Evaluation of the Collaborative Family Engagement Pilot Project: Year One Report

CFRP Report | R.012.1016

December 2016  

PDF version


Child welfare agencies frequently engage extended family in child protection cases as a means for identifying foster or adoptive parents for children who have been removed from their parents’ custody. However, research over the last decade has increasingly shown that a more comprehensive family engagement approach, one that looks beyond engaging family exclusively to identify placement options, can be valuable for supporting children and parents.1 In addition to potentially serving as legal guardians for children who are removed, a network of extended family and fictive kin can provide children with familiarity and consistency, potentially lessening the impact of stress and instability experienced by a child who has been removed from their parents’ custody. Family members can also be a resource for parents who are working toward reunification with their children by supporting parents in meeting the goals of their service plans.2

Family engagement in child welfare is a family-centered and strengths-based approach that focuses on building up the natural supports for families involved in the child welfare system. Family engagement models recognize that extended family members and fictive kin are an asset, often untapped, for child welfare agencies who can be used to support timely resolution of child protection cases and safe permanence for children.3

Recognizing the important role that engaged family can play in supporting children who are in the child welfare system, the 84th Texas Legislature approved funding for the Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) pilot project to test promising practices for a more comprehensive approach to engaging family in child protection cases in Texas. Through the CFE pilot project, Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and the Texas Child Protective Services program (CPS) within the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) are working collaboratively to implement an adaptation of the Family Finding Model, a structured approach for extensively searching for and engaging caring and supportive adults to support children who are in foster care.

CFE has two primary objectives: 1) To increase the number of adults serving as a support system for parents and children involved in CPS cases by searching for and engaging family and fictive kin; and 2) To strengthen collaboration between CASA programs and local CPS staff to facilitate better case management and planning for children in substitute care. Under the CFE model, CPS and CASA begin working collaboratively when a child is removed to Temporary Managing Conservatorship (TMC), using search and engagement tools from the Family Finding Model to identify and involve a support network as the family works toward the best permanent placement for the child. With the current funding, Texas CASA and CPS are implementing CFE in nine pilot sites across the state: three sites (Nueces, Fort Bend, and Montgomery Counties) began implementation in January 2016 (Year One sites) and five additional sites (Chambers/Liberty, Hidalgo, Hood/Somervell, Johnson, Parker/Palo Pinto Counties) will begin serving families using the CFE model in January 2017 (Year Two sites). At each site, select CPS conservatorship units are working with the local Texas CASA program to serve a subset of families with children in substitute care using the CFE model.

Texas CASA contracted with Dr. Cynthia Osborne and the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) to conduct a two-year implementation study of the CFE project. The primary purpose of this report is to describe the evaluation findings from the first year of CFE implementation related to two broad research aims:

  1. Assess the ways in which the CFE model enhances standard practice for engaging family and fictive kin to support children and parents; and
  2. Examine the extent to which the new CFE model facilitates effective collaboration between CASA and CPS.

CFRP’s evaluation aims to inform future CFE implementation by providing the Texas Legislature, CPS, and Texas CASA with a better understanding of the components of the CFE model that are most useful for engaging families, how Family Finding meetings and tools can be integrated with the Texas CPS hearings and meetings timeline, and if and how CFE improves collaboration between CASA and CPS.

Findings from the first year of the evaluation focus on the implementation of CFE, including findings related to staff and advocate perceptions of the potential for CFE to enhance standard practice, alignment of the CFE elements with the CPS legal process and timeline, as well as variation in the ways the CFE elements have been used thus far to enhance practice for engaging families in child welfare cases. Overall, both CPS staff and CASA volunteers report that the CFE approach offers innovative tools and strategies for engaging families and provides a framework for strengthening collaboration between the two entities. Local staff who used CFE during Year One describe experiencing a shift in philosophy toward a more comprehensive approach to engaging extended family and fictive kin in conservatorship cases and a new understanding of the ways that these connections can support case planning and management beyond simply serving as placement options for children. Importantly, both CPS staff and CASA advocates also report that CFE provides tools and resources that enhance the way they serve families, particularly through enabling CASA advocates to play a more significant role in the case process.

These findings indicate support both for CFE as an approach for increasing involvement of family and fictive kin and increasing collaboration between CASA and CPS. We discuss the specific model elements CASA and CPS identified as contributing to the increase in family engagement and collaboration, along with lessons learned and ongoing implementation challenges the two entities will need to continue to address during Year Two. The specific findings from the first year childandfamilyresearch.org Collaborative Family Engagement Year One Report September 14, 2016 7 of implementation are outlined in more detail below and discussed in the findings section of this report.

  • Collaborative Family Engagement provides a framework and tools to enhance standard family engagement practices and strengthen collaboration between CASA and CPS.
  • During Year One, CASA and CPS focused on building implementation capacity and aligning the Collaborative Family Engagement approach with CPS processes and timelines.
  • CPS and CASA identified many components of Collaborative Family Engagement that can be implemented widely to enhance family engagement and collaboration.
  • CPS and CASA staff report that using the CFE approach increases meaningful family engagement, enhancing case management and planning.
  • CPS and CASA staff identified ways that CFE improved local collaboration during Year One.

In Year Two, CPS and CASA will build upon the implementation lessons described in this report and continue to improve upon this promising approach for increasing family engagement and strengthening collaboration. In addition, CPS and CASA will expand implementation of CFE to five additional sites, training additional staff and serving more families using the approach. As a result, the evaluators will be able to provide more information on outcomes related to family engagement and CPS-CASA practice in Year Two. Specifically, Year Two will allow for a more quantitative analysis of CFE given the increased number of sites and the fact that more Year One cases will reach permanency during Year Two.

Click here to read the full report.

1 Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2010). Family Engagement. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. 
2 Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2012). Engaging families in case planning. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. 
3 Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2010). Family Engagement. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.​

PDF Version

Evaluation of the Collaborative Family Engagement Pilot Project: Year One Report (PDF)