Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Catawba County Social Services (CCSS), Family and Children's Services Division and the United Hmong Association (UHA) of North Carolina

Program Name

Hmong Child and Family Team Meetings

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

The Child and Family Teams (CFT) model is a family and community centered child welfare approach to helping families have a voice and direct input into plans that are developed to ensure the safety and well being of their children and to strengthen the family unit. In 2000, managers of Catawba County Social Services (CCSS) noticed that their agency’s child protection workers were experiencing difficulty in gaining the trust and cooperation of the Hmong families they were working with. Mr. Billy Poindexter, one of the social workers of CCSS, met with Mr. Tong Yang, the Executive Director of the United Hmong Association (UHA) of North Carolina to begin to discuss how they could collaborate. After some initial collaborative activities, Mr. Poindexter held a training with leaders from the United Hmong Association on Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) and it was determined that there are values within the Hmong culture that are similar to those which the model is based on, such as the importance of family and community. In July 2003, CCSS began using a statewide model called Child and Family Team (CFT) meetings, which is heavily infused with FGDM values and practice. This is the specific family and community centered child welfare model that is used today with families throughout most of North Carolina, including the Hmong.

Program Description

As stated, Child and Family Team (CFT) meetings are heavily infused with FGDM values and practice. CFT meetings are a part of the differential response approach to working with all families across North Carolina and the model is family-centered, strengths-based, and solution focused. Families involved with CCSS are offered the opportunity to have a meeting to discuss and create plans related to the safety, permanency, and well-being of their child(ren). The meeting is scheduled at a time and place of the family’s choosing and the family is involved in selecting participants to be invited. The family is treated as the expert on their strengths and needs and all meeting participants are involved in identifying planning options. The meetings are facilitated by trained, in-house volunteers, who maintain a neutral stance throughout the meetings. The plan that is created during the meeting and is crafted with the family’s own words as much as possible. If a family is involved with child protective services, CCSS tries to schedule a meeting within a month of initiating services. “Family alone time,” which is a component of FGDM, is offered to families as an element of their CFT meeting, but requires additional preparation. It is not utilized with every family, but has been very useful when offered and accepted. CFT meetings have been particularly useful with the Hmong community, as they promote many Hmong values. For example, some of the values that CFT meetings and Hmong culture share in common are:

  • Family: The Hmong have an old saying: "To be with a family is to be happy. To be without family is to be lost." Also, the phrase "ib tsev neeg" means "one house people" and refers to having extended family under one roof.
  • Culture: There is great pride in being self-sufficient and in providing for one’s family as tradition dictates.
  • Partnership: The Hmong language does not have an exact word for "partnership," but "collaboration," which is the essence of partnership, is "kev koom tes."
  • Safety: The Hmong phrase is "saib kev ruaj ntseg," which literally means "to keep out of trouble."
  • Community: The Hmong say, "Hmoob yuav tsum hlub Hmoob," which means, "Hmong have to look after their own."
  • Future: In the Hmong culture the family is the center of a person’s success for the future. To care for family is to care for the future.

Due to persecution and negative experiences with governments, the Hmong have traditionally been hesitant to become involved with governmental agencies. Yet, the CFT process has allowed the community to interact with a governmental agency in such a way that their voice is heard and culture is respected. The model has helped to build a strong bridge between the agency, representing the larger community standards of child welfare, and this population’s suspicions of social workers. Culturally based differences continue to be "thorny," but this process of collaboration has greatly assisted the development of trust.

Resource Materials Used in Program

  • North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Social Services Manual on Family Support and Child Welfare, Chapter VIII: Protective Services Child and Family Teams and the Team Decision Making Approach
  • Minimum Standards of Care for Children (in Hmong) - brochure in PDF -

Groups Served by Program

CFT meetings are offered to all families with whom the agency becomes involved, which includes any Hmong families. Approximately 7,000 Hmong individuals live in Catawba County, which is the third highest concentration of this population in the country. Even though Hmong cases amount to only about one-half of one percent of the cases accepted for services by CCSS, they are often among the most trying because of language and cultural barriers.

