Change is in the Air

The National Family Preservation Network recently moved its headquarters to Asheville, North Carolina. Even though we’re in the South and it’s still technically summer, in the evening and early morning you can sense that autumn is coming. In places where schools are on traditional schedules, the kids have gone back to class and families are adjusting to new routines. Soon the temperature will drop, the leaves will change colors and the seasons will transition. People will assemble for sporting events, holiday gatherings and opportunities to enjoy nature.

Here at NFPN, we’ve gone through a significant transition with a new executive director and our previously mentioned move, but there’s more … We’re working to expand our presence both nationally and internationally. Part of this expansion is the development of social media on Facebook and Linked In. Please visit our new pages, then “like”, “follow” and “share” them. Let us know what you think:

https://www.facebook.com/National-Family-Preservation-Network-110413166973891/

http://www.linkedin.com/company/intensive-family-preservation-services-national-network-inc

In addition, we’re making an adjustment to our monthly blogs. We’re phasing out the “Preserving Families” blog and consolidating it with our “NFPN News Notes” blog. Subscribers will continue to receive “NFPN News Notes” on a monthly basis and, as always, it will be posted on our website, http://www.nfpn.org, plus now it will also be on our social media pages.

On a national level, many of you are working toward changes based on the Family First Prevention Services Act and other initiatives. At NFPN, we’re exploring ways to support these efforts with existing products and services, as well as new things coming down the pike. We’re streamlining some areas, so we can expand in others. We’re honored to have so many dedicated professionals collaborating with us in these endeavors. It’s an exciting time! Stay tuned …

Posted by Michelle Reines, NFPN Executive Director

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NFPN: Past, Present, and Future!

In 1992, the Center for the Study of Social Policy and the Center for the Study of Family Policy convened a group of 40 professionals to design and create a national network for Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS), and as a result … the National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) was born! Over the next seven years, NFPN had three executive directors who accomplished many things, among them preparing a directory of IFPS services, publishing a newsletter, issuing press releases, holding teleconferences, developing two video trainings, and appointing board members to maintain contact with IFPS states.

In 1999, Priscilla Martens became the executive director, a role in which she thrived for 20 years! In that time, NFPN experienced tremendous growth and development. The following are just the highlights:
• Three additional variations of the NCFAS tool
• IFPS nationwide surveys, IFPS ToolKit and other resources
• An assessment tool for reunification and a model for intensive reunification
• A father involvement project and the development of curricula to train practitioners
• A website with over 50 resources to share cutting-edge information and best practice

Last month, Priscilla announced that she was retiring as of July 31, 2019. Words cannot describe how valuable she has been to NFPN, and she will be greatly missed. Of course, transition is a part of life, and so the NFPN Board of Directors is proud to announce Michelle Reines as its new executive director beginning August 1, 2019.

Michelle has spent many years developing programs and administering contracts for IFPS and reunification services, as well as other related prevention and early intervention programs. She also served as Vice Chair on the NFPN Board of Directors in 2015/2016.

Michelle was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She earned her master’s degree in social work from Florida International University in 2000 and spent several years working in south Florida, most notably at the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County. Michelle and her family (husband, daughter and assorted pets) moved to North Carolina in 2006. For the last couple years, Michelle has served as the foster home licensing manager for the NC Division of Social Services in the Asheville area. Although she has experience in several fields, Michelle is most passionate about preserving families and helping children avoid foster care.

Michelle is excited to take on the opportunities and challenges that her new role with NFPN will provide. In the near future, she will be facilitating updates to many of the resources offered by NFPN. Michelle also hopes to expand NFPN’s services and its presence both nationally and internationally. She looks forward to developing relationships with the many stakeholders that make up this valuable network!

Posted by Michelle Reines, Executive Director

Moving On

The year was 1999. The National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) was 7 years old. The first NCFAS assessment tool was in its infancy. NFPN’s main focus was on placement prevention of children with little mention of reunification. Supporting father involvement was in the concept stage. NFPN kept in touch by mailing printed newsletters.

Some of that seems like ancient history because it does reflect the passage of a substantial amount of time, closing in on 20 years. And that’s the length of time that I have served as NFPN’s Executive Director. Every day I still wake up happy to go to work and excited to be involved in the mission of preserving families. But 20 years is sufficient for one person to lead an organization. Now it’s time to step aside and bring in fresh energy and ideas so I am announcing my retirement effective July 31.

