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  • Enhancing North Carolina Child Welfare: Assessing Child and Family Team Meetings

    By

    Chanitta S. Deloatch

    A paper submitted to the faculty of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Master of Public

    Administration

    Spring 2010

    Executive Summary North Carolina local Departments of Social Services seek to ensure safe and stable families for children by protecting them from abuse and neglect while attempting to maintain the family unit. This research focuses on the role that Child and Family Team (CFT) meetings play in preserving the family unit when children come into the child welfare system. CFT meetings are structured, facilitated meetings in which families, with the support of professionals and community leaders, develop a plan that ensures child safety and addresses the needs of the family. This exploratory study examines whether there are features of CFT meetings that help explain dissimilar foster care rates among comparable counties. An in-depth analysis of CFT meetings in two rural North Carolina counties captures interview data regarding CFT meeting implementation, fidelity, and personal worker evaluation. This paper presents qualitative findings, areas for future research, and county-level comparison data.

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    Introduction and Background

    The overarching goal of child welfare systems in the United States is to provide protection for victims of child maltreatment. Child maltreatment is a blanket term that encompasses all forms of abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional), dependency, and neglect. In North Carolina, 122,672 children were reported to be maltreated in state fiscal year 2008-2009 (PCANC, 2009).

    In July 2001, the North Carolina General Assembly mandated that the North Carolina Division of Social Services (NCDSS) develop and pilot a child welfare response system that would enable local Departments of Social Services to select a response that corresponds to the nature of a report and the level of risk to a child. Accordingly, in 2002, the NCDSS piloted the Multiple Response System (MRS) in 10 counties. A Multiple Response System is a differential response system that uses an individual family assessment approach and an investigative approach to reports of child maltreatment. Prior to this mandate, the child welfare system in North Carolina, operated through local Departments of Social Services (DSS), sought to provide for the safety of maltreated children through a single response system (Fostering Perspectives, 2003).

    This study examines one component of the change from a single response

    system to the Multiple Response System: child and family team (CFT) meetings. CFT meetings are structured, facilitated meetings in which families, with the support of professionals and community leaders, develop a plan that ensures child safety and addresses the needs of the family (Cooke and McMahon, 2003). The primary goals of MRS and CFT meetings are to ensure child safety without removing a child from the home (when possible) and to reduce the duration of time that a child spends in foster care. Purpose of this Study

    Despite the goals of MRS and CFT meetings, it is apparent that some North Carolina counties have made greater progress in decreasing the number of children in foster care while others have not. This study addresses the following question: Given dissimilar foster care placement rates among comparable North Carolina counties, are there features of child and family team meetings that contribute to the number of children placed in the custody of local Departments of Social Services?

    Methodology

    To examine this research question three data sources were utilized: literature review, county-level data, and structured interviews.

    Literature Review Literature sources included journal articles, newsletters, books, websites,

    and the NCDSS policy manual. A thorough review of the literature provided data on the purpose, history, and challenges surrounding CFT meetings. The structural

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    overview of CFT meetings and tips for implementing successful CFT meetings in local Departments of Social Services were also explored. Additionally, a better understanding of the six family-centered principles of MRS and CFT meetings was acquired. The literature review provided direction for the development of a 19-item structured interview tool aimed at highlighting CFT meeting differences among comparable counties. For example, item 7 on the interview tool gauges CFT meeting fidelity, item 9 analyzes adherence to the family-centered principles, and item 18 identifies barriers and challenges with CFT meetings (See Appendix A).

    County-Level Data Secondly, data available through the University of North Carolina at Chapel

    Hill Jordan Institute for Families was utilized to analyze county trends (increases and reductions) in the number of children in foster care placement. From this analysis, two counties, Hertford County and Martin County, were selected as the research sample. These two counties were considered to be comparable based upon location, child population, etc., but there was significant difference in the number of children in foster care per 1,000 (See Table Below).

    Table 1. Comparison of Sample Counties

    Hertford County Martin County Location Eastern NC Eastern NC

    County Type Rural Rural Geographic Size 360 square miles 461 square miles Households with

    Children Under Age 18

    30% 31.6%

    % of Population Under 18 (2008)

    21.6% 22.9%

    % Of Population Living Below Poverty

    18.3% 20.2%

    Child Population (2007)

    5, 631 5,858

    Children in Foster Care per 1,000

    (2007)

    6.86 12.5

    Structured Interview Data The last phase of this study involved structured interviews with individuals

    experienced with CFT meetings in these two counties. These individuals included Child Welfare Supervisors, Foster Care Social Workers, Social Work Assessors/Investigators and professionals not employed by local Departments of Social Services (i.e. Guardian Ad-Litem Area Administrators). Interview data in relation to job title were equivalent across counties with the exception of CFT Facilitator. Only one CFT Facilitator was interviewed because there are variations of facilitation structure across counties. In Hertford County facilitation is shared by many employees and in Martin County facilitation is designated to one employee, a CFT Facilitator. Eight interviews were conducted in-person and one interview was

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    conducted via telephone. Data collected included: type of CFT meeting model used, challenges to implementation, amount of pre-planning prior to meetings, degree of participation, frequency, perceived effectiveness, etc. (See Appendix B).

    Limitations of the Study

    Due to methodological limitations, the results of this study should be interpreted with caution. The most important limitation of this study is that the findings and lessons cannot be generalized with confidence to other counties or the state due to small sample size. Secondly, the study is exploratory in nature. A final limitation is potential interviewer influence and interviewee understanding of the questions.

    Findings Based upon interview data in Appendix B, findings do not indicate directly that there are features of CFT meetings that contribute to the number of children in foster care among comparable counties. In 2007, Martin County had twice the number of children in foster care per 1000 than that of Hertford County, yet findings do not reveal sufficient variation among CFT meetings to explain this disparity. Although there are no direct relationships between factors of CFT meetings and the number of children in foster care among comparable counties, there are other conclusions that can be drawn from this research.

    Findings suggest that a countys ability to keep children out of foster care is increased by the more experience a county has with the CFT meeting process. Martin County and Hertford County, both, officially implemented CFT meetings around 2006-2007. However, the Hertford County Child Welfare Supervisor reported that the process of CFT meetings was not new to their agency because they were already doing such and a Hertford County Social Work Investigator reported that CFT meetings were implemented immediately. On the other hand, Martin County staff report that it took approximately 3-6 months to implement CFT meetings and that CFT meetings are still not conducted the way they should.

    Secondly, findings suggest that there is a great degree of ambiguity regarding the purpose of CFT meetings. Upon analyzing the data, it is apparent that the purpose of a CFT meeting varies among local Departments of Social Services as well as within local Departments of Social Services. This ambiguity is worthy of attention as it can impact how workers engage families. If workers are unclear on the purpose of CFT meetings and if the purpose of CFT meetings is not consistent within a local Department of Social Services, it is highly likely that families will be confused and disconnected, thus affecting the number of children in foster care. Local Departments of Social Services should ensure that all child welfare workers possess a clear understanding of the purpose of CFT meetings; failure to do so may place children at an increased risk for foster care involvement.

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    Additionally, CFT meeting models used in North Carolina include Team-Decision Making, Family Group Conferencing, System of Care, and Community Assessment Team (Cooke and McMahon, 2003). Literature reveals that certain CFT