CWLA 2009 Children's Legislative Agenda
Strengthening the Fundamental Building Blocks of the System
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Child Welfare Workforce
An informal CWLA survey of state child welfare officials,
conducted in August 2008, found general consensus that
the greatest challenge is the child welfare workforce. States
face challenges in keeping good workers on the job and
reducing turnover. Closely related to this, and in fact contributing
to turnover, is maintaining a large enough supply
of competent supervisors who can provide critical support
to frontline and direct service staff.
An additional problem among states is the looming loss
of experienced workers due to retirement. This departure of
baby boomers is compounded in times of budget cuts and a
recession economy, when early retirements become an
option that helps states reduce budgets. This strategy may
help reduce immediate fiscal pressure, but it eliminates a
vast wealth of knowledge and experience that cannot easily
These problems spread among all states and the many
private nonprofit and faith-based organizations that comprise
the child welfare system. Turnover can result in delays
in reaching family and child reunification, alternate permanency
options, and needed services. Workforce shortages
play a role in all areas where critics cite their biggest concerns:
failure to recruit enough foster parents, failure to
recruit more adoptive families, lack of timely investigation
of abuse complaints, lack of follow-up services for vulnerable
families, children staying in care too long, individual
children having several caseworkers over a short period of
time, failure to advocate for continuing elementary and high
school education, failure to oversee children receiving proper
medical care, poor transition of youth leaving foster care,
and failure to prevent removal of children when proper services
and support could help families stay together.
By crafting a child welfare system that is not adequately
staffed, trained, or supported, we have in some instances
created a system that makes it difficult to carry out the
mission. Over the past decade, we have witnessed successes
that have helped children find permanent families, including
dramatic increases in adoptions, from 38,913 in 1998
to more than 51,000 in 2006; reduction in the number of children in foster care, from more than 562,000 in 1999 to
510,000 in 2006; increased placement of children in kinship
care; and 54% of children reunified with their families. But
each of these areas can and must be improved upon. We also
must step up our efforts to prevent child abuse and child
neglect. All of these improvements require a workforce fully
staffed, educated in best practices, and supported by proper
supervision, equipment, and attention to worker safety.
Child welfare work is labor intensive. Workers must
engage families through face-to-face contact, assess children's
safety and well-being through physical visits, monitor
progress, see that families receive essential services and supports
across multiple systems, help with problems that develop,
and fulfill data collection and reporting requirements.
Recruitment is an important first step in building a child
welfare workforce. In 2008, Congress reauthorized the
Higher Education Act. As part of that reauthorization,
Congress created a loan forgiveness program that covers
child welfare workers working for public or private agencies.
This new program could provide up to $2,000 of loan
forgiveness for each of the first five years a social worker
remains at an agency. To implement this new program,
Congress must now provide the funding. Recruitment will
also require greater efforts to build a career development
ladder for social workers taking up the field of child welfare.
Some states, such as Kentucky, have formed partnerships
with their state universities to provide training and
recruitment. A small amount of funding exists under Title IVB
part 1 Child Welfare Services that can help these kinds of
initiatives. Now set at $7 million, this funding should be
increased enough to encourage greater efforts and university
partnerships in all 50 states.
Other state efforts that have shown promise include
Oklahoma's stipend program, which creates bonuses spread
out over two years, since the state's research suggests that
new workers staying beyond 25 months are more likely to
In discussing any future expansion of public services or
national service initiatives, Congress should also include
efforts that would encourage career paths in child welfare
as part of this national service.
Retention is also critical to the child welfare workforce.
Once workers are in place, it's important they remain on
the job, building years of experience that can inform their
work and ultimately help the families and children with
whom they have contact. Part of the challenge of retaining
good workers is to provide a range of needed supports.
Although salary is vital to any job, just as critical is ensuring
workers have acceptable caseloads, access to ongoing
training, the necessary infrastructure, and feel safe in conducting
Another important factor in addressing retention is
providing good supervision by veteran staff. Experienced
supervisors can provide critical advice and guidance to
caseworkers at important decision points. By having a system
and a formula to retain workers, we also build a pool of
future supervisors. The voice of experience and senior guidance
can play a vital role in maintaining best practices and
fulfilling the best interests of children and families involved
in child welfare.
With the Fostering Connections Act, Congress has
expanded Title IV-E training funds to private agencies and
to court- and child welfare-related employees, such as
court-appointed special advocates (CASAs) and guardians
ad litem. States must have effective technical assistance
and guidance from HHS on how to access these funds and
use them to expand available training.
In addition to the challenges of recruitment, retention,
and proper supervision is the underlying need to address
worker safety. Social workers frequently confront unsafe
conditions and circumstances. The National Association of
Social Workers, the American Federation of State, County,
and Municipal Employees, and others have determined
significant percentages of workers experience violence or
threats on the job. Legislation in the 110th Congress, the
Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act, would create a small
grant program to help develop and implement safety efforts,
such as the use of modern technology, including cell phones
and GPS equipment, and other measures and training that
would help ensure worker safety.