Program Funding

The half-time CFT Facilitator is funded directly by county funds. This is off set by state and federal funds available for child welfare services when eligibility criteria are met.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

CCSS has a half-time CFT Facilitator, who provides consultation to referring workers, trains volunteer facilitators, provides on-going training and coaching to staff and volunteer facilitators, facilitates CFT meetings, and tracks outcomes of CFT meetings.

Staff Training: The collaboration between CCSS and the United Hmong Association (UHA) has resulted in several cultural competency trainings led by UHA leadership. The trainings often include information on Hmong history, culture, and practices as well as panels of Hmong citizens who share their stories. In addition, trainings have been held for Hmong community leaders on concepts and standards of child protection. Communication of these foreign ideas has also been achieved through public service announcements on the local Hmong radio station. Regarding CFT training, North Carolina Department of Social Services has contracted with a vendor to provide practice training to social workers involved with family meetings. In Catawba County, all workers in our Child Welfare division have attended the North Carolina State Family Centered Meeting Project two-day orientation training on CFT meetings and those who are listed as third party facilitators have attended the four-day facilitator training offered by North Carolina State University’s Family Centered Meetings Project. NCSU-FCMP also sponsors quarterly forums for facilitators to discuss situations around facilitating meeting. Catawba County has begun a library of articles written by Mr. Billy Poindexter that address specific lessons from CFT meetings held in-house. Some of these articles have been reprinted in the Jordan Institute’s Family Matters publication and in the North Carolina Department of Social Services Multiple Response System newsletter.

Program Evaluation

  • Process Evaluation: CCSS has adopted an evaluation form used in CFT meetings held by our workers. This is a voluntary document that uses a Likert Scale format for evaluating the participants’ experience of the meeting as well as their assessment of the appropriateness of the plans developed.
  • Outcome Evaluation: Currently, a longitudinal study is being developed in-house that will track 56 families who had a CFT meeting in 2003, the first year the model was used. Families are being tracked for recidivism, placement of children, and recurrence or absence of similar issues coming to the attention of CCSS.

Program Outcomes

  • Process Data: In 2006, responses from 188 CFT participants (not including professionals) gave an overall 94% satisfaction rate with the process of CFT meetings. This number represents all families who utilized CFT meetings, not just the Hmong.
  • Outcome Data: The longitudinal study is not complete, but short term outcome data from a 2005 study reveals that 93% of families who participate in CFT meetings do not have children enter the foster care system within six months of the initial meeting. [Note: In 2003, there were no Hmong families who completed CFT meetings; however, there were Hmong families who utilized CFT meetings in 2004 and beyond. CCSS has plans to eventually analyze the data from those years as well, which will provide specific information on outcomes of the Hmong families.]
  • Additional Outcomes:
    • Hmong Staff at CCSS: Due to the successful relationship that has formed between CCSS, the United Hmong Association, and the general Hmong community, CCSS has hired several Hmong individuals. Hmong workers provide credible interpretation and translation with families when language is a complicating factor. In addition, the Hmong staff at CCSS are available to provide cultural information and to serve as liaisons with the community as needed.
    • Conference Presentations: Mr. Tong Yang, the Executive Director of the United Hmong Association, and Mr. Billy Poindexter of CCSS have co-presented at a number of national conferences on the use of CFT and FGDM with the Hmong community.
    • Advisory Board: Mr. Billy Poindexter, of CCSS, has been appointed to serve as a member of the United Hmong Association’s Advisory Board.

Additional Comments

Establishing trust with a new refugee or immigrant community can be challenging. CCSS’ relationship with the Hmong community is something that they have been developing for years, and that takes continued nurturing. Change is made one step at a time and every success, no matter how small, is celebrated. The staff at CCSS say that the most important factor in establishing and maintaining their relationship with the Hmong community has been openness in communication. When there are challenges, they are “put on the table” and discussed without judgment or accusations. It has also been extremely important for CCSS to acknowledge that the integration of the Hmong community into the child welfare system is a two-way process. In other words, it is not just about how the Hmong community needs to change in order to fit existing systems, but that there are things CCSS needs to change in order to effectively work with Hmong community members. In addition, the CCSS staff say that other key elements of building trust with the Hmong community have included: following-up on questions, ongoing contact with the community’s leaders, and showing consistent respect.

Program Contact

Family and Children Support Team

Program Dates

This Promising Practice began in 2002; it is still operating as of October 2011.