As part of its Child and Family Services Review, a Federal-State collaborative effort to ensure that quality services are provided to children and families throughout State child welfare systems, the NYS Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) has identified “family engagement” as a key strategy and has made implementation a priority. This practice initiative is based on the belief that families are the experts in their own family, and best able to identify their own strengths. Caseworkers work with families to identify problems and develop sustainable solutions.
To learn more about family engagement and how OCFS is taking domestic violence into consideration in the implementation of this strategy, see the Questions and Answers (Q&A).
This Q&A was conducted with Renee Hallock, Director, Prevention, Permanency and Program Support, NYS Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS).
Q: What is Family Engagement?
A: All families are complex, and families involved in the child welfare system are experiencing issues that provide them with even more challenges. We believe that engaging families from the beginning of their involvement with the child welfare system is key to achieving positive outcomes. Family engagement is routed in the belief that solutions to family issues are most likely to be found within the family.
There are three elements to family engagement:
- Assess and understand the problem – Caseworkers understand that families are the experts in their own families.
- Develop a plan to address the problem – This is commonly referred to as a safety and/or service plan. With family engagement, families are asked to develop their own plan, called a family-driven plan. Having a plan that comes directly from the family makes sustainable change more likely.
- Look for solutions – We ask the family to look within to identify strategies that can be useful in implementing sustainable solutions. The Agency then provides the family with whatever services it needs and asks for.
Q: Why is it important to implement family engagement practices?A: Family engagement is at the core of helping a family address their children’s need for safety, permanency and well-being. In addition to the casework relationship itself and the impact of that relationship on influencing change, we have identified several key aspects of casework where family engagement is particularly vital. These include:
- Enhancing Family Decision Making Meetings
- Enhancing Locating and Engaging Fathers and Relatives
- Enhancing Coached Family Visits
- Enhancing Concurrent Planning
- Family Assessment Response
Training on the family engagement strategies is provided to child welfare caseworkers who are working with families in the area of child protective, preventive, foster care and adoption services. The training is known as “toolkit” training. The toolkit training, which also includes a skill coaching session, provides the caseworker with the knowledge and tools to work with families.
Q: How is domestic violence addressed in the family engagement trainings?
A: OCFS has been working with a consultant who provides training and technical assistance on the co-occurrence of child maltreatment and domestic violence, including:
- Developing a basic overview of domestic violence including, how domestic violence is different from other forms of violence that occur within intimate relationships, the impact of domestic violence on children, and the components of a domestic violence safety plan. The overview serves as a prerequisite for participating in any of the family engagement toolkits and may be used in other training programs as well.
- Developing draft guidelines for conducting family meetings and coaching family visits in families affected by domestic violence. Developing a draft script of a demonstration of a supervisor coaching a preventive services worker on how to conduct a domestic violence assessment with a family. The demonstration will be incorporated within the family meeting toolkit.
Q: How is domestic violence addressed in the implementation of family engagement?
A: One area of concern with family engagement is working with families that are experiencing domestic violence. Working with both parents is our goal. However, we must do that in a safe manner for all parties. We are not looking to restore relationships between the parents, but rather to maintain and encourage relationships between the child and the parents, when it is safe to do so. We are encouraging families, not mandating them, to participate in a family meeting or a coached visitation session, with the goal of empowering them to resolve the issues that brought them to the child welfare system. When domestic violence is identified, depending on the circumstances, local districts may decide to refrain from proceeding with a family meeting or a coached family visit. Please contact your local district to find out more.
Q: What resources are available?
A: On the OCFS website, under Child and Family Services Review, we have videos describing each of the Family Engagement Toolkits that domestic violence providers can easily access.
Additionally, we are cognizant that there are service providers who could benefit from hearing more about the work OCFS and local districts are doing around family engagement. I would encourage all service providers to reach out to their local department of social services and request to be included in the training that is being provided to the districts.