Child welfare workers often experience secondary trauma.
This is the result of dealing with the many traumatic
events caseworkers may encounter on a regular basis, such
as criminal activity, drug use, extreme poverty, the death of
a child or adult, and detailed accounts of abuse and domestic
violence. Without the supports to help address secondary
trauma, burnout can result, manifested as increased
absences from work, lower morale, and ultimately a less
effective workplace. In a study of CPS workers in Colorado,
approximately 50% of staff were suffering from "high or
very high levels of compassion fatigue," yet 70% reported
"high or good potential for compassion satisfaction."
- The new Administration should issue regulations
regarding the use of Title IV-E training funds enacted
under the Fostering Connections Act that that will
broadly cover court-related workforce, including all
court-appointed special advocates (CASAs) and
guardians ad litem.
- The new Administration should provide technical
assistance to states in how to draw down Title IV-E
training funds and how to leverage those funds to
expand training of the child welfare workforce of both
public and private agencies and use the new training
funds as an opportunity to strengthen public and private
- The new Administration should create consistency
across HHS regions by allowing the use of Title IV-E
training funds not just for training in foster care and
adoption activities, but also for training in activities
designed to keep children out of foster care.
- Congress and the new Administration should fully fund
the new loan forgiveness program enacted as part of
the 2008 Higher Education Reauthorization Act.
- Congress and the new Administration should enact
legislation similar to the 2008 Child Welfare Workforce
Improvement Act that would fund a study by the National
Academy of Sciences on workforce, that will include a
study of the challenges and strategies as it relates to
child welfare, make recommendations regarding caseload
standards, and use data to expand the research,
training and demonstration projects.
- Congress and the new Administration should significantly
increase the $7 million in Title IV-B part 1, training
funds to allow all 50 states to build or strengthen
university and college partnerships to recruit, train,
and strengthen the child welfare workforce.
- Congress and the new Administration should significantly
increase the current $20 million allocated in
2010 and 2011 under the Promoting Safe and Stable
Families (PSSF; Title IV-B part 2) program funding for
workforce improvement and allocate for workforce
strategies including bonus programs and technology.
- Congress and the new Administration should designate
a portion of funding under PSSF for worker safety similar
to the Teri Zenner Social Worker Safety Act of 2007.
The new Administration should assure that the U.S.
Department of Labor and the Department of Education
work with AmeriCorps in an effort to create a model
similar to Teach for America that would recruit college
graduates to children's human services for two years as
a strategy to build the child welfare and other key
human service workforce.
- The new Administration and Congress, working through
the resource centers and other initiatives, should
increase state and local child welfare agencies' awareness
of the impact of secondary trauma on the child
In the Child Welfare Outcomes 2002–2005 Report to Congress,
new data reaffirms the challenge of overrepresentation of
certain populations in the child welfare system. In 28
states, the percentage of black (non-Hispanic) child victims
was at least 1.5 times greater than the percentage of these
children in the states' populations. In 4 states, the percentage
of black (non-Hispanic) child victims was at least
3 times greater than the states' populations. In 8 states,
the overrepresentation of Hispanic child victims was
at least 1.5 times greater than their populations in the
states; in another 4 states, this overrepresentation was
3 times greater. In 15 states, the percentage of American
Indian/Alaska Native victims was 1.5 times greater; in another
6 states, the overrepresentation was 3 times greater than
the states' population of these children.
Disproportionality in child welfare refers to the over- or
under-representation of a particular ethnic or racial group
within the child welfare system, compared with their respective
percentage in the general population. An early 1980 HHS
National Incidence Study showed that all children, regardless
of race or ethnicity, are equally likely to be abused or neglected.
But in the years following the study, minorities, especially
African American children, were overrepresented.
Nationwide surveys cited African American children as
being disproportionally represented within child welfare
compared with all other racial and ethnic groups. Of the
children entering foster care on the last day of fiscal year
2003, 35% were African American, 17% Hispanic, 39%
White, 6% Other, 2% American Indian/Native American, and
1% Asian. Minority children account for more than half of
the children in foster care, although they comprise roughly
40% of all children in the nation.
African American and Native American children are
twice as likely to comprise the population of children entering foster care, compared with children in the general
population. Data suggest Hispanics and Asians may be
underrepresented in foster care nationally, but overrepresented
in some counties and states. Research on Native
American, Hispanic, and Asian American children is limited
due to few studies focusing on these populations, which
suggests further research is necessary to better assess
their levels of disproportionality.
Research indicates poverty as a contributing factor to
disproportionality. A 2007 Government Accountability Office
(GAO) report on African American children in foster care
found that 23% of African Americans live below poverty levels,
compared with only 6% of whites. The rate of singleparent
families, an issue also related to poverty, is higher
for African American children, who are least likely to live in
two-parent households. The National Incidence Study found
children in single-parent families are at 77–87% greater
risk of harm than are children in two-parent families.