It’s both challenging and rewarding to mature with an organization. Here’s a summary of how NFPN has matured in the past 20 years:
• Three additional variations of the NCFAS tool developed with supporting research on reliability/validity of the tools and use of the tools in every state of the U.S. and in 20 other countries
• Nationwide surveys, assessment tool, toolkit, and other resources developed for promoting the widespread use of Intensive Family Preservation Services
• Focus on reunification including one of the few assessment tools for reunification with additional research conducted leading to a model for intensive reunification
• Father involvement promoted through a project demonstrating increased involvement of fathers in their children’s lives and development of curricula to train practitioners
• A website with over 50 resources, many of them free, and two blog posts targeted to sharing cutting-edge information and best practice

Of course I haven’t been the only one working on behalf of NFPN for the past 20 years. The Board provides oversight and shares their expertise in program development, training, and technical assistance. Ray Kirk, the NCFAS tool developer, has been involved in all further development and research of the tools, even after his retirement, reflecting an ongoing partnership and friendship with NFPN. We have had dozens of other partners over the years who have provided their staff and resources to help advance the field. Thousands of practitioners use NFPN’s products and materials in their work with families. And families are the main beneficiaries and have always been the main reason for NFPN’s existence.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have served NFPN for the past two decades. My lifelong passion is preserving families and now I will explore other ways to do that. My successor, Michelle Reines, is gearing up for an August 1 start date. NFPN’s board will officially introduce Michelle at a later time but, rest assured, she is an outstanding choice!

In the meantime, I will continue to be available to address your needs, requests, and questions. I want to finish well and finish strong!

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

Foster Parents Helping Birth Parents

May is National Foster Care Month. There will always be a need for some type of placement for children outside their homes. However, recent policies on rethinking the entire system of foster care, reducing the number of children placed in foster care, increasing kinship placements, and promoting foster parents helping birth parents are shedding new light on the role of foster care.

This post will take a closer look at how foster parents can partner with birth parents to promote reunification. The information is drawn from fact sheets published by the Child Welfare Information Gateway. Each of the following principles is further explained by a foster or birth parent:

Communicate early and often. More is better. Keep it real.
“There should be an initial meeting to introduce the foster and the birth parents so they can ask the little questions. What is your child like? What are their sleeping hours? What are their dislikes? This can be a great opportunity for [birth parents] to see that the foster caregiver is really concerned about their child and doesn’t want to replace them. It lets them know right off the bat that you are on their side.” —Keely, foster parent, BFPP

Leaning on Your Caseworker and Agency
“When I had a supervisor or social worker where partnership was the goal, the case went really well. We were able to really connect and be together and the children were obviously much better. The chances of going home happened more often. Whoever is responsible for that relationship from the very first minute can make a difference with reunification.” —Roberta, foster parent, BFPP

Children in the child welfare system already have family members who love them.
“The most dangerous thing I see is that black and white thinking of foster and adoptive parents ‘saving’ kids. These children are not orphans. They have families.” —Amy, foster parent, BFPP

Help, trust, and empathy make all the difference.
“[Birth parents] are already so ashamed of themselves. They already feel like the most awful parent in the world. Just by saying ‘You’ve done a great job’ or ‘Your kids have a really great bond with you’ is really groundbreaking! Be the bigger person and take the first step. Be a part of family healing, and reach out in a very human way.” —Julie, birth parent, BFPP

Maintaining Contact After Reunification or Other Permanency
“We see a lot of kids that have lived with us at different times and their families. [With one] child we had at one point, his grandmother still calls us, and we do all the babysitting whenever she needs help. We have another young adult who went back to her family, and she calls us almost every weekend. She had a baby, and we’re the godparents.” —Ellen, foster parent, BFPP

To view the full document visit: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets-families-partnerships/?hasBeenRedirected=1

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

Isolation and Loneliness

May will bring Mental Health Awareness Month.  Two of the most prevalent conditions in society today that affect mental health are social isolation and loneliness.

In his book Them, Ben Sasse talks about 739 people dying in one week during a heat wave in Chicago.  But race and poverty did not determine who lived and who died.  Instead, it was social relationships.  Isolation turned something dangerous into something deadly.

The UnLonely Project has the goal of broadening public awareness of the negative physical and mental health consequences of loneliness while using the creative arts to address them.  The Project finds there is an epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the U.S. with these effects:

  • Loneliness affects more than one-third of American adults, with particular likelihood among individuals facing challenging life circumstances like loss of a loved one, and chronic or catastrophic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, mental illness or cancer.
  • Loneliness has negative effects on mental health, worsening depression, anxiety, mood disorders and cognitive decline, and on physical health, leading to higher rates cardiovascular impairment, chronic pain, and fatigue.
  • Certain age groups, notably adolescents, young adults and older adults seem to be particularly at risk as marked by growing incidence of depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
  • External factors may be accelerating the crisis; research indicates, for instance, Internet and social media engagement exacerbate feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
  • Of particular note, health risks associated with loneliness and social isolation are comparable to the dangers of smoking and obesity, increasing mortality risk by up to 30%.

 

Verywell Mind, an online resource to help improve mental health, says that loneliness is actually a state of mind that causes people to feel empty, alone, and unwanted.  What helps?  It’s not the quantity of social interaction that combats loneliness but the quality.  The number of people with no close friends has tripled in the past 35 years.  Having just three or four close friends is enough to ward off loneliness (Verywell Mind, https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749).

