Catawba County Social Services (CCSS), Family and Children's Services Division and the United Hmong Association (UHA) of North Carolina
Hmong Child and Family Team Meetings
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Family and Children Support Team
This Promising Practice began in 2002; it is still operating as of October 2011.