The purpose of this program area is to provide community-based prevention and early intervention services to strengthen families, promote healthy family functioning and encourage families to become self-reliant.
Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Services include several programs that focus on preventing child abuse and neglect through one-to-one education and support of families, group-based education and support, and neighborhood-based coalition building to improve family and community conditions.
Neighborhood Networks links communities and schools to enhance family strengths and reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect. DFS operates the program in collaboration with 14 Fairfax County elementary schools, one preschool and two community-based partner agencies (Cornerstones and Culmore Family Resource Center).
Neighborhood Networks is a unified and holistic service delivery system for at-risk children and their families that leverages partnerships among County agencies, schools, businesses, faith-based organizations and the community. Staff reduces risk factors related to child abuse and neglect by enhancing families’ networks of support and helping them become leaders in their own community. Specifically, staff:
- Identifies families’ strengths and needs using a single multi-system family assessment (NCFAS) that explores the family life domains of parental capabilities, family interactions, family safety, child well-being, social/community life, environment, economic self-sufficiency, and family health & well-being.
- Links them to services using a comprehensive family service plan to ensure the timely, customized, coordinated delivery of County and community services. This includes increasing the families’ own capacity to support their children in school, and creatively involves other public and private resources in support of families and children.
Services may be provided at the school, the family’s home, and/or at local community sites in the family’s neighborhood. Regular meetings are held with family members, DFS and school staff, and representatives of community-based public and private human service organizations who are working with the family. Team members create a holistic support system that combines the resources inherent in each family with existing community services in an intentional, carefully designed plan to achieve the families’ goals.
Underlying premises of the program include:
- Poor outcomes for children in part result from the inability of current service systems to respond appropriately to the multiple and interconnected needs of children and their families.
- Schools are the enduring, dominant institutions of the community and neighborhoods.
- Community services are needed to address children’s non-academic needs.
- Collaboration with community and school partners is the most effective approach to obtain the best child and family outcomes.
Healthy Families Fairfax
Healthy Families Fairfax (HFF) is an evidence-based home-visiting program offering parents at risk of maltreating their child home-based parenting education, health information and referrals to community support. Services are offered from pregnancy until the child reaches age 3 and is enrolled in an early group education experience. It is supported through a partnership among DFS, the Health Department and two nonprofit organizations – Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) and United Community Ministries (UCM). This program is accredited through the National Council on Accreditation and Healthy Families America and focuses on six areas:
- Promotion of healthy family functioning by teaching problem solving skills, reducing family stress and improving the support system,
- Systematic identification of overburdened families,
- Promotion of positive parent/child interaction,
- Promotion of healthy child development and prevention care in early childhood,
- Prevention of child abuse and neglect, and
- Pre-and post-natal health care.
Nurses assess at-risk families for potential enrollment in the program. Family support workers provide home visiting services to families at a frequency based on risk level. Visits are focused on one-to-one parenting skills, child development and case management.
Parenting Education Programs
The Parenting Education Program (PEP) offers group-based comprehensive classes using evidence-based curricula to families in Fairfax County, especially those at risk of child abuse and neglect. Staff teaches essential parenting and nurturing skills so that parents may interact positively with their children. The program serves families with children from infants to age 18. Classes are unique in that they include both parents and children. The class topics for children mirror those for parents but are tailored to meet their different ages and stages of development. Targeted classes are offered for various age groups of children, Spanish-speaking families, and African-American families.
BeFriend-A-Child involves community volunteers who provide positive experiences for children who have been abused or neglected or who are at risk of abuse or neglect and are currently being served by a program in the Children, Youth, and Families Division. Befriend-A-Child carefully matches children ages 5 to 12 years old with trained volunteers who spend time together including participating in monthly educational or social group activities, attending holiday parties, engaging in performing arts workshops and helping with community service projects. Mentors commit to a minimum of eight hours a month for one year.
Body Safety Program
The Body Safety Program teaches pre-school through 6th grade children the skills that play a major role in preventing or interrupting child sexual abuse. The program provides a curriculum and recruits and trains community volunteers to serve as facilitators. They teach children about safe and unsafe touches and help children feel comfortable talking about body safety issues.
Volunteer and Partner Services
Volunteer and Partner Services (VPS) engages volunteers and builds partnerships to support families with children who are at risk of abuse or neglect, or who are placed in foster care or with relatives. The program builds volunteer capacity in the division, implements programs, and directs activities that promote positive relationships within the community. VPS staff recruits, trains, and supports volunteers. Volunteers serve in a variety of roles including office administrative support, mentors for BeFriend-A-Child, and facilitators for PEP and Body Safety programs. VPS staff also develops partnerships with local businesses, civic groups, faith communities, and other community organizations to provide donations and other material support to children and families. Examples include back-to-school backpacks, holiday gifts, new baby care packages, and tickets to events.
