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A Real-World Application


The Family to Family Initiative, also known
as Family Centered Neighborhood-Based (FCNB) practice, developed by the Annie
E. Casey Foundation, integrates many of the concepts and processes previously
discussed and showcases an important variation of the stakeholder mapping
process. The FCNB strategy is, in part, a response to growing numbers of
children going into out-of-home care without concomitant increases in the
numbers of traditional foster homes. In addition to serious overcrowding within
available foster homes, more and more children are inappropriately placed in
institutional and other very expensive congregate facilities. From this
perspective, the initiative was prompted by an operating capacity deficit:
insufficient foster homes. Following from the initial value of working with
children and families in their neighborhoods and building neighborhood capacity
to care for and about each other, however, nearly a decade of experience has
subsequently lead to far deeper insights into the needs of children and
families and into the structure and dynamics of neighborhoods.


Family Centered Neighborhood-Based practice
has evolved into a complex, highly effective approach to working with children
and their families within the indigenous context of their neighborhoods. It is
based on the principle that the first and greatest investment in time and
resources should be made in the care and treatment of children in their homes,
and when that is not possible, in their neighborhoods. Thus, the focus of
opportunity and support for most children and families, the primary
responsibility for assuring their safety and vitality should remain within
their neighborhoods. In support of this outcome, the underpinning values of the
FCNB approach are:


·      
Children
have a right to grow up in a family.


·      
Children
have a right to be nurtured and protected in a stable family environment.


·      
When
children are at risk of harm, the community (government) has the responsibility
to intervene.


·      
Families
are the community’s most important resource (for children) and therefore must
be respected, valued, and encouraged to build upon their existing strengths.


·      
The
community must support families in raising and caring for their children.


·      
The
racial, cultural, and ethnic heritage of families and the neighborhoods where
they live must be supported and seen as assets.


·      
The best
place for children is:


·      
In their
own home, when possible and appropriate, with services and resources from the
neighborhood and clinical supports


·      
With
their relatives who reside locally, if home is not possible or appropriate, so
that the children and parents can visit frequently. (Appropriate kinship
services and supports need to be made available to the relatives providing the
care.)


·      
In a
family foster home in the child’s neighborhood so he can continue in
same/familiar school, church, and recreation. (Again, visitation with parents
can be more frequent if this is the case.)


·      
In a foster
family home close to the neighborhood with the same services, supports, and
resources in place


By fully integrating these values into
practice, specific target outcomes follow in relation to the original issue: an
operating capacity deficit, i.e., insufficient foster homes.


·      
Reducing
the number of children served in institutional and congregate facilities


·      
Shifting
resources from institutional and congregate care to foster care and family
centered services across all child and family serving systems


·      
Decreasing
lengths of stay in out-of-home care


·      
Increasing
numbers of planned reunifications of children with their parents


·      
Decreasing
numbers of unplanned re-entries into out-of-home care


·      
Decreasing
numbers of placement disruptions


·      
Decreasing
numbers of children served in out-of-home settings away from their families


Among the more effective strategies used to
implement the FCNB approach in neighborhoods are:


·      
Improving
screening and assessments of children being considered for removal from home to
increase safety for the child and to determine what services might be provided
to preserve the family


·      
Targeting
neighborhoods from which the majority of children in out-of-home care come and
investing resources in those neighborhoods


·      
Involving
foster parents as team members in family reunification efforts


·      
Targeting
children in institutional and congregate care with the explicit goal of
returning them to and re-uniting them with their neighborhoods


No, the FCNB approach is neither simple nor
easy but it is doable within the community served by any public child
protection agency. As a prerequisite to success, though, the agency must have
access to up-to-date, accurate data concerning all children in its foster care
system or placed by the agency in other out-of-home settings. At a minimum,
this data needs to be sortable:


·      
By zip
code, showing where the children were living at the time they entered
out-of-home care


·      
By zip
code, showing where the children are placed in out-of-home care


Most agencies that have this data quickly see
that a majority of their children in out-of-home care come from a relatively
few zip codes within their service area. When the placement locations are
mapped, it becomes obvious that these children are mostly placed significant
distances from the neighborhoods where they were living at the time of initial
removal. This distance dynamic reduces both the frequency and quality of
contacts between the children and their families. This single factor, in turn,
significantly reduces the likelihood of successful reunification. Assuredly,
regular visitation helps, but it does not fully mitigate the negative effects
of the child’s separation from family, friends, school, and the neighborhood.
The trauma of long-distance separation is very difficult to mend, even if the
separation is only to the other side of the city or county. If it is to another
county or another state, it may soon be irreparable.


