Spotlight on Preparing to Engage Youth and Families in the Round 4 CFSRs

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Spotlight On...

Preparing to Engage Youth and Families in the Round 4 CFSRs


Youth and families bring an expertise that cannot be learned through formal education. This captures the area between what policy aims to do and what actually happens in practice. Youth and family voice is essential to interpreting data and developing system improvements that show respect for those who are directly impacted. The foundation of partnership is built on engagement and equal power between the child welfare system and the youth and families involved.” – Jennifer Rhodes, Young Adult Consultant and Coach 

Engaging a diverse group of families and young people with lived experience in child welfare is a guiding principle of the Round 4 Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs)[1]. People with lived experience are critical to gaining a deeper understanding of the evidence at the core of the CFSRs as they have insight into the stories driving the data. As valued partners, people with lived experience can play important roles in all aspects of the CFSR, from exploring trends in statewide data indicator performance and the Statewide Assessment to co-facilitating training and supporting interviews during the Onsite Review, identifying strategies for the Program Improvement Plan (PIP), monitoring progress, and more.  

The Children’s Bureau encourages sustained engagement that is: 

  • Meaningful: promoting active collaboration in a way that recognizes young people and families as coequal participants in practice and system change[2]
  • Authentic: creating a culture where lived expertise is fully embedded and supported with genuine opportunities for youth and families to share in planning and decision-making
  • Ongoing: incorporating youth and family voice not just at a single point of feedback, but continuously throughout each part of the CFSR process 

With the imminent launch of Round 4 CFSR, now is an opportune time for states to assess infrastructure needs, set goals for a supportive agency culture, and arrange for supports that promote successful engagement. 


  • Recent focus groups on involvement of young people in the CFSRs[3] and a study of federal engagement initiatives[4] identified benefits of engagement for both young people (e.g., building skills for self-advocacy and leadership) and agencies (e.g., improving understanding and responsiveness to the needs of people they serve).
  • Engaging diverse families and young people with lived experience—particularly those who reflect underserved and marginalized populations—is an important strategy for advancing equity through the CFSRs[5].
  • When engagement efforts lack authenticity and staff are unwilling to share their power, these efforts can fail to achieve their goals and can be harmful[6]. Agencies should consider how they can develop a culture of listening and sharing power.


The Capacity Building Center for States (the Center) applies an engagement model that reflects a strengths-based approach and emphasizes mutual respect, transparency, and continuous improvement. The Center recommends that states plan for engagement and consider infrastructure supports to: 

  • Compensate families and young people to show respect for their time and expertise (see these frequently asked questions on compensation)
  • Provide coaching, training, and professional development to individuals with lived experience and agency staff to enhance engagement skills
  • Explore expectations, goals, and guiding engagement principles together 
  • Promote frequent communication and check-ins, starting early in the process 
  • Offer logistical support and use technology to address meeting challenges posed by in-person meetings
  • Support peer-to-peer learning and a safe and supportive environment
  • Ensure feedback mechanisms and “close the loop” on what happened with input

The Center offers resources to help agencies build capacity for meaningful, authentic, and ongoing engagement of families and young people. These and other Center efforts integrate the voices of Center Family Consultants and Young Adult Consultants.  

Attend the Child Welfare Virtual Expo (CWVE)  

CWVE 2022

Don’t miss out! Reserve your virtual seat today for this year’s CWVE, Power in Partnerships: Prioritizing Lived Expertise in Child Welfare, on September 28, 2022, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., EDT.  

Register Today

Strategic Planning in CW



Learning Experiences and Archived Webinars 

Related Resources 

Related Organization 

  • Child Welfare Reviews Project – provides information and resources on the CFSR process through the CFSR Information Portal and supports the Children’s Bureau with administering the CFSR

Coming soon! Keep an eye out for Center announcements of new CFSR planning tools, a podcast series on power sharing, and other engagement resources.

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