This month North Dakota is launching a new initiative to encourage earlier engagement with families of children who enter the foster care system. With about 1,600 children currently in foster care in the state, the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Children and Families Division is introducing the Family Centered Engagement initiatives in a handful of counties.
The initiative “is a facilitated team process that includes participation from parents/caregivers, extended family members, children, service providers, child welfare professionals, juvenile court staff, community partners and others involved in a child’s life,” said Tracy Miller, who oversees maltreatment prevention and family preservation for DHS in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. “The meetings have only one purpose and that is to make critical decisions with families regarding the removal of children from their homes to the least restrictive and safest placements that are in the best interest of the children.”
The initiative is being rolled out in Burleigh, Grand Forks, Mercer, McLean, Oliver, Sheridan and Stutsman counties this month. The meetings for children at risk of removal from their biological families, or already with juvenile justice and child welfare involvement will be led by a neutral facilitator from The Village Family Service Center.
The idea behind the initiative is to create a goal-oriented action plan with a family to keep their child out of foster care and create a safety plan emphasizing kinship care if the child is ultimately removed from the family.
“By diverting children from foster care and placing them with relatives, they will be able to maintain kinship and cultural connections with their families, and they will have a voice in making decisions that will impact their lives,” Miller said. “As for families, they will be involved earlier in decision making that focuses on their strengths and identifies areas where they may need services and support to achieve positive outcomes.”
Families can be referred to the program by county social services or the juvenile court.
“We are very excited to participate in the Family Centered Engagement Initiative, as it enhances the Dual Status Youth Initiative efforts that we are a partner in,” said Kim Osadchuk, Burleigh County Social Services director, in a press release. “Any time you can bring all the entities involved to the table to help support and empower families to succeed, the outcome tends to be positive as the family does not feel forced and can drive their own plan and change.”
The initiative begins a year before a federal law with similar objectives takes effect. The Family First Prevention Services Act, which was signed into law last February, will soon offer states federal IV-E entitlement funds for efforts to prevent the use of foster care in some cases. Currently, IV-E funds can only be used for foster care and adoption assistance.
Family First takes effect in October of 2019. Click here for a guide to what’s in the law.
The initiative was created through collaboration with Casey Family Programs, Capacity Building Centers for States and The Village Family Service Center.
DHS will evaluate the initial implementation of the initiative before rolling out to other counties and eventually the entire state.