For purposes of illustration, assume that the
zip code sort for your agency shows that eighty percent of the children in
foster care come from four zip codes (neighborhoods) in your service area and
that ninety-five percent of these children are placed outside of their
neighborhoods. (This would be fairly typical for public agencies.) Furthermore,
assume that these four neighborhoods are viewed by agency staff as barren of
the services traditionally accessed for children and families served by your
agency. These traditional services are located either downtown or in the
suburbs, a significant distance from the neighborhood.


From the perspective of the neighborhood, the
agency frequently removes children from the neighborhood and is slow to reunify
them with their families after removal.


“If they come, they will probably take
your children and you may never get them back; but if you do, they will put you
through hell and it will take a very long time.”


There
is little, if any, agency investment of resources in the neighborhood to
address the children’s needs or to support families in crisis. There is little,
if any, meaningful dialogue between the agency and the neighborhood’s leaders.
Because of these and other institutionalized dynamics, there is deep-seated
bitterness and hostility within the neighborhood toward the broader community,
toward government, and specifically toward the agency and its staff.


From the perspective of the agency, staff may
well perceive the neighborhood to be void of any resources which can be used to
increase the safety of children. They may believe that the neighborhood has no
citizens who are concerned about their children and about family vulnerability.
There may be a strong sense that they are doing children a favor by placing
them outside of the neighborhood.


These same staff members may strongly dislike
being in the neighborhood and avoid, at all cost, being assigned to work
exclusively in the neighborhood. They offer convenience and personal safety as
the true reasons for their preferences. However, the issues are often much more
ingrained in personal values, beliefs, and attitudes, not only toward the
neighborhood but also toward the children and the families who live there.


How does one bridge such a perception,
culture, and attitude gap? Surely, to do so requires adaptation by both the
agency and the neighborhood. For such a bridge to be constructed, though, the
initiative must come from the agency. There must be a firm commitment from the
agency’s leadership and especially from its executive,, to build the bridge.
The motivation may come from a desire to do the right thing and to better serve
children and families but may also be much more practical. Changing the manner
in which the agency conducts business may reduce to simple economic necessity.
If children are being removed from neighborhoods and not being returned,
placement rolls increase and the resulting expenditures for children in
out-of-home care grow proportionately. A new manner of doing business is not
optional; it must be found.


The adaptive leader must have a clear vision
of where he is going, must focus on the mission of increasing child safety and
permanence through partnerships. The concept of partnerships must be expanded
beyond the traditional agencies and stakeholders to include the neighborhoods,
not an easy task since a relationship of little to no trust and respect exists.
The neighborhoods have been alienated for a long time and are not likely to get
past it quickly or easily.


Building the bridge starts internally with
identifying key staff who can and will help champion the initiative. Next, the
formal and informal leaders in the neighborhood must be identified. Beyond
these first steps, you then need to carefully attend to the groundwork within
the broader authorizing environment. Refer to the large stakeholder map you
developed earlier. Who on that map has a vested interest in knowing that the
way your agency does business will be changing and the reasons why? Further,
who on that map has the ability to directly or indirectly influence (positively
or negatively) the FCNB outcomes? These are the people on whom you need to
focus and whose support you must have to proceed. Be sure to consider each
group across the top of the stakeholder map as well as each primary outcome
down the left side of the chart. Adopting the FCNB approach and philosophy is a
huge change and no key stakeholder can be ignored or overlooked if you are to
garner the level of sustained authorization required to be successful.

















