Emily’s Story: A Year in the Life of a Foster Child

PART 3: Planning

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Maria, Emily’s CASA Volunteer:

I had a good talk with Emily at her new foster home the other day. At first she was pretty quiet, kind of like our first visit. Then I asked her how she felt about her new foster parents and something in her demeanor changed – she got really sad. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me she thought the move was her fault.

Sudden placement changes like this are so hard on kids like Emily – and to make things even worse, clearly no one told her why she had to move in the first place. I quickly reassured her that none of it was her fault, and it was nothing she did wrong. I could tell that made her feel better.

She misses home, naturally. She’s still hesitant to talk about her dad, and I don’t want to push her too much now that she’s starting to really open up to me. Before I left, though, I reassured her that she could talk to me about anything, and that I’d be there for her every step of the way.

I relayed the highlights from my time with Emily a few days later at the Family Group Conference. In addition to her mom, foster mom, and caseworker, her grandma and grandpa on her father’s side were there. I’m really glad they were able to make it. It’s a difficult situation with Emily’s dad, of course, but it’s clear that they care about Emily very much and want to do whatever they can to help get Emily home safe.

The biggest thing that came out of our discussion was Emily’s Biggest Unmet Needs Statement: “Emily needs, deserves and has the right to a stable, safe, unconditionally loving home, with family, forever.” This statement will inform all of our future decision-making for Emily and keep us focused in future meetings. 

Emily’s mom has been pretty open and willing to work with us so far – I’m looking forward to helping grow the support network around her and Emily, and hashing out ways we can all better help them through this process.

Next time I see Emily, I’ll talk to her about attending her status hearing so that she knows what to expect, and whether she’d like to have the opportunity to speak with the judge overseeing her case. I also want to talk to her about seeing her grandparents, and if she’s up for it I’ll check with CPS to schedule a visit.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and it’s only going to get busier, but I believe we’ve all made good progress in a lot of ways.

What’s happening?

Emily’s relationship with her CASA volunteer Maria is starting to grow, and at the same time, the professionals, family members and advocates in her life are kicking into high gear – getting the critical work started that will hopefully result in getting Emily home safely.

After a child is removed from home, the child’s CPS caseworker is tasked with creating a service plan for the family when applicable and a visitation plan, as well as scheduling a meeting for all the professionals and advocates to create a service plan for the child. These plans must be completed and filed with the court within 45 days for review at the 60-day status hearing.

The child’s service plan details what services and supports will be provided while they are in care to ensure their needs are met when it comes to their social, educational, physical and emotional well-being. In addition to input from the child’s caseworker, attorney, CASA volunteer and other advocates, the child’s service plan is informed by the results of three physical and behavioral health assessments they must undergo within 30 days of entering DFPS care – the “3 in 30.” The first is an emergency medical exam to check for illnesses or injuries that must take place within the first three days. The second is called the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) Assessment – an evaluation that gives DFPS a better idea of the trauma the child has experienced, services that may help, and existing strengths of the child that they can build on. The third is a thorough checkup with lab work, called the Texas Health Steps Medical Checkup. Learn more about the 3 in 30 process.

The family’s plan typically details changes they need to make, and what services they need to participate in, to be able to offer a safe environment for the child. When possible, the parents collaborate to complete a service plan together – but because Emily’s mother is a victim of domestic violence, she and the caseworker made the decision to handle their service planning separately.

At this point in the process, the parents are given the option of inviting relatives and fictive kin to participate in and inform their service planning. If they decide they want family members and other people in their lives involved, CPS typically sets up a meeting called a Family Group Conference (FGC).

The Family Group Conference (FGC)

At this meeting, parents, relatives, friends, CASA, attorneys and others involved in the child’s life come together to discuss needs and strengths of the family, and ways they can offer support. In Emily’s case, her mother, her paternal grandparents, her CASA volunteer Maria, her foster mom and her caseworker attended her FGC. Emily’s father was not invited to participate due to safety concerns.

Emily’s FGC looked a little different than the traditional model, because her caseworker and the other CPS workers in her area have been trained to practice Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE). CFE is an innovative partnership between CASA and CPS that is built around the need to meaningfully engage with family and other important adults, with the goal of creating a network of support for the child and family that will last even after CASA and CPS involvement ends. FGCs in areas practicing CFE are designed to ensure a more inclusive environment, and thus a more authentic commitment from those at the meeting, through the use of strategies such as:

  • A semicircle room setup with no tables to encourage sharing,
  • A transparent agenda and note-taking process, and
  • A goal of keeping a 70/30 ratio of families to professionals in the room.

Together, the group developed Emily’s Biggest Unmet Needs Statement, a core element of the CFE process. This statement addresses Emily’s need for permanency, safety, stability and love – and will inform the actions and decisions of all professionals, family members and friends involved in Emily’s case planning moving forward.

More of these meetings will be held throughout the duration of Emily’s case. For now, if you’d like more information on FGCs and other related processes, see the Family Group Decision-making section of the Children’s Commission Parent Resource Guide. For more information on CFE and our efforts to better engage families and other supportive people in the lives of children, visit the Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) page on the Texas CASA website.

If the involved parent(s) feel comfortable doing so, they can also discuss their service plan with the group during the FGC, but typically it is discussed in private with the CPS caseworker after the meeting.

Service & Visitation Plan Development

After the Family Group Conference (FGC), Emily’s mother and the caseworker decided that, in order to ensure a safe environment for Emily, she would be required to comply with and complete certain tasks such as:

  • Undergoing a psychological assessment,
  • Participating in individual therapy, and
  • Maintaining safe, stable housing separate from Emily’s father and giving proof of employment.

It was also decided that the caseworker would recommend to the judge that they continue a supervised visitation schedule between Emily and her mother. It is not, however, currently in Emily’s best interest to have visits with her father due to safety concerns.

In a separate meeting, it was decided that, in order to be considered for further involvement in Emily’s life, Emily’s father would be required to comply with and complete tasks such as:

  • Undergoing a psychological assessment,
  • Submitting to a drug and alcohol assessment and regular screenings, and
  • Participating in individual therapy, as well as anger management and domestic violence classes.

Tune in next month for the next part of Emily’s story, where we will be covering her 60-day status hearing, her service plan and more.*

*This is a fictional story based on real-life situations that many children in the Texas foster care system face. No confidential information about any real children or families has been disclosed.