One of the tools used by Department social workers as they strive to keep families whole is the family engagement meeting, or FEM. An FEM is a unique opportunity to bring together the adults in the child’s life, and sometimes even the child once the child is old enough, to hash through the issues before them.
An FEM is one of the “firsts” that a CASA’s peer coordinator or program coordinator will attend with you. But if it’s been a while since your first FEM and you’re about to take on a solo FEM, here are a few pointers we hope you’ll find helpful.
- Get the ball rolling. Have you ever thought, “If we could just get the whole family in a room together, we could hammer out these particular details” regarding visitation, the child’s wishes, Plan B options, etc.? If so, your case might benefit from an FEM! You can advocate for one by suggesting it to the social worker or Guardian ad litem. They might appreciate an out-of-the-box idea like an FEM to un-stall the case.
- Ask “Why?” Sometimes an FEM is scheduled because a case has not had one yet and there is an opening in the schedule. But sometimes, it’s scheduled to address a specific issue or set of issues. Communicate with your social worker about the reason behind the FEM. Perhaps a new Plan B option has come to light or the social worker is hoping to discover one. Or there may be extended family that is requesting a visitation schedule, and everyone needs to get together to compare their calendars. Whatever the reason, knowing it will help you to walk into the room with realistic expectations about what will be accomplished at this particular FEM.
- Be prepared. Be sure to wear your CASA lanyard in order to help others easily identify you as a CASA. Bring copies of the “What is a CASA?” card and the business cards you received at the start of your case, which you can provide to anyone attending the FEM whom you haven’t met before and who might not be familiar with the CASA role and benefits to the child. Remember that FEMs typically last around two hours, so leave plenty of time on your schedule for this very important meeting.
- Get ready to chat. Plan to arrive at the FEM at least 15 minutes early so you can meet adults in the child’s life you haven’t met before and touch base with the social worker about anything brewing in the case. This is a great time to get to know the child’s parents and other family who attend the FEM.
- Speak up. It can be easy to assume that among the attorneys, family, therapists, parenting time supervisors, mentors, counselors, etc. who are invited to FEMs, you won’t have a lot to contribute. On the contrary, your voice is just as important as ever! Tempers can run high at FEMs. Your singular focus on the kids can help bring the conversation back to the reason why you’re all meeting together: the child. FEMs take place on weekdays, so teachers will likely not be able to attend; as a CASA, any information you can share about the child’s academic progress and status can be helpful in highlighting how the child is coping during this difficult time of life.
FEMs can seem foreign and intimidating. But above all else, remember that you have been appointed by the judge to advocate for this child, so walk into that meeting with your head held high and speak for the child!