When preparing for your work with
stakeholders, this strategy will be helpful. Make an FCNB planning chart that
is somewhat like your large stakeholder map. Down the left, write the primary
outcomes, e.g., protection,
permanence, well-being, long term success, prevention, financial
responsibility, and public accountability. Starting with the second column,
write the six primary FCNB values across the top of your chart. For this
purpose, they can be abbreviated as: Child’s right to family, Child’s right to
nurturing and protection, Government’s responsibility to intervene, Family is
Child’s most important resource, Community must support families, and
Neighborhoods are assets. Now draw the vertical and horizontal lines to
construct the boxes in the chart. The first box in the top left represents
“Protection” and “Child’s right to family.” How does growing
up in a family increase protection? The answer is, perhaps, “When children
live with loving, attentive parents, they are better supervised and their
individual needs and interests are more fully considered than in other
settings, thus better assuring that they are kept from harm’s way.”
Proceed then with developing a statement or power message for each box in the
chart. Along with being a very difficult task, this process will assure that
you and others have carefully thought through the “Why?” and “How?”
of committing to the FCNB approach. These are the messages you will use when
interacting with stakeholders in relation to the FCNB initiative. (This process
results in forty-two power messages. Once you have the full set of messages,
first prioritize them from the most to least powerful. Having done that, select
from among the messages the two or three that will be most persuasive for each
stakeholder you have identified in relation to the initiative.)


As you initiate the process, be sure that the
agency has and maintains the operational capacity to make such a large scale
change. To shape the value and acquire the necessary authorization to pursue
such a change and then fall short because of operational capacity would be
disastrous. The agency’s reputation may well be tarnished not only within its
broad authorizing environment but probably irreparably in the neighborhood as
well. There is much risk as well as great opportunity at stake.


Your next step is to develop an issue-driven
stakeholder map. This must include both the individuals external to the agency
as well as internal agency staff because each may well be resistant to this
change and each is crucial to contributing to the transformation which must
occur.


This step directly confronts the issue of
neighborhood leadership. Do not be surprised if the common wisdom is that there
is no indigenous neighborhood leadership. Common wisdom or not, there is
recognized leadership in every neighborhood and your FCNB initiative will not
succeed without it. Simply assume that there are yet unidentified key
stakeholders in the neighborhood.


An agency in North Carolina had an interesting experience
when identifying neighborhood leadership and you may want to use some variation
of their approach. First, they drew a map of what they thought was the
neighborhood. Using that map, they went door-to-door, explaining their
initiative and asking two questions. (1) After showing the person the map, they
asked if they had drawn the neighborhood correctly. (2) They then asked who in
the neighborhood would need to be consulted, if the initiative were to be
successful.


The first question yielded the surprising
finding that they had drawn the neighborhood wrongly. They had actually
included parts of two neighborhoods. For the initiative to succeed, they needed
to expand the area to fully include both neighborhoods and then approach them
separately.


The second question yielded a list of people,
some from each of the two neighborhoods. A few people from each neighborhood
were perceived as critical participants by their neighbors. These individuals
then became identified as key stakeholders in the project’s success. In one of
the neighborhoods, the most influential and active stakeholder turned out to be
the mother of a shopkeeper who was himself seen as having little to no
influence. In the other neighborhood, the most influential stakeholder turned
out to be a gang leader. He said, “I won’t put up with anyone hurting
kids.” He was not active with the initiative but made it clear that no one
was to “mess with” agency workers when they came into the
neighborhood so long as they did not “mess with” gang business.


Ask these questions:


·      
Who are
the key actors?


·      
Where do
they stand in valuing this change?


·      
Do they
have authorizing power to promote or scuttle the initiative?


·      
Can they
contribute to the operational capacity to make this change work?


Plot the neighborhood and other key
stakeholders on your map and where each stands in relationship to these
questions. Now develop the strategies which you will use to start this ball
rolling. The compilation of these strategies becomes your preliminary plan.
Strategies may include:


·      
Build
the foundation of your internal team. Explain the concept, values, and
principles of FCNB and connect this approach to the importance of the agency’s
mission: safe children and stable families. Share the removal and placement
data and the financial picture. Ask this core of people to help you identify
the community leaders, formal and informal, you will need to approach.


·      
Build
your authorizing environment. Meet with those key people and groups. Share the
same data you did with your internal team. Build the value which will, in turn
gain the support of the political, community, and neighborhood leaders for this
effort.


·      
Identify
a lead stakeholder in the neighborhood. Present the information to that person.
Be prepared for doubt and anger. In most cases, it is understandable and
justified. Cultivate and earn the trust of this person and others. Ask them to
accompany you when you meet with other formal and informal leaders in the
neighborhood. This strategy cannot be over emphasized. In many agencies that
have embraced this philosophy of practice, the neighborhood participants
reported that a primary reason for their willingness to listen and become
engaged with the initiative was because the agency representative was
accompanied by a trusted member of the community who said it was OK to do so.


