Special Populations : Family Services Team (FST)

Program/Practice Name: Family Services Team (FST)1

Agency Name: El Paso County (Colorado) Department of Human Services Office of Employment and Family Support

Contact Information: Rick Bengtsson, richardbengtsson@elpasoco.com (719)444-5535

Type of Program/Practice: FST works collaboratively to provide financial and support services through child only grants for relative caregivers.

1 FST formerly was known as the Family Support Team. The name change took effect in 2007 when FST was put under the administration of the Office of Employment and Family Support.

Program/Practice Description: FST provides financial eligibility and casework services to relative caregivers with a focus on the family as a whole. This team identifies and supports the needs of child only cases in line with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) objectives, and uses TANF funds to provide prevention and supportive services to these families. The goal is to help connect relative caregivers with the support and services they need before they have to enter into the child welfare system, which can be time-consuming and more intrusive. Kinship services provided by FST include a TANF child only payment, Medicaid for the child, special funding for specific financial needs on a case-by-case basis, subsidized permanent custody, and other supportive services as needed. FST also operates the Warm Line, which individuals can call to obtain information on available resources or talk to caseworkers or a grandparent advocate. In addition, FST facilitates three biweekly support groups that are designed to offer education and emotional support for grandparents. One of the support group facilitators is under contract through the Department of Human Services in collaboration with Community Partnership for Child Development (Head Start) and the other two are community-based facilitators.

Innovations and Results: This program is unique in that it works to address the needs of relative caregivers using TANF funds before they have to enter into the formal child welfare system. This program is an example of the service integration focus of El Paso County Human Services. Service integration of child welfare and TANF has:

  • Reduced the number of families on welfare without using punitive approaches;
  • Reduced the number of children and youth in foster care; and
  • Increased the safety of children.

Coordinating child welfare caseworkers with TANF technicians gives families access to a broader array of services and resources for both TANF and child welfare. As a result, FST is better able to serve high-need clients through service integration and meets requirements of multiple programs through one case plan.

Funding: The program provides supportive services, above basic cash assistance, to grandparents raising grandchildren or caregivers raising relative children. The strategy is to have caseworkers and technicians evaluate a family’s needs and provide financial assistance accordingly, instead of giving caregivers a set amount of money every month.

Staffing: FST was one of the first blended staff units at El Paso County Department of Human Services. It is composed of a supervisor, one child welfare caseworker experienced with working with families to provide supportive services, a grandparent advocate, and four TANF technicians with financial program experience focusing on self-sufficiency. The grandparent/relative advocate provides families with referrals to community resources and helps them navigate through the human services, school and mental health systems.  The advocate provides  outreach, speaking at human services agencies in the community sharing information about this program and how we might benefit their clients.

Tips to Implementation: Service integration of child support, adult programs, and child only cases has allowed the program to serve the family as a whole and provide services to families based on their needs. Also, co-locating caseworkers with TANF technicians increased coordination and collaboration to serve families more effectively and efficiently. FST has worked in collaboration with other programs in the division to preserve flexibility and address the needs of clients working toward the ultimate goal of self-sufficiency.

Keys to Success:

  • Using block grant money has enabled the division to use funds for preventive programs and more flexible support and services.
  • Once this program was operational, a brochure was created and distributed throughout the division and to the public so people were aware of the services offered by FST. Quarterly newsletters are sent via e-mail or letter mail to grandparents and relative caregivers in the community who have been served by FST; the mailing list contains approximately 1,200 households.
  • Flexibility in the program has been critical. The program was designed to use services to address the specific needs of clients and does not have a list of procedures and processes for staff.
  • Emphasis is placed on the division working as a whole to achieve its mission “to strengthen families, assure safety, promote self-sufficiency, and improve the quality of life” in the community.

Challenges:

  • Reporting: Since FST provides such diverse services, it is difficult to report on the services provided and document outcomes as a result of FST activities.
  • Staffing: Managing a growing caseload and providing adequate staffing continue to be challenges.

The following tools are associated with Family Services Team (FST).  Please send us an email at upitoolkit@icfi.com for more information about these tools.

TANF and Child Welfare Service Integration Fact Sheet

Family Services Team Relative Caregivers How To: (and Other Helpful Hints)

El Paso County Department of Human Services MOU - Kinship Family Assessment and Family Services Team

Kinship Unit Facts

Kinship Unit Information Sheet