Project Update: Ice Breaker Meetings for Children in Foster Care Project

Ice Breaker Meetings
Ice Breaker Meetings

What's going on?! 
This week, we will learn about the Ice Breaker Meetings for Children in Foster Care project. Thank you, Kelli Hauptman and Jennie Cole-Mossman, for answering the following questions about the Ice Breaker Meetings for Children in Foster Care project.

What is the Ice Breaker Meetings for Children in Foster Care?
The Ice Breaker Meeting project is a pilot project we are conducting in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Families Inspiring Families, and Nebraska Foster and Adoptive Parent Association (NFAPA).  An Ice Breaker Meeting lets parents meet with foster parents to ensure that the needs of the child are being met.  

The three goals of Ice Breaker Meetings are (1) to ensure the best care and smooth transition of a child into foster care, (2) to build relationships between parents and foster parents, and (3) to answer questions for both parents and foster parents.  We are evaluating the pilot project to see if Ice Breaker Meetings improve parental engagement over the life of the case and to collect outcome variables on the cases receiving Ice Breaker Meetings.

Who are the members of the Ice Breaker Meetings for Children in Foster Care? (Please provide a job title and brief description of what they do.) 
We are partnering with DHHS - Lancaster County, Families Inspiring Families, and NFAPA.  CCFL staff involved in this project are Cassie Maher, Jamie Bahm, Katherine Hazen, Kelli Hauptman and Melanie Fessinger.

When did the Ice Breaker Meetings for Children in Foster Care project begin, and how long is it for? 
Planning for this project began in 2015, and the project received funding from the Woods Foundation in May 2016.  It is a two-year grant.  Up to 75 families will receive Icebreaker Meetings in connection with this project.

What inspired this project, and how has it evolved? 
NFAPA and the Nebraska Federation began Ice Breaker Meetings around 2009 in rural areas of Nebraska.  Some Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative teams partnered with them to make referrals for Ice Breaker Meetings as part of their child welfare cases.  Permanent funding was never secured for the service, and it fell out of practice. The issues of lack of communication between parent and foster parent continued.  Some staff of the Nebraska Resource Project for Vulnerable Young Children (NRPVYC) were involved in expansion of Ice Breaker Meetings in rural areas and began again to discuss use of this service in the Lincoln area.  It is still utilized in very few cases as part of this pilot project, but the hope is for the evaluation to establish good outcomes so that the use of Ice Breaker Meetings can be expanded.

Any challenges in the project?  
Securing the voluntary participation of parents has been a challenge.  The initial plan of the co-facilitator with Families Inspiring Families independently reaching out to parents failed in getting the parents to agree to attend the Ice Breaker Meetings.  We have brainstormed this challenge and shifted practice so that the facilitator is now attending the Pre-Hearing Conference and Protective Custody Hearing to help establish the initial connection.  If anyone has additional ideas, we would love to hear them!  

What’s the most exciting or best part of getting to work on or being part of this project?   
Seeing the fabulous work of our Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) on the evaluation of this has been the best part of this project. Kate Hazen did extensive national research on the practice and has thoroughly worked to develop an evaluation plan.  She has created certain parts of the project on her own, like the All About My Home Form that foster homes are filling out to give to the parent. She has also managed the needs and challenges of our partners very well.  We love our NRPVYC staff!