The purpose of Child Protective Services is to protect children from abuse and neglect and prevent further abuse and neglect from occurring.
Child Protective Services (CPS) staff receives and responds to reports of abused and neglected children and provides services to strengthen families by enhancing parents’ capacity to nurture their children in a safe environment. In addition to the services that are provided during business hours, CPS on-call staff responds during non-business hours to child abuse and neglect referrals that require an immediate response. Important aspects of the CPS program include:
Hotline Specialists receive reports of alleged abuse and neglect. Hotline Specialists request specific information about the alleged abuse or neglect, assess the information and determine whether the situation meets the state definition of abuse or neglect. Those that do are screened in and assigned to a CPS Intake Specialist for response. If the information does not meet the designated criteria, the report is screened out.
Calls that are screened out for a CPS response are then screened for the criteria of Family In Need of Services (FINS). Calls that meet FINS criteria are sent to the CYF Protection and Preservation Services program for response as a Prevention case. Other screened-out calls are referred to other County and community agencies as appropriate.
Hotline staff also responds to numerous calls for general information about DFS, requests for consultations, and calls to workers and other staff members when callers do not have a direct phone number or when callers want to make sure that a message is received.
CPS Intake Specialists are responsible for investigating or assessing allegations of child abuse and neglect and providing short term services to families. Upon assignment, Specialists visit the site where the alleged abuse occurred, interview the alleged victim(s) and the alleged abuser(s), and other relevant witnesses. During this process workers assess the situation, determine the needs of the family, and initiate appropriate services. When staff determines that children cannot remain safely with their parents or other relatives, staff is authorized to remove children and place them in foster care, and the case is transferred to the Foster Care and Adoption program. When staff determines that families require additional services to ensure children’s safety, families are referred either to the Protection and Preservation Services program or the Kinship Care Unit for ongoing case management.
Currently DFS has six CPS intake units, one of which focuses on child sexual abuse allegations and out-of- family investigations, such as day care centers and school employees. The sexual abuse unit is supported by a multi-disciplinary team that includes law enforcement officials, medical professionals, and Community Services Board staff. The unit also has a partnership with SafeSpot, a child advocacy center that provides a child-friendly facility where victims of sexual abuse can be interviewed and receive services.
CPS is responsible for providing after-hours responses to reports of child abuse and neglect during nonbusiness hours. CPS provides the same level of response to any valid complaint of abuse or neglect, regardless of whether the report is received during or after business hours.
Video: Become a CPS Intake Specialist
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The purpose of Protection and Preservation Services is to prevent child abuse and neglect and preserve families by enhancing families’ ability to provide safe, stable and nurturing environments for their children.
Protection and Preservation Services provides clinical case management and support services to children living at home with their families. Services are provided in two types of cases:
CPS Ongoing Cases
These cases are received from CPS Intake workers after a family assessment or investigation has determined that a family needs ongoing services to prevent further child abuse or neglect. They include cases in which families are court-ordered to participate in services as well as cases where families are not court-ordered to participate in services.
These cases are received directly from the CPS Hotline and do not meet state criteria for a CPS response to child abuse or neglect. These cases, however, do meet the local Families in Need of Services (FINS) criteria which focus on characteristics that place families at heightened risk of child abuse or neglect.
Casework responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
- Assessing safety and risk concerns for children
- Assessing families’ strengths and needs
- Completing comprehensive assessments
- Creating service plans with families to minimize safety and risk concerns, build on strengths, and address needs
- Connecting families to resources and services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, domestic violence interventions, parenting education and support, income and employment assistance, and medical care
- Helping families identify and connect with natural supports such as extended family.
These services help to accomplish the following objectives:
- Strengthen families
- Promote child safety, well-being, permanency and placement stability, including maintaining the child in his or her own family
- Minimize harm to children
- Maximize families’ abilities to protect and care for their own
- Prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring or reoccurring
- Prevent out-of-home care, including foster care.
The purpose of these programs is to ensure safety, well-being and permanence for children who have been physically and legally removed from their caregivers due to abuse and neglect or through other court intervention. Services are provided to the family to address the concerns that led to the removal of their children. Foster Care is a short term intervention until permanency can be achieved. Staff provides foster care services to:
- Children from birth to 18 who are in the custody of the Department and who the court has determined cannot remain safely in their home. Children may be in foster care for a few days, a few months, or longer. Children receive placement services as well as services to address their educational, mental and physical well-being.
- Parents whose children have been removed from the home. Parents are offered services aimed at changing the behavior or circumstances that caused the child to be unsafe in the home and which must be successfully changed for the child to be safely returned home and to end DFS services.
- Foster youth who are ages 14 to 21 to help them learn needed skills and increase the likelihood of successful transition from the foster care system.