Further compounding the issue, those in poverty have
greater difficulty accessing services that can help support
and keep families safe and stable. Limited access to services
also hinders parents' ability to actually complete required
services once their children are removed. Although affordable,
adequate housing, substance abuse treatment, and
family services, such as parenting classes and counseling,
are critical to family reunification, availability and access
remains limited. At times, parents encounter long waiting
lists for services, and completing such services is lengthy,
thus extending the amount of time their children have to
remain in foster care.
Some data shows that once the decision is made to
investigate, race and ethnicity are no longer factors in
determining maltreatment, which is contrary to other data
that contends race is a factor throughout a child's stay
within the child welfare system. Furthermore, disproportionality
is found in the type of services provided. Although
African American and Native American children are more
likely to be removed from their families and placed in foster
care, white children and their families are more likely to
receive in-home services.
To improve access to prevention and support services,
neighborhoods must be a major partner in this effort. The
child protective services (CPS) agency should engage private,
faith, community, fraternal, and neighborhood organizations;
businesses; and recreational programs in protecting
children from child abuse and neglect and providing support
to families that could prevent children from coming to the
attention of CPS. Neighborhoods and communities must
also be involved in ensuring ongoing supports to families,
such as corporate-sponsored child care, afterschool programs, These neighborhoods have to be more engaged in planning
with CPS for a range of services and supports.
In addition to points of entry and exit, type of placement
is significant in comparing lengths of stay among racial and
ethnic groups. African American and Hispanic children are
more likely to be placed with relatives (32% and 48%,
respectively) than are white children (27%). Placement with
a relative is cited as a factor in the disproportionate length
of stay in foster care for minority children. Some researchers
suggest that due to high numbers of minority children being
placed with relatives (which are considered foster care
placements), the data will reflect a disproportionate composition
of minorities in the system.
Although the rate of African American adoption has
increased, the slowness of the adoption process impedes
the ability of child welfare agencies to provide children with
stable environments in a timely manner. Still, studies show
difficulty in finding appropriate adoption placements for
African American children, citing factors such as the likelihood
of African American children being diagnosed as having
special needs or medical conditions and therefore needing
additional training, support, and commitment for and from
prospective adoptive parents.
Congress took some important steps in 2008 to offer
tools to state and private agencies to address the challenge
of disproportionality. The GAO had urged Congress to enact
new laws to extend the use of Title IV-E funds to kinship
placements. Under the Fostering Connections Act, Title IV-E
funds are now available for kinship placements. The new
law will also allow tribal governments and communities to
apply directly for Title IV-E funds to provide foster care,
adoption subsidies, and kinship care. State and local agencies
will also have greater support for child welfare training,
which may help address some of the challenges of
disproportionality. This is an important start, but we now
require more focus on up-front, or prevention services, and
enhancements to them that might prevent children from
As the demographics of the United States continue to
change, child welfare agencies will encounter even more
diverse families and will have to find a way to effectively
meet their needs. Incorporating a cultural competency
framework within the child welfare system can help agencies
in their work with diverse families, and will likely
reduce disproportionality, because it helps eliminate biases.
Culturally competent practices place primary focus on a
child's well-being and safety while understanding well-being
and safety within a cultural context. Understanding cultural
factors within cases of child abuse and neglect allows for
appropriate prevention and intervention measures to effectively
address the family's needs.
- The new Administration should address barriers to fully
engaging minority families in fostering and adopting,
and assist state and local agencies in the use of tools
such as family group decision making.
- The new Administration should assist states in the use
of such innovations as differential or alternate response
and other approaches that can help all families access
the services they need to keep their children safe.
- The new Administration should ensure that the removal
of children from their homes is based on objective
safety measures, and not cultural, racial, or socioeconomic
- The new Administration should implement guidance and
regulation that will encourage state agencies to take
the new option under the Fostering Connections Act to
provide subsidized guardianship for children for whom
adoption is not the best option.
- Congress and the new Administration should provide
funding for recruitment programs that would provide
states and local agencies with the resources needed to
develop and implement these programs.
- The new Administration should amend the Inter-Ethnic
Placement Act to allow consideration of race/ethnicity in
permanency planning. Sound, ethical adoption practice
requires attention to racial and ethnic issues, so that the
original Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) standard—
which provided that race is one factor, but not the sole
factor to be considered in selecting a foster or adoptive
parent for a child—should be reinstated.
- The new Administration should enforce the MEPA
requirement to recruit families who represent the racial
and ethnic backgrounds of children in foster care and
provide funding to support such recruitment.
- The new Administration and Congress should require and
provide funding to states and local agencies so that they
can report on the corrective steps taken to address disproportionate
representation in the child welfare system.
Equal Access to Services/
Funding in Tribal Childwelfare
Approximately 2.5 million American Indian and Alaskan
Natives live in the United States, representing some 565 federally recognized tribes. The largest population of Native
Americans is concentrated in 13 states and includes more
than 646,000 people.
Congressional hearings, beginning in 1974, led to the
passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978. The
hearings and the focus of the act were an attempt to address
a significant problem reflected in studies between 1969 and
1974, which showed 25–35% of all Native American children
in some states were removed from their homes and placed
in foster care or adoptive homes. In certain states, Native
American children were 13 times more likely to be removed
from their families than were non-Indian children.
