If you or someone you know has recently become involved with the Department of Children’s Services, you may have heard the acronym “CFTM” being thrown around. “CFTM” stands for Child and Family Team Meeting, and it is the centerpiece of the foster care system. Although CFTMs are not held before a court, it is still critical to attend these meetings and be well prepared.
Who Gets Invited to a CFTM?
Our clients come from all sides of the foster care system—from parents defending their own parental rights, to grandparents and other relatives wishing to take temporary custody of recently removed children, to foster parents. Any of these people can and should participate in Child and Family Team Meetings. In addition, the Department of Children’s Services should also allow other members of the children’s or parents’ support team to participate. That could include attorneys, friends, family members, therapists, social workers, or even medical personnel. The Department of Children’s Services will also likely bring a dizzying array of its own personnel, including the assigned Family Services Worker, their supervisor, and more. Surprisingly, the Department of Children’s Services may even involve a foster child over six in some or all portions of the meeting. Anyone who is invited to a CFTM should attend if possible, as failing to do so will mean you miss out on critical information that you may not be able to obtain any other way.
What Happens at a CFTM?
The purpose of a CFTM is to gather all the people concerned with a particular family in one place to discuss the responsibilities of the parents and the fate of the children. It is the ideal setting for parents and caregivers to learn information about the children during a notoriously opaque process. You should come to the meeting prepared with questions for the caseworkers and other professionals, such as what your responsibilities are, what resources are available to you, how the kids are doing medically and educationally, and when you might get to visit them or petition for custody. It is also an important time to get names and phone numbers of the people involved with the children’s case, in case you need to get in contact with them later. In addition, parents, foster parents, and potential caretakers should also be aware that the Department of Children’s Services is also using this time to get information about you. Be prepared to answer questions about your home, job, significant other, and progress on your permanency plan. Try to be helpful and cordial to all members of the team. Even though the judge in charge of your case will not be personally present, your behavior in these meetings can have a major impact on the outcome of your case.
How do I Prepare for my First CFTM?
Your preparation for the first CFTM depends on your role in the case. If you are a parent with children in foster care, start with a list of your children’s current doctors, appointments, allergies, and preferences. The more your children’s foster parents know about them, the easier the transition will be for your children. Next, make a few phone calls to relatives who might be willing and able to care for your children while they are in DCS custody. It usually benefits both you and your kids if they can live with a safe relative during this process rather than a stranger. Finally, go ahead and work on obtaining a job, safe housing, and transportation (a bus pass works!) to show the team you are dedicated to getting your children home as soon as possible.
On the other hand, if you are a relative hoping to get custody of the children while their parents work out their case with the Department of Children’s Services, come to the meeting with pictures of your home and especially the room where the children would be sleeping. Be ready to answer questions about your relationship with the kids and how you plan to get them to and from school, medical appointments, and visitation.
It is also hugely beneficial to have an attorney attend the meeting with you, as they know the right questions to ask to get you as much information about your case as possible. At Held Law Firm, we never let clients go into a CFTM alone.