- Youth who emancipate from foster care after age 18 and who are eligible for continued Foster Care and Independent Living Skills until they reach 21 years old.
When a child must be removed from home, the initial goal focuses on the provision of services to return the child home. If reunification is not possible, the goal becomes achieving permanency for the child with another family through either adoption or custody transfer to relatives based on the best interests of the child. Permanency also involves facilitating lifelong connections for the child with siblings, extended family, and other significant adults.
When a child enters foster care, the Department is mandated to provide services to the family to help reunify the child with his or her previous caregivers. It is also mandated to work with absent parents and extended family members in order to reunify that child with their family. Staff works continuously with all family members individually and through Family Partnership Meetings.
Foster care services are monitored by the courts: staff goes to court throughout the year to update the judge on the progress of the parents or prior caregiver(s). The goal is for a child to reach legal permanency within 12 months of entering foster care. To do this, permanency plans are developed by conducting a comprehensive family assessment and providing services to enhance the capacity of parents to care for their children.
If parents and relatives are unable to care for their children, adoption is often sought. Adoption is a social and legal process which gives new parent(s) the same rights and obligations as biological parents. Adoption services are provided to children who have been permanently and legally separated from their birth parents. Staff seeks adoptive families and provides adoption counseling for birth parents and post adoption support services for families of children with special needs.
Learn more about foster care and adoption.
The purpose of this program is for children to safely achieve permanency either through parental reunification, placement with relative or adoption by a relative/non-relative. Programs and services offered in this area are:
This involves placing a child with a foster family, group home, or residential children’s facility. Extensive efforts are made to place children in the least restrictive environment in a family setting. Children and caregivers are carefully matched to promote placement stability.
Resource Family Support
Staff provides supportive services for DFS foster parents to promote foster parent retention and improved placement stability for children in foster homes.
Foster Parent Recruitment and Training
Recruitment of foster families involves outreach to the community, conducting orientation sessions, and carrying out in-depth home studies to mutually assess a family’s suitability to be a foster care placement resource. A single process is used to approve families to provide foster care, adoption, and respite services. Training includes both pre-service training to prepare new resource families and in-service training to enhance the skills of current resource families.
Permanency and Life Skills
These services include:
- Permanency coordination to enhance efforts to find permanent families for older youth in foster care.
- Fostering permanent connections between youth in foster care and their relatives or previous caregivers.
- Teaching independent living skills to help youth in foster care ages 14-21 develop the skills necessary to transition from foster care to self-sufficiency. Personal development skills such as self-esteem, communication skills, decision-making, conflict resolution and anger management are emphasized.
Post Adoption Services
These services include:
- Management of adoption assistance payments to families who have adopted children with special needs.
- Provision of post-adoption services which include support, education, coordination and referral for services to adoptive families.
- Post adoption searches for adoptees and birth parents who wish to access information about or make contact with each other.
Learn more about foster care and adoption.
The purpose of FEP programs and services is to ensure family members are engaged in practices that support decision making which promotes the safety, well-being and permanency of their children. Programs and services offered in this area are:
Kinship Care Unit
The Kinship Care Unit (KCU) supports relatives or fictive family as they provide care, nurturance and safety to children placed in their homes. Staff provides ongoing clinical and supportive case management services to the kinship triad (caregiver, prior caregivers and child) to support the family in achieving safety, permanency and well-being for all children. Staff provides services and interventions in a culturally sensitive and flexible manner based on the families’ strengths and changing needs. The KCU team works to provide holistic, client-centered interventions that address the unique and complex needs of kinship families. The unit also places importance on assessment and outcome measures for continuous process improvement. The Kinship Care Unit serves referrals from Child Protective Services that come with either a service agreement or court order.
Family Partnership Meetings (FPMs)
The Department of Family Services’ Family Partnership Program offers services that bring together families and their extended supportive networks to make decisions regarding the safety, stability and well-being of their children.
FPM staff facilitates structured meetings that include key family members, others invited by the family, DFS staff, and other service providers. The meetings focus on family strengths and provide a safe venue to discuss safety concerns for children and other family challenges. Members of the family team work together to agree on family goals and services needed to achieve the goals. Meetings are held regularly throughout the life of a case to promote strong teamwork and shared responsibility for making steady progress towards goal achievement.
FPMs are recognized as a national best practice in child welfare. FPMs also are used as a team based planning process by the following County agencies: Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, Comprehensive Services Board, Fairfax County Public Schools and Falls Church City Public Schools.
Staff in this unit leads the division's father inclusion efforts by providing father-friendly services, implementing effective father engagement strategies, developing father inclusive policies and encouraging responsible fatherhood in the Fairfax community. The services and activities provided by the unit include Dads Parenting Groups, consultation services, staff trainings and father-focused community activities.