How to Engage Parents, Caregivers, and Practitioners in Reunification
The child welfare system often struggles to encourage collaboration across organizations and within families. When birth families, foster caregivers, and the practitioners working on these cases engage with each other, they can promote reunification in the child welfare system.
The Texas Permanency Outcomes Project (TXPOP) trains child welfare practitioners to elevate the voices of all parties involved in cases to ensure children stay with families and out of the system. TXPOP promotes engagement through a family-centered practice model and the Child Welfare Academy, which provides professional certificates in social work through the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. Each facet of the project aims to address the root causes of inequity and disengagement in the child welfare system.
As the TXPOP team continues to develop and implement the practice model, they’re seeking input from everyone involved in child welfare cases. The TXPOP executive advisory committee includes representatives like caseworkers, judges, foster caregivers, and youth formerly in foster care, who meet regularly to provide feedback on TXPOP resources.
In her role as executive director of the Texas Children’s Commission, executive advisory committee member Jamie Bernstein focuses on the legal and judicial aspects of child welfare cases.
“I support TXPOP because as the former [Children’s Bureau] commissioner Jerry Millner once said, the system isn’t broken, it’s exactly the system we created,” Jamie said in a recent interview. “If we want different outcomes we have to change the system, and I think TXPOP is part of that solution.”
In a typical child welfare case, families may have minimal contact with their children and little opportunity to provide input in case planning and decision making. The TXPOP model makes sure the voices of both children and families are heard at every step of the case. At the child-placing agencies where the practice model is currently being implemented, TXPOP strategies have already resulted in centering parents in decisions affecting their children.
“Parents having a voice in the process is very integral to supporting reunification and positive permanency outcomes for children and families,” Jamie said.
Bringing Caregivers and Families Together
Staff at Giocosa, a child-placing agency in Round Rock, TX, have welcomed the TXPOP practice model’s emphasis on keeping children with their families. Michael Greenwood, chief operating officer at Giocosa, noted that the child welfare system used to encourage foster families to avoid interacting with birth families. In contrast, TXPOP strategies like Network Meetings bring foster caregivers and birth families together to work through differences and find solutions that work for everyone involved.
“I think that there’s a move in this society toward a quicker reintegration of kids who have been placed into the foster care system back into the homes,” Michael said. “With the Family First Act that’s probably going to be coming down, it’s going to be important for foster families when they do get kids to have positive interactions with the biological family again, as opposed to setting up […] that adversarial kind of a role. It’s going to be a paradigm shift for most people with respect to that.”
At Monarch Family Services, a child-placing agency in Houston, TX, the TXPOP practice model fits well with the agency’s specialization in working with kinship families. Staff at Monarch provide kinship caregivers with support to ensure children stay with relatives.
Brenda Keller, a TXPOP program manager at the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services, helps staff members strengthen this work by implementing the TXPOP practice model. “This is a really exciting space to be in, empowering and helping kinship families get the support they need to be able to keep the children in their own families,” Brenda said.
Encouraging Cross-System Collaboration
The practice model goes beyond working with caregivers and families to involve people working at every level of the child welfare system. Traditionally, child welfare professionals and Child Protective Services (CPS) staff rarely work together—a gap that often keeps kids in the system longer. TXPOP breaks down communication barriers between agencies to ensure the information-sharing and collaboration necessary to achieve reunification in the child welfare system.
“[TXPOP has] assisted us with reaching permanency quicker on some of the cases,” said Nelkasia Graves, a site coordinator at Monarch. “We’ve been able to collaborate with CPS where we’re working together to have a successful outcome quicker for the families.”
TXPOP’s innovative focus on cross-collaboration helps children return home faster. By creating a network of families, caregivers, and professionals working together, the practice model ensures children stay safe even after a case is closed.
“What’s different with now the way I work with children and families is looking at the bigger picture,” Nelkasia said. “Not just looking at everything that’s regulated, everything that’s court-ordered, but really looking at what works best for the family and not the agency or the Department [of Family and Protective Services]. Definitely looking at the bigger picture, which are the families and the kids that we work with […] and ensuring that they are set up to be successful after all the professionals are out of the picture.”
As our team continues to implement the practice model across Texas, we’re looking forward to creating a blueprint for reunification in the child welfare system throughout the state. Practitioners across the state can get involved with our work by taking advantage of the Child Welfare Academy and learning more about piloting our practice model.