Team Decision Making (TDM) is a core strategy implemented by The California Family to Family Initiative, a public-private partnership between national and state foundations and the California Department of Social Services. The Annie E. Casey Foundation developed the Family to Family Initiative in 1992 as part of a nationwide child reform initiative.
TDM focuses on placement issues for children involved or potentially involved in foster care. This team meeting involves, in addition to caseworkers and their supervisors, birth families, community members, resource families, service providers in all placement decisions regarding foster children. These meetings must occur prior to the decision or court hearing. TDM provides the family with a voice in each and every placement-related decision – something that the system has not previously guaranteed.
From California's Family To Family Initiative: "A Message To Our Caregivers About TDM"”
Why we need you to participate:
We recognize you, the caregivers of our children, as critical members of the team that will make placement decisions. Team Decision Making (TDM) meetings require that you will be invited to attend any meeting when a child in your care is being considered for a move to another placement, to be reunited with his/her birth family, or when a decision about an alternative to reunification must be made. It is imperative that you participate in these meetings. You have been parenting this child, and therefore your information, insights, and ideas are terribly important. We know that your commitment to the child’s well-being and safety will assist us in making a decision that will best meet the child’s needs.
Who will be at the meeting, and when is it held:
Our TDM meetings may include you as the caregivers, plus birth parents and their support persons, service providers, community representatives, the child’s guardian ad litem and involved members of the agency staff. The child’s social worker will schedule a meeting whenever it appears that a decision regarding continued placement in your home needs to be made. We are committed to holding meetings before a child is moved, so that together, we can make a careful and planful decision that best meets the child’s needs, while always being mindful of safety and protection issues.
What happens at a meeting:
- Placement Preservation/Change of Placement: If a child is at risk of disrupting from your home, we want to determine if additional supports and/or services to the child (or to you) might stabilize and maintain the placement. We will need your input to make this decision. If the child must move to another placement, we want to have your assistance to ensure that the child’s next placement is successful; we also need your advice to make the change with as little trauma for the child as possible. We want the children in our care to experience as few moves as possible (and ideally, have but a single out of home placement) before they achieve a permanent family placement through reunification or another plan.
- Reunification: When it appears that the child can be reunited with his family, we again need your involvement. We want you to assist the team in determining that the supports the child will need to have a safe and successful reunification are in place. We want to discuss the transition plan for the child, including such issues as school change, medical record transfer, continued contacts with friends and with you and your family, etc. We want to hear if you have any concerns that need to be addressed regarding the
reunification plan, and if you are willing to continue to be an extended family member. to the child and his/her family in the future.
- Alternatives to Reunification: And if your foster child cannot be reunified with his/her birth parents, and a discussion about adoption or legal guardianship must be made, your input will also be critical.
- Older Youth Leaving the System: Finally, if your teenage foster child is facing emancipation from the system, your involvement in the planning that must take place to prepare him/her will be essential. All youth who leave the system without a permanent family must have supportive adults on whom they can rely in the future and former foster parents are among our best members of the circles of support on which young persons leaving the system can turn to as they navigate life as an adult. We hope that the TDM process will support our children and their families, but also our caregivers. We need to have you continue as our partner in strengthening families and protecting children. Thank you for all you have done and for your assistance in the future.
“Once children are in placement, foster parents and other caregivers are essential members of the team decision-making process. Including the foster parent on the team as soon as possible has numerous advantages: (1) foster parents can share their views about the child’s needs with the team; (2) the foster parent can learn from the primary family about the child’s needs, particularly the child’s attachment to the birth family; and (3) foster parents can support the birth parents’ efforts to achieve reunification, helping the child to make a safe transition home. Placing a child with a foster parent who has the support of the team makes it possible for the first placement to be the child’s only placement. For example, by being supported to respond therapeutically to the child’s reactions to visits, foster parents can meet the child’s attachment needs. By forming a partnership with the child’s family, the foster parent can help them to meet their children’s needs incrementally as reunification progresses. Through active involvement with the child’s school (and bringing the parent to school meetings), the foster parent can ensure that the child’s educational needs are met.”
Annie E. Casey Foundation: Resource Family to Family Initiative “Tools”, p. 17.
Key Concepts From The California Family to Family Initiative:
“Team Decision Making: Key Messages
- A way to involve family & community in our work, and to extend partnership messages to caregivers, providers and neighborhood stakeholders.
- One of many ‘family team’ models, with many names and common values. Not the same as Family Group Conferencing, though it can be complementary.
- This model: Group convenes for every key child welfare decision around placement, i.e. removal, change of placement, reunification or other permanent plan. (Case planning, assessment, review functions are secondary.)
- Provides gatekeeping for the public child welfare system: originally driven by need to improve quality and consistency of decisions around placement. Safety/risk issues are central.
- Extending the circle provides gains in both community partnership and family engagement (birth, extended, & caregiver families.) Also offers opportunity for birth-foster parent interaction in 'safe' environment.
- Family’s social worker convenes the group to assist in making critical decision. Trained agency facilitator leads strengths-based, consensus driven, respectful process – while modeling directness and honesty regarding risks and concerns.
- Agency maintains its responsibility to make ultimate decision in absence of consensus—and states this up front.
- Social worker is supported in making difficult decisions. Participants gain understanding of complexity of process and criteria used in decision making. Families are present and involved.
- TDM is related to and reinforces other core strategies: e.g., provides a 'place at the table' for community and caregivers, sending a stronger message of inclusion and partnership. Offers opportunity for self-evaluation – can measure effect of community/family/caregiver/other partners on decisions, success at avoiding unnecessary removals and preventing changes of placement, etc.”
Family to Family Initiative California. See also Annie E. Casey Foundation, Team Decision making: Involving the Family and Community in Child Welfare Decisions.
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