Dawn's Story

My First CFT

My husband and I had adopted two young children a few years earlier, both of whom were receiving counseling and medication monitoring from a local behavioral health agency. To say we were not fully prepared for what was to follow would be an understatement. My son’s behaviors continued to escalate resulting in numerous calls to our crisis agency and law enforcement and several overnight hospitalizations. It became clear to us that no one truly understood the severity of our situation and that we needed more help.

I called the agency in a panic after the last hospitalization and asked what could be done. Within a week, two women showed up at our home with the following introduction. “Hello, my name is...and I am your ICM. This is...and she is your FSP. Today we will have your first CFT.” “Please come in,” I responded politely not fully understanding the meaning of all the various acronyms being thrown my way. This would be the first of many Child & Family Team (CFT) meetings we were to have. It involved an Intensive Case Manager (ICM), a Family Support Partner (FSP), my husband and me. The meeting began with an explanation of each of their roles and the purpose of a Child and Family Team (CFT) and thankfully – a brief description of all those acronyms!

The best part of that meeting was learning about a family support organization, staffed by parents who were raising children with emotional and behavioral health challenges. My husband and I attended a training there one evening but didn’t feel an immediate connection. Weeks later, we were introduced to a Parent Mentor from another parent organization called Family Involvement Center (FIC). This time I felt a connection. We had found someone who knew how to listen to us and who had real suggestions to help our family achieve its' goals. This individual attended our CFT meetings and met with us regularly to discuss challenges and help us brainstorm solutions. A few months later, this Parent Mentor suggested I apply for a position at FIC supporting other parents. At this point, I truly believed I knew the purpose of a CFT meeting. However, it wasn’t until I began working at FIC and received training from the parent perspective on the history and design of CFTs that I fully understood the process, my role as a parent, and what makes a CFT effective.

Ten years later, I had moved from a part-time position into a full time management role at FIC offering parent peer support to other parents. Today, I proudly serve on FIC's Board of Directors and work on special projects for the organization - projects like the ones that saved my sanity and helped preserve my family years ago. One of those projects was the design and creation of a monthly training called Parent Involvement: 101 which includes an overview of Child & Family Teams. When parents understand how and why these meetings are important, they are empowered to ask meaningful questions and become better equipped to facilitate their own CFT.
My journey of parent empowerment and family resilience began with the simple connection of one parent to another, offering support through parent peer experience. Walking beside another parent helped me express my joy and frustration along the way. I will never forget the first time someone said to me, “You’re doing a great job, Mom! This isn’t your fault and it isn’t your child’s fault.” I love being able to remind other parents that they are doing a terrific job and that they are not alone.

Dawn Schoenstadt (Parent, FIC Board Member)