ICWA requires states to identify Indian children and
notify their parents and tribes of their rights to intervene in
custody proceedings. ICWA also requires certain procedures
regarding the use of tribal courts, child custody proceedings,
tribal intervention standards, and placement preferences.
The act establishes a two-part requirement for states
before they remove an Indian child, which involves efforts to
prevent the breakup of the Indian family, and standards for
In 2005, Congress directed the Government Accountability
Office (GAO) to study ICWA's impact and, in particular,
determine if the law's requirements caused delays in the
placement of Native American children. The GAO concluded
ICWA's requirements did not result in poorer outcomes for
children. Few states in the GAO study kept detailed information,
but those that did provided sufficient data demonstrating
no clear link or evidence ICWA was having harmful
effects. Interviews with tribes and states participating in
the study indicated the law facilitated greater availability
of resources and cooperation between tribes and states
in protecting and providing services to Indian children.
Comments submitted to GAO during its study indicated that,
at times, the lack of resources for tribes hindered placements,
and states relied on tribes for assistance in meeting
Tribal child welfare services operate in a unique context
shaped by laws, jurisdictional issues, cultural factors, financial
constraints, and a federal trust relationship that is
unlike any other in the states or territories. Efforts by more
mainstream technical assistance centers—sometimes in
partnership with tribal consultants or Indian organizations—
to address tribal program capacity and professional
worker development have been ongoing, but even more
attention, and a truly dedicated technical assistance and
training center, is necessary to properly address these
unique issues. Establishing this type of center would more
effectively organize resources to address tribal child welfare
needs, and allow for fuller development of expertise, as well
as new methods for delivering needed technical assistance
Progress in 2008
The recently enacted Fostering Connections Act allows tribes
direct access to IV-E funding. Before this legislation, tribes
could not access Title IV-E funds to administer their own
foster care or adoption assistance programs but instead had
to enter into agreements with their respective state governments
to access IV-E funds—agreements that more than half
of the federally recognized tribes did not have.
The new law creates the option for tribes or tribal consortia
to directly access and administer IV-E funds by submitting
a plan, including evidence of sound financial management,
a description of the service area, and assurance
that the use of Title IV-E funds will be for coverage of foster
care, special-needs adoptions, and kinship guardianship
assistance payment to only those children eligible for Title
The Fostering Connections Act grants tribes access to
a portion of the state's Chafee Foster Care Independence
Program funds, and requires certain guarantees by the tribe
to provide independent-living services for tribal youth in
the state. These provisions in the legislation do not take
effect, however, until the start of federal fiscal year 2010
(October 1, 2009).
The new law also provides $3 million annually to HHS
to provide technical assistance to assist interested tribes
to directly provide foster care, adoption assistance, and (at
tribal option) kinship programs. A tribe or consortia can
receive a maximum one-time grant of $300,000.
To this point tribes have received very few funds from
federal child welfare funding sources. Currently, they
receive limited set-asides from Title IV-B, parts 1 and 2—
Child Welfare Services (CWS) and Promoting Safe and
Stable Families (PSSF), respectively. Under part 1, more
than half of the tribal grants are less than $10,000 each;
under part 2, most of the tribal grants are under $40,000
each. Under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment
Act (CAPTA), tribes compete for a very small portion of
funding with other organizations that serve migrant populations.
Tribes are not eligible to receive direct funding
from other grant programs and are forced to compete
In 2006, the Senate passed the reauthorization of the
Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Act, but the
House failed to follow through with final action. The legislation
would have reauthorized funding for child protection
programs for tribal communities. First enacted in 1990, the
act is intended to channel child abuse prevention and treatment
funding to tribal governments nationwide. Throughout
their history, the two grant programs authorized for tribes
to prevent or treat victims of child abuse and neglect have
not been funded.
- The new Administration should give high priority to providing
initial guidance to tribes interested in conducting
Title IV-E tribal foster care, adoption assistance, kinship,
and independent living programs.
- The new Administration should propose and facilitate
the development of key regulations, including those that
establish a definition of in-kind matching contributions
as part of the Title IV-E tribal programs.
- In the first year, the new Administration should allocate
technical assistance funds to assist tribes that have
applied to establish Title IV-E tribal programs.
- The new Administration should encourage and work to
develop cooperative efforts between state governments
and tribes to implement effective strategies that will
address infrastructure issues such as effective data
collection and administrative procedures.
- Congress and the new Administration must fully fund
Title IV-B part 2, Promoting Safe and Stable Families
(PSSF), to ensure that tribal families have the resources
- Congress and the new Administration should give tribes
greater funding access through Title IV-B and other
child welfare and human service programs such as the
Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and
the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG).
Data Collection Systems
The collection of data on children in foster care and children
contacted by child protective services (CPS) is relatively
new. Not every state was required to report its foster care
statistics until 1975. Before 1980, states were not required
to collect data on non-federally assisted foster care, which
in some states include more than half the foster care population.
