Collaborative Family Engagement Continues to Expand in Influence & Impact

Back in 2015, Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) started as a humble pilot program in three areas of Texas. Today, it’s being practiced all across the state and transforming the way our child welfare system works for children and families for the better—and it keeps growing.

In Fiscal Year 2022, CFE will be expanding into nine more CASA programs across Texas. This means the family finding and engagement practice will be in a total of 60 local CASA programs and the local Child Protective Services (CPS) or Community-Based Care (CBC) for that region. This also marks CFE’s first-time expansion into CPS Region 4, meaning it will now be in all 11 CPS regions across the state!

CFE is built around the fact that kids connected to their family of origin tend to have better lifelong outcomes. It acknowledges that loneliness can be devastating, both for children and their families. The goal of CFE is to ensure every child in the system is connected with their family of origin and other important people in their life, both during and after their time in foster care, giving them a better chance at a brighter future.

“What we really hope for is that every child will be touched by CFE in some way, shape or form,” said Melissa Caddell, one of five Texas CASA CFE Coaches overseeing its implementation. “And basically, that outcomes for foster care will be better—that permanency will be achieved faster; that children are connected to their families of origin, whether they can live with them or not; that there’s always a support system.”

Before 2015, Texas CASA was involved in a federal grant program called Diligent Recruitment that laid the groundwork for CFE, using Kevin Campbell’s Family Finding model to locate relatives and placements for youth aging out of the foster care system. This helped Texas CASA and the CASA network recognize they had an important role in finding and engaging family. They also came to the realization that this type of work needed to happen for all kids in foster care, not just those aging out of the system.

CFE’s work is centered around what we call “The 4Cs of CFE”: Collaborate, Cultivate, Convene and Connect.

  • Collaborate refers to the team-based approach across stakeholders to involve families;
  • Cultivate involves the use of creative tools to find and engage family and other important relationship connections;
  • Convene is when families and their support network engage in family meetings; and,
  • Connect is all about maintaining those connections and building a lifetime network of support and care around the child and their family.

What makes CFE unique as a family finding and engagement approach is that it emphasizes a united effort between CASA, CPS, CBC providers and other child welfare professionals.

“We’re supposed to be more of a team. I think we’ve gone through phases within our agency and within the state in which we’ve been like separate entities, not talking as well to each other,” said Veronica Martinez, Family Group Decision Making facilitator for DFPS in Dallas County. “And I feel that’s what our state, our courts want us to do: talk more to each other; because this is what’s going to end up getting you better outcomes.”

Every year, Texas CASA’s CFE team—consisting of CFE Director Candice Dosman and five regional CFE Coaches—brings on nine to 10 new CASA and CPS sites, which are picked during the summer and onboarded in the fall. Every area is at different stages of implementation, with joint training and ongoing coaching from the team. At the beginning of this implementation in her area, Martinez admits there was some hesitancy among DFPS staff—wondering if the addition of this new program would present more barriers and slow down their work. However, after Martinez started going through the CFE introduction and trainings, she began to see the value this work brought to better serve families and children.

“At the end of the day, we all [CASA and DFPS] have the same values and goals, we want our children to have a family setting, someone who’s going to protect them, care for them and be able to provide them the most normal type of environment that they can have – that’s what a child deserves,” Martinez said.

CFE can have a huge impact on a child’s life and their navigation through the foster care. In fact, DFPS has been able to locate and reconnect with families in ways that they couldn’t before, Martinez said. In some instances where, for example, parents’ rights were initially terminated, CFE has allowed DFPS the opportunity to revisit family members and reassess the case. Many times they find that the situation has changed for the parents and they are now able to provide their kids with a safe, stable family environment—especially with the support of their lifetime network gained through CFE.

“My hope is that they continue through the court system to assign CASA advocates to most of our cases, because then we can continue to incorporate these type of tools like CFE so we can better work together and, at the end of the day, continue to provide a better service for our youth,” Martinez said. “Let’s get involved at the beginning where maybe we can start exploring different things, have a different mindset and maybe different creative ideas coming together.”

CFE is set to go fully statewide by 2023. Learn more on our website.