So how about if each of us looks for someone isolated/lonely to befriend?  We won’t have to look far.  They are in our families, neighborhood, places of worship, schools, and elderly facilities.  For a small investment of time, we can make a huge difference in the life of someone who feels that no one cares about them.

 

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

 

 

 

Celebrating Prevention

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month so let’s start planning now! Every year the federal Children’s Bureau (CB) releases the Prevention Resource Guide. The National Child Abuse Prevention Partners, of which NFPN is a member, provides input for the Guide.

The Resource Guide “focuses on protective factors that build on family strengths and promote optimal child and youth development.” Many of you are familiar with the five protective factors developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy:
• Parental resilience
• Social connections
• Knowledge of parenting and child development
• Concrete support in times of need
• Social-emotional competence of children
• Nurturing and attachment (sixth added to the Resource Guide)

The Resource Guide provides information about these protective factors and how to integrate them into community programs. Let’s take a closer look at one protective factor, Parental Resilience: “All parents have inner strengths or resources that can serve as a foundation for building their resilience. These may include faith, flexibility, humor, communication skills, problem-solving skills, mutually supportive caring relationships, or the ability to identify and access outside resources and services when needed.”

To implement this definition, there are suggestions as to how workers and programs can help. For example, workers can “remind families that some stress is normal, and parenting is stressful for everyone. The key is how you respond to it.” Programs can assist when they “partner with resources in the community that help families manage stress and deal with crises, including programs that offer family-to-family help for personalized and sustained support as well as services such as mental health counseling, substance use treatment, domestic violence programs, and self-help support groups.”

The Resource Guide includes tip sheets for parents on 11 topics including keeping your family strong, managing stress, parenting your school-age child, and connecting with your teens.

To obtain your free copy of the Resource Guide visit https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth/resources/resource-guide/

For more information and resources to celebrate National Child Abuse Prevention Month visit https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth/

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director

Family Preservation and Disproportionality

One of the most challenging issues of the social services system is addressing disproportionality. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges tracks disproportionality in the child welfare system. The Council defines disproportionality as the level at which groups of children are present in the child welfare system at higher or lower percentages or rates than in the general population. An index of 1.0 reflects no disproportionality. An index of greater than 1.0 reflects overrepresentation. An index of less than 1.0 reflects underrepresentation.

The index in 2013 was as follows:
African American 1.8
White .8
Hispanic .9
Asian .1
Am Indian/AK Native 2.5

The index shows how disproportionality is concentrated in African American and American Indian/Alaska Native families. In 1978 Congress addressed disproportionality of the latter through the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Casey Family Programs released a compliance study of ICWA in 2015. They reported that there are inconsistent and varying degrees of state compliance with ICWA. There is no federal oversight or enforcement of the law. A lot more needs to be done to preserve Indian families and their culture.

There is no federal law regarding African American disproportionality. In Minnesota, the state United Black Legislative Caucus is introducing the African American Family Preservation Act. The legislation aims to improve outcomes for black families involved with child protection, including by keeping more children with family members and relatives.

While there are various initiatives and programs to address disproportionality, one program has already been demonstrated effective in reducing disproportionality. In a large study of Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS), over 30,000 children in one state’s child welfare system were categorized by race, risk, and services received. The results were as follows:
High-risk minority children receiving traditional services were at higher risk of placement than White children, but minority children receiving IFPS were less likely to be placed than White children. When only minority children were examined, those receiving IFPS were less likely to be placed than those receiving traditional services.

Why is IFPS effective in reducing disproportionality? Here are some principles of IFPS that contain some answers:
1. The family is the best resource for the nurture, care, and well-being of children.
2. The most durable way to help children is to help their parents.
3. Keeping families safely together, whenever possible, must be the highest priority of government laws, policies, and funding.
4. Because the integrity of the family is critical to its functioning, services to families must primarily focus on keeping families together or reunifying families when out-of-home
placement is necessary.
5. Services provided in the home demonstrate respect for families and allow for optimal assessment of needs and delivery of services.
6. Families must be assessed for strengths as well as weaknesses. Strengths can be used to help address weaknesses.
7. All members of the family must be offered services, including fathers, whether residing or not residing in the home. Involving fathers can have a beneficial effect on both the
children and the children’s mother.
8. Families must be involved in decisions about every aspect of an intervention: safety, assessment, goals, services, progress, placement (if necessary), and outcomes.
9. Families must be empowered through services, not kept dependent on them. Services should be provided only until the family is stabilized and has the necessary skills to remain safely
together. Families can then choose whether or not they want additional services.
10. We owe families the best possible services at the lowest cost to whoever is paying for the services. All services must be evaluated for their effectiveness and cost-benefit.

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director