One of the key values that defines our direct work with children and families in TXPOP is shared power. We define shared power as providing the opportunity for those with less power to influence and make decisions and inclusion as ensuring everyone’s voice is involved even when strong feelings are expressed and opinions differ. Network Meetings is one approach in the TXPOP practice model that exemplifies shared power and inclusion.
Network Meetings are regularly occurring meetings that involve families and their naturally occurring network of family and friends. The purpose of the meetings is to keep everyone involved informed of the danger and risk in the family, mobilize everyone to take action on behalf of the child(ren), and create clear and practical plans for the children’s long-term safety, permanency, and well-being. TXPOP Network Meetings are a little different from traditional child welfare meetings. Network Meetings have more family than professionals present, and the emphasis is on creating a sustainable safety network that will keep children safe if the family has trouble now or in the future. The worker and the family jointly decide who should be a part of the network meetings and where the meetings should take place.
Because children often leave care with fewer connections than they had at the beginning, we always aim to include more people, not fewer people, even if those people cannot be placement resources for the child(ren). Children are involved in the meetings either by attending or having their perspectives brought in and shared with the network. We ask children who they trust to keep them safe and ensure those people are included.
Another critical difference is that network meetings do not focus on what services the parents will attend. While services can be helpful and are sometimes used as a means to create behavior change in the family, they alone do not keep children safe. We help the family create a vision of what everyone will be doing that keeps children safe in their daily lives. Additionally, we build on what the family is already doing or has done in the past to keep the children safe. Everyone shares their best ideas to co-create a plan that works for the family over time. We always aim for the family to create their own plan before the professionals impose their ideas.
Monarch Family Services, one of our TXPOP pilot sites in the Houston area, has embraced the use of Network Meetings and experienced a lot of success with this approach. For example, one of Monarch’s families had a series of Network Meetings that resulted in a unique co-parenting plan. The participants in the meetings included the 8-years-old child, his great aunt and uncle, who were the kinship caregivers, his mother, and his mother’s good friend. Traditionally, permanent managing conservatorship is granted to the kinship caregivers, or the child(ren) return to the care of their parent(s). However, because this family was committed to working together and supporting one another in the care of the child, the judge granted joint permanent managing conservatorship to both the kinship caregivers and mom. As a result, this child now has more people caring for and loving him on a regular basis.
Another great outcome resulting from Network Meetings involved two grandmothers and their 14-year-old grandson. For years, the maternal grandmother had ongoing conflict with her grandson’s paternal grandmother. Caseworkers could not get the two grandmothers to work together, but both wanted custody of their grandson. A Network Meeting between the two grandmothers took place with the goal of the two grandmothers beginning to see one another’s perspective, creating a communication plan, keeping their grandson at the center of the plan, and agreeing to work toward co-parenting their grandson. The Network Meeting was remarkable, ending with the grandmothers hugging and agreeing to work together. Both grandmothers stated that until the network meeting, they felt “pitted against each other” and that they had minimal options on how to stay connected to their grandson. The plan created at the network meeting allowed them both to realize that if they worked together, they could both keep their grandson in their life, which is what is best for him.
Network Meetings encourage creativity from families and caseworkers. A recent series of meetings involved maternal grandparents who became the kinship caregivers of two young girls when their mother passed away. The girl’s father was recently released from prison and living with his mother. Father and paternal grandmother both desired to have a relationship with the girls. The maternal grandparents highly valued family and were open to working through a plan that safely kept the girls connected to their paternal family. At the same time, the girls let everyone know they wanted to have a relationship with their paternal half-sister. The caseworker reached out to the father’s ex-girlfriend, who was also open to attending the Network Meetings. She expressed needing help as a single mother; supporting her and allowing all the girls to reconnect was worked into the family’s plan.
Network Meetings encourage families to generate their own solutions for the worry and create their own plans. As a result, families are more likely to commit to and follow through with plans they take the lead in developing. Families know themselves better than professionals and are more likely to produce innovative solutions. When the case is closed, and the professionals are no longer involved, the network will still be there for the children.