The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of
1980, however, imposed new data requirements.
In 1990, the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS) issued regulations to implement the
Adoption and Foster Care Analysis System (AFCARS),
which collects case-level information on all children in
foster care for whom state child welfare agencies have
responsibility for placement, care, or supervision, and on
children who are adopted under sponsorship of the state's public child welfare agency, regardless of children's eligibility
for Title IV-E funds.
While changes were being enacted with regard to data
on children in care, in 1988 Congress, with the reauthorization
of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment
Act (CAPTA), established the National Child Abuse and
Neglect Data System (NCANDS), a voluntary national data
collection and analysis system created in response to the
requirements of CAPTA that would track the volume and
nature of child maltreatment.
Regulations were issued in 1993 to establish the
Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System
(SACWIS), intended as a comprehensive automated casemanagement
tool that operates at the state level and supports
social workers' foster care and adoptions assistance
practice. SACWIS informs AFCARS and NCANDS reports. If
cost-efficient, SACWIS functions could include resource
management, tracking and maintenance of legal and court
information, administration and management of staff and
workloads, licensing verification, risk analysis, and interfacing
with other automated information systems.
The Child and Family Service Review (CFSR) process
was the result of a 1994 congressional mandate included
as amendments to the Social Security Act (P.L. 103-432),
which required HHS to review state child welfare programs
to ensure "substantial conformity" with state plan requirements
in Titles IV-B and IV-E. The law requires that state
child welfare programs be measured or judged in certain
areas or standards. HHS and the states worked to develop
this review process over the next several years.
State child welfare information systems are largely
defined by two major factors:
This results in a national child welfare information system
that is actually a collection of 51 different systems,
bound together principally by the need to report a core set
of data elements to the federal government. The systems
have evolved to be responsive to such things as unique
state case practice standards, differing levels of authority
between state and local jurisdictions, varying roles among
state agencies, and the demands of state finance and management
- federal reporting requirements and their relation to the
implementation of the CFSRs as part of a heightened
national effort at measurement and accountability, and
- the unique needs of individual states, particularly as they
apply to the demands of case management and individual
financial record keeping.
When we put all of this into practice, a system must
have the capacity to accomplish three things:
The requirement to perform case management functions
is perhaps the most important thing to appreciate about
state information systems. These systems are not simply for
reporting. They also must be fully integrated into the daily
work of thousands of direct service staff as tracking and
decision-making tools. Complete, accurate, and timely information
about the status of individual children is essential to
providing supervision and care to children.
- state compliance with federal reporting requirements,
including documentation of the state's ability to meet
federal outcome standards under the Adoption and Safe
Families Act (ASFA);
- program management and decision making, including
providing the data necessary to track and analyze both
short- and long-term indicators of individual and system
- ongoing daily case management.
States, even those with approved SACWIS frameworks,
have much more to accomplish in fully implementing
information systems that meet all of the demands of federal
reporting, agency management and accountability,
and case management. Significant technological challenges
still exist, both for those states still designing systems
and those in need of upgrades for existing systems.
The most daunting challenges, however, remain with the
human factor. Additional investments are necessary in
reducing workloads and improving the capacity of frontline
staff to integrate information management methods into
sound case practice.
On occasion, federal guidance and rules can make the use
of SACWIS a barrier for caseworkers and agencies attempting
to address the needs of the families and children they
serve. Some local agencies have the technology to link directly
with a state's SACWIS. They have been blocked by the federal
government, however, and as a result may be using valuable
resources of staff and money to reenter data into SACWIS
when they have the software to avoid this duplication.
Given the complexity of these systems, maintaining
strong federal leadership will be necessary for years to
come. States will continue to need support in the form of
funding, technical assistance, training, and clear standards
for both practice and data management, but this
guidance must recognize the always-changing world of
One of the areas where strong support from the federal
government is necessary is in the use of the CFSRs, which
the Children's Bureau began conducting in 2001. Federal
law requires that state child welfare programs be measured
or judged in certain areas or standards. In 2007, the
Children's Bureau began the second round of CFSRs. As of December 2008, 32 states were scheduled to have completed
their reviews. In the first round of reviews, no states
“passed,” or achieved substantial conformity in their CFSRs.
Because of this, all states were required to complete
Program Improvement Plans (PIPs), which gave them the
opportunity to improve specific outcome and systemic factors.
The PIP is a two-year process, with an extra year
allowed for states to realize negotiated improvements in
their outcome data.
States, advocates, and others have noted a number of
challenges with the CFSR process. States have expressed
concern that the original sample size of 50 cases, and
increased sample size of 65 in the second round, is not
adequate as representative of their outcome performance.
Some debate exists among child welfare researchers and
advocates over the specific outcomes being measured and
their value as performance indicators. States do provide
HHS with data regarding their performance on a number
of outcome measures through their AFCARS submissions.
The determination of substantial conformity on specific
outcome measures, however, is based on an on-site
review. A state may actually exceed national standards on
specific outcome measures and still be required to develop
a PIP for those outcomes.
