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Collaborative Family Engagement Benefits Children

April 9, 2020


It’s easy to get lost in the acronyms. But what does the new Collaborative Family Engagement (CFE) program mean for kids in foster care?

“CFE is about building a village around a child and including anyone in that village who can be a support to the child,” said Kim Higgins, who leads the CFE program for Dallas CASA. “Our goal is to get kids out of foster care and into a permanent home.”

The program is a cooperative effort between CASA, CPS (Child Protective Services), attorneys and others in the case, and Higgins works especially closely with the CPS Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) staff. The program has already seen unique successes for kids who have been in foster care for years.

“Just because grandma is too old to care for the child doesn’t mean she can’t still be grandma,” Higgins said. “We’re casting the net as wide as we can for the child’s benefit and re-engaging families.”

The process is straightforward. CASA cases can be referred to the CFE program by anyone – CPS, CASA, attorneys or others in the case – simply by emailing Higgins. Judges may also court order CFE efforts. Once the case is accepted, Higgins goes to work. She has some special searching tools she can use to locate distant relatives. She sets up an initial meeting with CPS, CASA and attorneys involved on the case. She guides advocates through special engagement tools with the child to find out who is important to the child, and she asks the advocate to create a timeline of the child’s life, homes and schools.

Family meetings come next. At these meetings, the team doesn’t address what happened in the past. They start with the present and looks ahead asking everyone involved “What can you offer this child?”

“We want to unstick cases that have gotten stuck,” Higgins said. “It’s nobody’s fault when cases get stuck. A home study was denied. Family doesn’t pan out. Everybody assumed he would be adopted. But now what? I always say CFE is not due to a lack of trying. It’s simply a new approach.”

Recently, Higgins has been assisting on a case involving a 12-year-old boy who has been in care for eight years. His two brothers were adopted, but due to some challenges he remained in foster care.

“Parental rights had been terminated, but we all agreed it was time to go back and look at the family,” Higgins said. “The boy’s grandfather came to our CFE family meeting and said losing the boys had been his absolute rock bottom. He now has a good job, stable home and even leads weekly Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings these days.”

CPS has now ordered a fresh home study on the grandfather.

Higgins came to Dallas CASA after a nearly 20-year career at Child Protective Services. She knows the ins and outs of CPS cases and policy limitations as well as all parties involved. She doesn’t want anyone to see CFE as another form to fill out or task to complete. In fact, one of her first steps was to ensure cases could be referred to her simply with an email – no more forms required.

“I emphasize that I am not the decision-maker. I am there only to keep things moving forward,” she said. “In follow-up meetings with CPS supervisors and program directors, there has been nothing but good things to say. The program has been well-received because we are seeing positive outcomes. At the end of the day, that’s what we all want – positive outcomes for children.”

So what are some signs your CASA case might be a candidate for CFE? Cases without any family or fictive kin leads and cases where the child has been in foster care a long time are prime candidates for CFE, though almost any CASA case could be appropriate.

If you have a child who would be a good candidate for CFE or have additional questions, please contact your supervisor.

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