By Janee Thames, CFCC Student Fellow (2015-2016)
This semester I had the opportunity to plan and facilitate the Parent Workshops on Financial Literacy at Reginald F. Lewis High School of Business and Law, which participates in CFCC’s Truancy Court Program (TCP). The workshops are supported by a grant from the State Farm Insurance Good Neighbor Citizenship program.
As a social work professional, I have always believed that parental engagement is the cornerstone in the development of a healthy, well-rounded child. Positive parental involvement is also the gold standard for child welfare services. I decided to work on the parent workshops because of my passion for child welfare and my desire to bridge the gap between parents and their children. Disappointingly, but not unexpectedly, there was poor attendance by parents despite our best efforts to engage families. This parent absenteeism made me think about possible strategies to increase birth parents’ engagement within the child welfare system. Birth parents’ involvement in the child welfare process has been shown to reduce the recurrence of maltreatment, as well as contribute to the reunification of families and improve emotional adjustment in children. This blog post will review the benefits of family engagement and strategies for engaging birth parents.
Benefits of Family Engagement
Family engagement is a family-centered, strengths-based approach that is used by caseworkers to partner with families when making decisions, setting goals, and achieving desired outcomes. Increasingly, evidence suggests that family engagement has many benefits. First, a family’s belief that all of its members are respected strengthens their relationship with their caseworker. This positive relationship, in turn, can improve the chances for successful intervention. Second, when families play a vital role in the decision-making process, they are more likely to be invested in the plans and more likely to commit to achieving desired objectives. The 2007-2008 Child and Family Services Reviews found that child and family involvement in case planning correlated with (1) active engagement of non-custodial and incarcerated parents, (2) family-centered and strengths-based approaches effective in building working relationships, and (3) strong rapport between workers and parents (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009). Third, the partnership between the family and the caseworker, which is an outcome of family engagement strategies, strengthens the assessment process and leads to more appropriate service provisions. Lastly, research suggests that parental involvement is linked to quicker reunification and other forms of permanency (Tam & HO, 1996). Regretfully, many child welfare agencies struggle with the challenges involved in engaging families.
Strategies to engage birth parents
After graduating from college, I worked as a foster care social worker. During this time, I assisted young adults (17-21 years old) in the Baltimore City child welfare system to maximize their family well-being and academic functioning. The foster care program in Maryland promotes a family-to-family theme that encourages foster parents to play an active role in planning and carrying out the goals of the permanency plan. Nonetheless, the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (BCDSS) still struggles to establish adequate engagement from birth parents. I believe that BCDSS can promote effective and viable engagement strategies by implementing key elements at the systems and casework practice levels. First, we need established policies and standards that define expectations, identify requirements, and reinforce family engagement in case practice. Second, supervisors should explain agency policies, offer coaching to case workers, and provide ongoing support and feedback. Third, and something I believe strongly in, caseworkers must have manageable caseloads so that they can build better rapport, engage families, and maintain frequent and significant contact with children and families. BCDSS should also implement program enhancement plans with comprehensive strategies to achieve family and youth involvement. All workers should understand the value of working with families and should be trained in family engagement strategies, particularly in cases that involve abuse and addiction. Finally, and most important, caseworkers must employ a strengths-based approach that recognizes and reinforces families’ capabilities and that does not just focus on their needs and problems.
I have learned that families are the most important factors that impact a child’s well-being. Social service agencies must implement strategies to strengthen these ties. Reducing the barriers to successful engagement of birth parents with the child welfare system has broad implications for expediting permanency and reducing incidences of maltreatment.
Tam, T.S. & Ho, M.K.W. (1996). Factors influencing the prospect of children returning to their parents form out-of-home care. Child Welfare, 75(3), 253-268
U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. (2004). Finding from the initial Child and Family Services Review, 2001-2004.