In the second round of CFSRs, states' performance has
improved in some areas and decreased in others. This inconsistency
calls into question the value of the process and the
accuracy and validity of the measurements. Although many
states agree the CFSRs have compelled them to closely scrutinize
their policies and practices with a focus on outcomes,
the methodology may be counterproductive in terms of providing
states with the guidance and resources necessary to
achieve their goals of improved outcomes.
Another difficulty in data collection that extends to oversight
is the penalty structure when errors are detected. In
some human service areas, such as the Food Stamp program,
when a program is in error, the state is allowed to
take the fine imposed by the federal government and reinvest
it in the system to address the cause of the errors.
The same process should be incorporated into child welfare.
- The new Administration should allow states that utilize
the services of nonprofit child welfare agencies to
have providers enter data directly into the Statewide
Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS),
and transfer data between agencies, resulting in better
use of staff time, more attention to caseload, and a
maintenance of required data.
- Congress and the new Administration should enact
legislation similar to the 2008 Child Welfare Workforce
Improvement Act that would fund a study by the National
Academy of Sciences on workforce. This study would
look at the challenges and strategies as it relates to
child welfare, make recommendations regarding caseload
standards, the use of data, and expand the research,
training, and demonstration projects. Such a study
should include workers involved with the child protective
services and those considered to be part of the
front end of services.
- Congress and the new Administration should enact
legislation to evaluate data collection and reporting
strategies in fields similar to child welfare, with particular
attention paid to the established national
standards, the impact on service provision and workforce,
and capacity of states to comply with federal
data collection requirements. Recommendations for
future data collection efforts should be based on the
findings of this study. In light of the Adoption and
Foster Care Analysis System (AFCARS) Notice of
Proposed Rule Making released in 2008, this study
should be done prior to any rule changes being put
- Congress and the new Administration should revise the
Child and Family Service Review (CFSR) process to
allow states to substitute AFCARS outcome data for the
on-site review measurements.
- Congress and the new Administration should evaluate
the CFSR and the Program Improvement Plan (PIP)
process and results. The oversight and closer scrutiny
are important and useful tools, but the results of these
first two rounds and whether they have created and
improved results for families and children need to be
examined, along with ways to improve or change the
process and measures.
- Congress and the new Administration should replace
the current penalty format with a system that reinvests
dollars so that child welfare systems can make necessary
- Congress and the new Administration should initiate legislation
that provides for more comprehensive federal
funding for states developing a SACWIS, and should support
more flexibility in data collection/reporting strategies
and partnerships with local agencies.
Urbba and Rural
There are several conditions found in our nation's urban
centers that may exist throughout our country, but due to
the fact that these problems can be concentrated in U.S.
cities, a greater and increased pressure is brought to bear
on that city's child welfare system.
Poverty has a tremendous impact on child welfare and
well-being. Many children raised in poverty begin their lives
at a disadvantage because of inadequate prenatal care, poor
maternal nutrition, or birth complications. They often face an
array of family and environmental obstacles, including low
levels of parental education, increased levels of family stress,
poor social support, and limited community assistance.
Compared with other children, children living in poverty are
more likely to experience difficulty in school and have a higher
high school drop-out rate. Urban school districts have a high
school graduation rate of 60.4%, compared with the national
average of 69.9%, and the suburban average of 74.9%.
Poverty during early childhood may be more damaging
than poverty later in life because much of the foundation for
learning is built in the early years. Children in poverty score
lower on measures of vocabulary, language skills, understanding
of number concepts, organization, and self-regulation.
Children raised in poverty are likely to experience more risks
and have fewer protective factors and resources than children
living above the poverty threshold. In addition, children
living in poverty are more likely to become teen parents and,
as adults, earn less and be unemployed more frequently.
The stress created by living in poverty may play a distinct
role in child abuse and neglect. Parents who experience
prolonged frustration in trying to meet their family's
basic needs may be less able to cope with even normal
childhood behavior problems; those who lack social support
in times of financial hardship may be particularly vulnerable.
According to child abuse risk assessments, child protective
services (CPS) staff frequently rate parents who
experience employment problems as being at moderate to
high risk of child maltreatment.
According to estimates, some 2 million children in the
United States have an incarcerated parent. These children
face immense challenges to their mental health and emotional
well-being. Incarceration affects families both economically
and socially. They face economic instability resulting
from the loss of the incarcerated parent's income, as well
as uncertainty in their living arrangements, which can result
in children entering the dependency system. Many experience
the stigma and shame associated with incarceration.
The emotional trauma of having an incarcerated parent
has lasting effects on children. The trauma of loss occurs both at the initial removal of the parent from the home and
with the barriers to communicating with the parent. The
coping mechanisms that children develop to handle this
trauma can result in long-term emotional and behavioral
issues. The challenges and needs of this population are
steadily growing as the rate of incarceration increases.