·      
Provide
orientation and training to your staff at all levels. Share the data you have
developed. Never characterize this change as a pilot because people outside the
pilot site can rationalize that this change will never affect them.
Characterize the shift as the way the agency will be conducting its business
“instead of” the old way it has conducted its business.


·      
Monitor
supervisory and direct service staff’s adaptation to the change. Some will
progress faster than others. Some will not progress at all. There will be
casualties in this transition as some staff will choose to do business the old
way and not adapt. Those people will need to be moved to other positions or
counseled out of the employment of the agency. Identify the champions and use
them to influence and lead others to change. There is plenty of room for
leadership in this change effort. Share it.


·      
Create a
Good News Board that is updated weekly, sharing with all staff key data,
information, and successes.


·      
Post the
agency’s mission and the values of the FCNB approach throughout the agency as a
daily reminder of why this work is being done and why this change is being
undertaken.


·      
Meet
with the formal and informal leaders of the neighborhood. This may be done
individually, in groups, or both. Ask your “neighborhood liaison”
with whom you have earned trust to accompany you on these visits.


·      
Perception
is reality and the neighborhood’s reality is probably something of the nature,
“here comes another bureaucrat from the county who will promise the world
and deliver nothing.” Be clear that you are not here to build their
neighborhood. That neighborhood was there long before you were and will be
there long after you leave. You are there to partner with the neighborhood to
create better outcomes for its children.


·      
Share
the system’s transformation and strategic planning with the neighborhood.


·      
Conduct
environmental scans to involve the entire neighborhood in identifying the
strengths and barriers to developing a solid working relationship and to
pro-actively responding to the neighborhood’s specific needs and issues.
Combine this step with jointly identifying how the neighborhood and agency will
share the work and responsibility to create better outcomes for children. This
might include:


·      
Neighborhood
partners taking the lead on foster home recruitment.


·      
Neighborhood
representatives actively participating in family case conferences and
semi-annual reviews.


·      
The
agency deploying staff and resources to the neighborhood and using neighborhood
facilities for services and activities.


·      
Always
follow through on your commitments and be very clear on what you cannot
delegate. For instance, you cannot delegate ultimate decision making authority
for child removal and reunification. However, you can demonstrate, on an
everyday basis, your commitment to sharing that decision-making as much as
possible. Your long-term track record of doing this well builds your
credibility as a partner and your commitment to partnership with the
neighborhood.


·      
The
influence of race, culture, and power in the implementation of the FCNB
approach to service delivery must be acknowledged and addressed in the planning
and implementation effort. The discrepancy between the race of those in charge
and the race of children in care is an issue with internal and external
stakeholders. Internal staff resistance to neighborhood-based work exposes
middle class bias and a lack of cultural competence in many agencies. Given the
depth of feeling associated with these issues and their complexity, it is
perhaps no surprise that race, culture, and power will influence most
discussion about family-centered neighborhood-based work. Working through these
issues depends on the agency’s willingness to respect culture, engage in open
discussion about culture related issues, and to learn.


·      
Foster
parents must be trained and fully oriented to the FCNB approach. They are key
to its success and need to be on the team that makes decisions about
reunification and other permanence issues. After all they spend twenty-four
hours a day with the child. Who besides the child’s birth parents know the
youngster better?


  • Foster
    parents also need to be used as mentors, teachers, and supports to birth
    parents. They can facilitate visits and provide valuable knowledge and
    skills on parenting. Some existing foster parents may not choose to engage
    in this shift. Perhaps these families can be used to provide care for
    children in permanent custody or where visitation will not occur for
    whatever the reason. Newly recruited foster parents, however, should be
    trained and expected to serve this role as a member of the team as well as
    mentoring the parents of the children for whom they temporarily provide
    care. The agency is giving up some of its “power” by engaging
    the foster parents as valued members of the team. It is easier for a
    caseworker to make the decision in a vacuum. However, outcomes for children
    will likely be better if all who know the child participate in the
    decisions affecting the child.


·      
Successes
should be shared with the media. It is an important part of the authorizing
environment and must be exposed to this effort. Consider inviting them to a family
case conference, semi-annual review, or other event, so they can learn about
what the partnership is doing. The media’s positive support for this initiative
can influence elected officials’ and other stakeholders’ perception of the
change.





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