On October 22, over 50 child welfare professionals gathered for the first-ever Texas Permanency Outcomes Project (TXPOP) showcase. Our team kicked off the Texas Child Care Administrators Conference by launching a new campaign and exploring the work we’ve led statewide to reinvent foster care and connect children with their families.
What We’ve Learned So Far
Attendees learned the basics of TXPOP in an opening presentation from Dr. Monica Faulkner, director of the Texas Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing and principal investigator for the TXPOP Project. Dr. Faulkner broke down the core concepts of the project, from its vision of building shared power with children and families to its strategies of system engagement, statewide capacity building, and a new practice model.
Anna Wasim, the evaluation coordinator for the TXPOP team, next took the stage to share details about how the team uses data to monitor, adapt, and refine the TXPOP practice model over time. The evaluation team initially conducted a statewide survey with 400 child welfare practitioners to assess needs across the state before piloting the usability of the practice model. Currently, the team uses data from focus groups and interviews, as well as pre- and post-surveys for training attendees, to inform the ongoing process evaluation.
“As it can sometimes take years to achieve permanency outcomes, we want to understand what is working and monitor for short-term outcomes that could indicate promise—such as wellbeing and maintaining connections for children in care,” Anna said.
Anna shared that during the summer of 2022, the evaluation team conducted interviews with caregivers, child welfare practitioners, and birth parents to identify the key elements of the practice model. The interviews provided rich qualitative data used to inform the driving forces behind the practice model.
“We found that consistently—whether a person was hesitant or excited to use the TXPOP practice model—that the focus on the child and youth’s voice was the primary goal,” Anna said. “And we learned that TXPOP’s ability to be adaptive and supportive was important in shifting agency culture and creating systemic change.”
Launching The Compassionate Caregivers Campaign
Kate McKerlie, the TXPOP communications lead, invited attendees to join for the launch of a multimedia campaign for caregivers. The TXPOP team formed an advisory group of parents and caregivers interested in promoting family engagement to create the Compassionate Caregivers campaign, which shares tips and resources on engaging families.
“We decided that in order to be a truly compassionate caregiver, you must attempt to establish a relationship with the family of the child and recognize that this relationship is healing and transformative for everyone involved, especially the children,” Kate said. “That’s the premise of this campaign.”
The campaign promotes compassionate caregiving through a website and on social media via Instagram and Facebook. These channels provide worksheets, videos, and words of encouragement on how caregivers can put their compassion toward a child’s family into action.
“The idea around this is that family engagement doesn’t need to be a big gesture—it’s often small actions in everyday life that make a difference,” Kate said.
Kate welcomed some of the campaign advisory group members to the stage for a brief panel discussion on their experiences in child welfare and their hopes for the campaign.
“We need informed, educated, empathetic caregivers to foster children and help them reunify with birth families,” said Samantha MacCallon, a foster caregiver and advisory group member. “That was kind of my main goal in joining this project.”
Putting A Model Into Practice
Members of the TXPOP practice model team next took the stage to share lessons learned from implementing the practice model at three sites across Texas.
TXPOP Co-Director Samantha Zuniga Thompson explained that the practice model uses tools, trainings, case consultation, and an online network of support to achieve four goals:
- Placing children’s input at the center of decisionmaking and planning
- Building working partnerships between families and caregivers
- Increasing involvement of families in the day-to-day lives of their children
- Creating lasting safety and support networks around children and families
“We know this might be new practice for some,” Samantha said, “Historically, families and foster parents have been kept at a distance from each other and discouraged from having contact. We feel that children do best when all the important people in their lives are working together and have healthy relationships.”
Samantha and TXPOP Co-Director Brenda Keller wrapped up their session with a panel of the TXPOP site coordinators. Panel members discussed their experiences in the child welfare system and their goals for the TXPOP practice model implementation.
“So often, in my experience with the Department of Family and Protective Services, it was kind of a ‘Mom and Dad, you stay in your lane, foster parents you stay in your lane,’ and what you wound up with was these families with no cohesion, everybody was against each other,” said Will Meiron, Region 2 TXPOP Coordinator at 2ingage. “I think the TXPOP practice model is really helpful to open that, and we’ve seen good interactions between workers and foster families and birth parents getting on board with this.”
Breaking Down Systemic Barriers
At the close of the session, attendees got a sneak peek at the TXPOP Child Welfare Academy. Child Welfare Academy Coordinator Cassandra Mendoza explained how the Academy moves beyond trauma-informed care to holistic approaches that center healing and see clients as more than just their trauma.
“Healing-centered engagement recognizes that racial inequality exists in many of our social welfare systems and these inequalities continue to harm Black and Brown communities,” Cassandra said. “The trauma is not just happening on an individual level, but communities and families are also being traumatized, and thus the response needs to be collective.”
The Academy adapts a healing-centered engagement approach to encourage professionals to build empathy for the families they work with and learn about the oppression they face.
“Ultimately, the Academy wants to center those with lived experiences,” Cassandra said. “We want to recognize that parents matter, families matter, and that we can work alongside families to transform the child welfare system.”
We’re looking forward to hosting more in-person Child Welfare Academy trainings next year and continuing to strengthen our practice model. Stay up-to-date on the latest TXPOP news and events by signing up for our newsletter!