An Aspiring Lawyer Looks at Family Meeting Models

An Aspiring Lawyer Looks at Family Meeting Models

July 28, 2022 | Speranza Gonzalez

Speranza Gonzalez headshot

As a developing researcher at Evident Change, I’ve been focused on Team Decision Making® (TDM™) and child and family team (CFT) meetings. As a former foster youth, I have always thought of TDMs as a safe haven, so when I was given the opportunity to begin my research within TDM/CFT meetings, I jumped at the opportunity.

TDM/CFT meetings and all their participants contribute to the success and stability of the youth. Both types of meetings are used when there are no other safe placement options available, specifically regarding housing, for a young person. These meetings provide the youth and other participants with clarity on housing and other resources that may be helpful for the youth. Therefore, I am passionate about participating in and contributing to the research.

In my role, I have observed TDM/CFT training, and analyzed and reviewed follow-up surveys for youth and other participants after the meetings take place. Additionally, I have had the chance to sit in on several TDM/CFT training courses with TDM meeting facilitators and social workers.

Most recently I observed a domestic violence TDM training for officials to express safety concerns that may arise during meetings with the youth or other participants. I was impressed to see that officials from several different counties and states could exchange their knowledge and skills to strengthen the success of TDM/CFT meetings. What I enjoyed most was that there were several different members with different roles such as a TDM facilitator, social workers, and caseworkers.

There are several policies in place for conducting and preparing for a TDM/CFT meeting that keep everyone’s safety as a top priority. It is important to not to rehash details of traumatic events to avoid activating any traumas. A social worker shared that in her county they redact information that can put any of the parties at risk, which not all counties do. For example, for a mother and father who had a domestic abuse case, the meeting does not include the father so as to not put the youth or the mother at risk. The father will be able to access transcripts of the meeting but some parts pertaining to the mother may be redacted. It was great to see that other counties that were not practicing these same measures took note on what could possibly be implemented and improved.

I also analyzed follow-up TDM/CFT meeting surveys. These surveys allow participants, especially the youth, to have a voice and address what was either helpful or unhelpful during the meeting. The three surveys that I have reviewed are from different states, but overall, the surveys suggest the same concerns of those in the meeting and their relationship to the youth. I believe that addressing all participants after the meeting to evaluate how effective the meeting was allows child welfare professionals to improve TDM/CFT meetings. Nonetheless, when I was in foster care, the few TDM meetings I attended were never followed by a survey. I believe we need to work on making this a standard practice for all TDM/CFT meetings everywhere.

As a youth justice fellow, this journey of observing meetings and analyzing surveys was an incredible experience. I hope I have passed on some of this knowledge to you as I continue my journey to give back to my community through representing at-risk and underrepresented youth, as I once was. After I attain my bachelor’s degree in sociology I plan to go to law school and use my lived experience as well as my professional experience to help me better understand policies, not just within the criminal justice system but also the child welfare system.

Speranza Gonzalez is a recent Youth Justice Fellow with Evident Change.