CFRP Report | R.019.1118
Over the past decade, child welfare research has demonstrated the value of involving family members and fictive kin (close family friends) in children’s lives while they are in foster care – not only to provide a place to stay, but to serve as a support system for the child during care and afterwards.1 To increase family engagement in Texas, Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) created the Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) process in 2015 with funding from the 84th Texas Legislature, and continued implementation with funding from the 85th Texas Legislature. CFE rolled out progressively to sites across Texas, and as of the end of Fiscal Year 2018, twenty local CASA programs in Texas are implementing CFE.
CFE was adapted from the Family Finding™ model developed by Kevin Campbell, and provides Child Protective Services (CPS) and CASA with a variety of tools and resources to find and engage with family members and fictive kin (who are referred to as connections). Once connections are located, CASA and CPS host a series of Family Meetings to involve connections in the planning and decision-making on the case, and encourage connections to commit to supporting the child and family while the child is in state care and after the case ends. The primary purpose of CFE is to develop a lifetime network of support for children and families, with a focus on increasing collaboration between CPS and CASA, to improve child wellbeing, placement, and permanency outcomes for children in CPS conservatorship. Figure 1 shows the CFE process:
Texas CASA contracted with Dr. Cynthia Osborne and the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin to evaluate Collaborative Family Engagement. The primary purpose of this report is to provide the 86th Texas Legislature with an understanding of the extent to which CFE is working to facilitate collaboration and family support. In addition, CFRP assessed the extent to which CFE is associated with improved child wellbeing and case outcomes. Preliminary child outcomes findings are included in the current report, but a longer implementation timeframe and larger sample size is necessary before we can conclusively report on child outcomes. Specifically, more of the children and families who are currently being served by CFE need to complete the process so that we can look at their placement and permanency outcomes.
Across the first three years of CFE implementation, CFE teams at 20 sites served approximately 750 children from 380 families with the CFE process and conducted more than 375 Team Meetings and 350 Family Meetings. CFRP evaluated each step of the CFE process to better understand the extent to which CFE is facilitating better casework and increasing family involvement and support:
CASA volunteers and staff and CPS staff commonly report that CFE provides more opportunities for collaboration, and specifically describe that coming together for the Team Meeting at the beginning of the CFE process is important for facilitating collaboration. On CFE cases, CASA volunteers report that they meet and correspond with the CPS caseworker on their case a similar number of times per month compared to CASA volunteers on non-CFE cases, but describe that the quality of communication and collaboration on CFE cases is often better, because the structured framework for collaboration on CFE cases provides more opportunity to divide up and share casework activities. CFE provides a useful framework and structure for collaborating that makes working together across agencies easier and more efficient.
The second step of the CFE process involves searching for and engaging with family and fictive kin connections to cultivate a support network for the child and family. Two important shifts have taken place under CFE relative to standard practice. First, CASA volunteers are more likely to participate in finding and engaging family and fictive kin on CFE cases, and second, CFE teams work to engage connections for the child and family for support, rather than exclusively to identify a placement option.
As CFE teams work to identify connections who could be part of a support network for the child and family on a CFE case, CASA and CPS invite the connections to attend Family Meetings to become involved with case planning and decision-making, and, eventually decide if they can commit to being a part of the lifetime support network. Though parents and grandparents commonly attend CPS planning meetings on both CFE and non-CFE cases, extended family members (such as aunts, uncles, or cousins) and fictive kin (including coaches, teachers, or pastors) are more likely to attend CPS planning meetings on CFE cases than non-CFE cases.
After connections are located and brought into the case process through Family Meetings, the next step of CFE is to determine ways that each connection can provide support to the child, current caregivers, and/or birth parents (if they are involved in the case). Thus far, support provided to children, caregivers, and parents is not higher on CFE cases than non-CFE cases. CFRP also conducted preliminary analyses of child wellbeing, placement, and outcomes of Temporary Managing Conservatorship (TMC), and found that outcomes from CFE and non-CFE cases are similar, however, a longer implementation timeframe that allows more cases to complete the CFE process is needed before CFRP conducts a full outcomes analysis.
Overall, the implementation of CFE is associated with several important shifts in perspective and practice surrounding finding and engaging with family and fictive kin connections and collaboration between CPS and CASA, but more work is needed to move the mark on the level of support that connections provide to children, caregivers, and parents. CFE teams and Texas CASA leadership are working diligently to overcome substantial challenges to family engagement that are inherent in child protection work, and consistently examine and refine CFE strategies to facilitate increased family involvement and family support. CFRP will continue to measure child wellbeing and permanency outcomes to assess the extent to which wellbeing and permanency outcomes improve as family support increases.