communities
  • Using accessible methods to collect quantitative and qualitative data to increase participation and response—some states have turned inquiry forms and surveys into QR codes, printed them on fliers, and shared the fliers in public locales such as the laundromat, public transportation terminals, food pantries, local universities or trade schools, agency offices, community boards, and virtually

Additional Resources

Initiating and sustaining meaningful engagement of people with lived experience in the CFSR, agency CQI, and other agency processes is key to advancing system change in child welfare. The new Center for States resource, Preparation Checklist for Engagement of Young People and Families in the CFSR, is a fillable tool that can help you identify and put in place needed infrastructure and supports that set the stage for meaningful and ongoing engagement practices. For more information, explore the following resources: