Celebrating 20 Years!
NFPN has a new logo, updated website, and new brochure! Our new logo places the emphasis on family. The website incorporates the logo and we'll be making additional improvements to the site throughout the year. Check out our new look and download the new brochure.
The National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) is one of the few organizations nationwide that is focused on families as a whole rather than children, mothers and children, fathers, and so on. For the past 20 years, NFPN has been at the forefront of advocating and providing resources for preserving families. In this month's News Notes, we address the critical issue of engaging families.
Family engagement is defined in a Child Welfare Information Gateway publication as a family-centered and strengths-based approach to partnering with families in making decisions, setting goals, and achieving desired outcomes.
Here are some additional definitions for "engage" from the dictionary: attract, draw into, mesh together, be active, bind oneself to.
Those definitions sound warm and inviting in rather stark contrast to our disengaged culture where many substitute instant "messaging" for face-to-face contact. And, for various reasons, the families that we wish to preserve often feel disengaged as reflected in the high numbers who don't wish to continue after the first visit or who drop out later on.
So, how can we passionately engage families?
And how can we engage them quickly and effectively? Several NFPN board members contributed some excellent recommendations based on how their agencies engage families:
Meet a Need
Arrive at the first visit with an emergency kit consisting of food, diapers, bus passes, gas cards, and be sure to include treats for kids. This draws the family to you and opens the door to communication.
To listen means "make a conscious effort to hear." This is a bold recommendation: spend 30-60 minutes just listening to the family--don't talk! Tell the family in advance you want to hear their story. Put away the cell phone, paperwork, etc. See if this makes a difference in engaging the family.
Good assessments are tied to good case plans/appropriate services which are tied to good outcomes. Use reliable and valid assessment instruments, link the assessment to the case plan, monitor progress, and determine the need for step-down services before closing case.
This is an evidence-based technique with best practice guidelines available online for families involved in substance abuse. You may wish to start with Chapter 3 of the Treatment Improvement Protocol for Motivational Interviewing at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64967/
Family Group Decision-Making
While there are a variety of names for family meetings, the most effective ones focus on the family by encouraging participation of extended family members, providing ample time for families to discuss their problems and options, and empowering families to make their own decisions.
Some agencies have a specialist who brainstorms with front-line workers on ideas and incentives for engaging reluctant families.
Frequent visits by workers are linked with better relationships with families and that leads to better outcomes. It's especially critical to visit frequently early on in developing the relationship with the family and to be available 24/7 if a crisis arises.
Don't ignore the most overlooked family member, the father. Fathers contribute to the healthy development of children and are a vital resource for families.
Tips for Administrators
If you are a government agency that contracts for services for families, consider linking family engagement to payments. The first payment could be made when the family signs the case plan, second payment when families complete services, and third payment for achievement of outcomes, e.g., family remains intact. Agencies that provide contracted services need to track workers' engagement rate with families and include this measurement in annual performance reviews.
How well did you do in engaging the family? Ask the family! Always provide the family with a survey to provide feedback. NFPN is developing exit instruments to be completed by both the worker and the parents. They will be field-tested as part of our reunification study this year and will then be made widely available.