Building the Foundation for Statewide Assessment
The Children's Bureau kicked off Round 4 of the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) in 2023 and 15 state/territory child welfare agencies were selected to have their review in the first year of the Round 4 process. The Vermont Department for Children and Families, Family Services Division (DCF FSD) is one of those Year 1 jurisdictions. The CFSR process enables the Children’s Bureau to partner with jurisdictions to ensure conformity with federal child welfare requirements, determine what is happening to children and families receiving child welfare services, and assist states in enhancing their capacity to help children and families achieve positive outcomes related to safety, permanency, and well-being. In the early stages of planning and teaming, Vermont FSD reached out to the Capacity Building Center for States (Center) to explore support for its Statewide Assessment.
Carlie Thibault, Vermont FSD Quality Assurance Administrator and CFSR Lead, states that throughout the process, “we [FSD] really tried to make sure that we are covering every single item in the Statewide Assessment, not just the systemic factors. So, we were looking at safety, permanency, and well-being. But we were also looking at overarching themes, and then we've plugged in a lot of the systemic factors as they fit within those themes.” After collaboratively developing a timeline of Center supports, the FSD and Center teams worked together on a CFSR support plan. As a first step, the teams partnered to develop a steering committee comprised of staff, federal partners, service providers, and community partners, including a parent with lived experience in child welfare, ready to engage and participate meaningfully in CFSR efforts.
Preparing for Kickoff
Once Vermont built up the CFSR steering committee, they began brainstorming alongside Center staff and state partners in a series of calls to plan outreach strategies as well as the process and format of the Statewide Assessment meetings. Thibault shares that there were many factors to think about: “We wanted to use root cause analysis in the steering committee. We wanted to share data and then have the attendees really dig in and provide their input around why they think the data is the way it is, whether that's positive or negative, and we wanted them to really have some kind of guided conversation around that. And so, we decided on the format of breakout sessions.”
The Center and Vermont FSD worked collaboratively to sketch out a plan for three 6-hour virtual meetings. Together the teams identified the ways in which the Center could provide targeted support to FSD with meeting planning and facilitation. The Center was able to support the agency with data analysis and visualization, as well as with preparing committee members to engage with the data. In addition, Center staff and consultants worked with Vermont FSD staff to review slide decks with agency and stakeholder data on systemic factors, created and modified documents to assist FSD in thinking through the data to be used in writing the assessment, and supported Vermont FSD along the way in developing questions for focus groups.
A core part of the collaborative work was planning authentic engagement of people with lived experience. Paula Buege, a Center for States Family Consultant, shared, “one of the most rewarding things has been working with the state to see them become more thoughtful in how to ensure people with lived experience are heard throughout the process and to embrace conversations about compensating people with lived experience for their time and input.”
This work is important to our team, and we all feel passionate about it. But then to be in a group with people that are community partners or involved in our agency in different ways and hearing how passionate they are about it as well, I think that's the most rewarding moment for me. Just being in a group of people trying to make positive changes together and really dig into things and develop some strategies.
Showing Up as a Team
Vermont FSD and the Center partnered to provide an engaging experience for attendees in a virtual space, deciding to use an interactive virtual whiteboard (Mural) to simulate the experience of in-person facilitation and hands-on brainstorming. The Center provided tailored virtual whiteboards to the state with a 1-business-day turnaround and dedicated time to ensure the FSD team was comfortable using the technology. “I was a little wary of it at first, honestly, just because this seemed a little intense,” Thibault recalls upon her introduction to the platform. “But once we were able to spend some time with [Center staff] and play around in it and really figure out what we can do, it's a nice resource to use. I would recommend it to other [CFSR leads] who are interested in engaging people in the virtual environment.”
During the Statewide Assessment meetings, the Center provided trusted co-facilitators to partner with Vermont FSD staff to ensure enough people were prepped and ready to lead breakout discussions. Jess Phillips, Vermont FSD Quality Assurance Coordinator and CFSR Co-Lead, shared her experience with facilitation: “This work is important to our team, and we all feel passionate about it. But then to be in a group with people that are community partners or involved in our agency in different ways and hearing how passionate they are about it as well, I think that's the most rewarding moment for me. Just being in a group of people trying to make positive changes together and really dig into things and develop some strategies.”
All participants were able to have consistent and ongoing access to the virtual whiteboard, allowing them to add more feedback, reflect on the information and thoughts collected during the meetings, and access a virtual bookshelf housing state and federal documents.
Vermont FSD and the Center are laying the groundwork for ongoing collaboration beyond the Statewide Assessment. Building on this foundation of collaboration, Vermont FSD is prioritizing meaningful engagement throughout the CFSR process and is focused on sustaining core partnerships for the future. As Carlie Thibault shares, the agency aims to “bring people together who have experience and knowledge and just create a better picture and a better scenario long term for the work that we're all doing together.”
As of May 2023, the Center for States has provided tailored technical assistance to 14 jurisdictions through CFSR Round 4 support and is available to partner with any interested states and jurisdictions on their CFSR planning needs.
The Center for States offers a robust continuum of services and supports for jurisdictions engaged in the CFSR, including tools and resources, group learning and peer connection opportunities, and direct, hands-on support tailored to jurisdiction-specific needs. You can find the contact information for your state's Liaison on the Center's website or email the Center at email@example.com to learn more.