Substance abuse and child maltreatment are tragically,
undeniably linked. Alcohol and other drug use and abuse
have a profound effect on millions of children and their families
and pose a challenge to the capacity of the child welfare
system. More than 6 million children in this country live
with substance-abusing parents. The impact on child welfare
is clear: Children whose parents abuse alcohol and
other drugs are nearly three times as likely to be abused,
and more than four times as likely to be neglected, than are
children whose parents are not substance abusers.
Child abuse and neglect are inextricably intertwined
with substance abuse. Caring for children in substanceabusing
families is a major factor in child welfare and has
other social costs as well. According to a 1999 survey by
Prevent Child Abuse America, 85% of states identified substance
abuse as the problem most frequently exhibited by
families reported to CPS agencies for maltreatment.
- Congress and the new Administration should support
expanded federal resources to increase substance
abuse treatment capacity within the child welfare system
and stimulate effective partnerships between child
welfare and substance abuse agencies.
- Congress and the new Administration should support
efforts and legislation that would encourage communitybased
partnerships to address the problems of access
to health and mental health services, housing, and
family support services.
- Congress and the new Administration should implement
policies and establish procedures for limiting the disruption
and trauma that children of incarcerated parents
who are in care may experience, based on individualized
reviews of each family's case history.
to Rural America
Providing services in rural communities demands a different
approach than that in urban and suburban communities. For too long, practitioners have assumed that models developed,
tested, and proven effective in urban settings would
easily translate to rural settings. Instead, rural communities
have unique characteristics that require services tailored to
their cultures. Broad application of services developed in
urban settings and applied without regard for cultural differences
in rural communities can actually harm recipients of
those services and the perceptions of service providers.
Promoting cultural competence in human services has
focused attention on ensuring that services are provided in
a manner that respects the client's culture. As we gain
understanding of the aspects of rural culture, we learn to
provide services in rural communities differently than we
would in other environments. Rural communities tend to be
closer-knit, they can be distrustful of outsiders, they emphasize
family and individualism, and often they are influenced
by religious beliefs.
The needs of children and families in rural communities
are related to a range of conditions that can exist in rural
communities as a whole, such as poverty, cultural and racial
differences, and geographical and social isolation. In rural
communities, poverty and racial disproportionality are closely
linked. Nearly half of rural African American children live
in poverty (48%), compared with 46% of rural Latino children
and 41% of Native American children. Poverty is tied to
significant health risks, such as higher rates of infant mortality,
childhood illness, and nutritional deficits.
Rural communities can have limitations when it comes
to the workforce and educational opportunities. Another
major problem is the lack of resources available within the
community and the difficulty posed by having to travel long
distances to get to more urban areas where a broader range
of services may be available. The 40 million Americans who
live in rural communities often lack access to critically
needed social services.
It is important to understand, however, that there is not
one "rural America." Differences exist in culture, expectations,
and beliefs from one rural area to another. But common factors
do exist among rural communities that, when understood
and accounted for, can improve the quality of services.
If we are to serve rural clients appropriately, not all
standards generally accepted in social service practice can
apply within these communities. For example, traditional
social service ethics demand careful attention to dual relationships
and conflicts of interest. The small-town nature of
rural localities, however, makes it nearly impossible for a
professional to avoid dual relationships with clients, if that
professional lives in the area in which he or she also works.
In many cases, due to the lack of service alternatives available
in the community, it may be unethical to decline a
client on the basis of a dual relationship.
Social service professionals in rural areas will be called
upon to offer a broader range of services themselves because
of the lack of other available services, similar to a general
medical practitioner as opposed to a medical specialist.
Social service professionals have to network to a
greater degree within the rural community to provide services
in a highly collaborative manner that reflects the community's
values. For example, mental health practitioners
often are encouraged to co-locate with medical professionals
because of the high esteem in which rural community
members hold family doctors, and a doctor's recommendation
that one see a counselor can carry great weight.
Linking clients to other services is a key role of social service
professionals, particularly in underserved areas. This
likely will demand professional relationships and collaboration
among providers to establish the network and maintain
trust. Social service professionals also must recognize that,
within rural communities, the concept of service provider
may encompass roles and locations traditionally overlooked
by professionals, such as pastors or local business leaders,
or community centers that can provide resources for clients
that are not available elsewhere.
- Congress and the new Administration should undertake
research, create plans, and enact policy that ensures
rural communities receive ample resource allocation
needed to address the unique barriers and characteristics
of these communities.
- Congress and the new Administration should also provide
rural communities with basic human services that
include a special focus on the need for day treatment
services, mental health and psychiatric services, and
access to basic health care.
- Congress and the new Administration should promote
educational and workforce options that may help
address some of the unique rural barriers, such as the
use of e-learning and other technological tools that may
overcome distance and other barriers.
in Child Welfare
Families are central to children's well-being. Family ties,
especially between parent and child, are extremely important.
CWLA's Standards of Excellence for Services to Strengthen and Preserve Families and Children provide a
vision of what is best for children and their families. The
Standards point out that children develop the ability to have
productive lives in the context of their families.
Immigrant families are a large and growing segment
of the population. An estimated one-fourth of children and
youth in the United States are either immigrants themselves
or children of immigrants. Data about the number
of children in the child welfare system who are immigrants
is difficult to obtain.
The child welfare system, however, does not have
enough translation services or bilingual staff members at
any level. Too often, child victims of abuse and neglect are
asked to translate for a parent who is suspected of abuse
or neglect. The system also has a lack of culturally relevant
services, such as parenting classes and drug treatment
programs. Cultural norms and child-rearing practices
often differ from those most common in the United States,
so services must be culturally competent.
We have to examine eligibility guidelines for support
services. In many instances, immigrant families lack access
to federal income and employment supports. Undocumented
children are not eligible for federally funded Title IV-E foster
care. Welfare reform and immigration reform have restricted
immigrants' access to food stamps, public health insurance,
Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Without reliable data on the number of immigrant children
and families in the child welfare system, effective
planning and service delivery is difficult. Research about
immigrants in the child welfare system should be encouraged,
and data about immigrants in the system should be
collected, analyzed, and summarized on a national, regional,
and local basis. Policymakers and community agencies
need this information to be responsive to immediate and
We need to consider increasing federal funding for child
welfare services to eligible immigrant children and families.
Federal funding is necessary for a variety of interventions,
including foster care and services for undocumented children
and youth. Training and technical assistance to states
and communities can adequately respond to the diverse and
often complex needs of eligible children and families with
transnational and immigration issues.
The reasons undocumented and mixed-status children enter
child welfare are no different than those of other children,
but these children do face many unique challenges. There
is much trauma associated with migration. Once a family arrives in the United States, cultural and language barriers,
fear, poverty, and difficulty finding work create further
stress on families.
Child welfare agencies also face unique challenges serving
children of immigrants or mixed-status parents. Federal
law requires that states consider giving preference to relatives
when a child is placed outside the home, but relatives
are not always available in immigrant communities, and the
children may be placed in nonrelative family foster care.
Involvement with child protective services (CPS) can be
especially traumatic for immigrant children. They are new
to the country, may not speak English, and are likely to have
different cultural backgrounds. Placement in nonrelative
family foster care group homes may be particularly upsetting
and difficult for immigrant children. Additionally, permanency
planning for these children is more complex.
Children who are separated from parents face short- and
long-term psychological damage, including depression, posttraumatic
stress, anxiety, feelings of abandonment, and suicidal
thoughts. Increased immigration enforcement by the
federal government is jeopardizing the health, well-being,
and economic security of our nation's children. Immigration
raids and actions by law enforcement have resulted in hundreds
of children being separated from their parents. These
separations cause serious disruptions that can have large,
long-lasting negative consequences for children and communities.
These disruptions cause tremendous stress on families.
When parents are unable to provide care and supervision,
their children are at increased risk.
Immigration enforcement officials should employ
humane policies and procedures when dealing with the
arrest, detention, and processing of anyone involved in
workplace immigration enforcement operations, and especially
anyone with children. Enforcement must be done in
a way that is humane and protects the children involved.
Immigration laws must be enforced, but we must respect
basic human dignity as we enforce the law.
- The new Administration should provide up-front guidance
and technical assistance to all the states and
child welfare agencies on proper handling of immigration
- The new Administration should ensure that the immigration
enforcement officials give sufficient notice
to these agencies of an impending raid so they can
arrange for representatives who speak the detainees'
first language fluently and for any other services that may be needed. Additionally, they need to place undocumented
immigrants, especially parents, in detention
within the jurisdiction of the local immigration field
office (to the extent that space is available), so the
interruption of the interaction with children is minimized.
A toll-free number should also be provided for
families to use after a raid, to report their relationship
to a detainee and to inquire for more information about
the status of their loved one.
- The new Administration should ensure that the child
welfare systems assist immigrant children in obtaining
legal permanent residency under the Special Immigrant
Juvenile Status (SJIS) provisions and other immigration
options of existing immigration law.
- Congress and the new Administration should allow
the Court Improvement Program funds to be used to
train judges and lawyers to assist children with immigration
- The new Administration should ensure that the immigration
authorities and child welfare agencies consider
the child's best interest—safety, permanency, and well being—
in all decisions concerning immigrant children.
- The new Administration should assist states and local
agencies in screening all children in the child welfare
system as to their eligibility under immigration options.
- Congress and the new Administration should make
federal funding available to 1) pay for foster care and
services for undocumented children and youth; 2) create
national resource centers that will provide training
and technical assistance to all states so that they have
a better understanding as to how to best assist families
with transnational and immigration needs; and 3) create
resources for states to adequately respond to the
diverse and often complex needs of eligible children and
families with transnational and immigration issues.
- As part of any immigration reform, Congress should
include ways to collect data about immigrants in the
child welfare system. The data should be analyzed and
summarized on a national, regional, and local basis.
Policymakers and community agencies need accurate
and up-to-date data regarding immigration status of
children in their communities. This information is needed
to be responsive to immediate and emerging needs.
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