CWLA Statement on Optimal Child Welfare Service Delivery
Vision for Child Welfare
CWLA envisions a future in which families, communities, organizations, and governments ensure that all children and youth benefit from the resources they need to grow into healthy, contributing members of society.
Child welfare services need to be available to families whenever concerns arise about the safety, nurturance, and well-being of children. A network of community-based, family-centered organizations, whose mission is to support and stabilize children, youth, and families with appropriate sensitivity to family culture, will provide these services.
CWLA's ultimate goal is to achieve better outcomes for the children and families who encounter the child welfare system by
CWLA's model embraces the principle that families must be at the center of services that prevent and remedy situations that lead to child abuse and neglect. The full spectrum of services for children and families must be involved, from the first awareness a family is at risk, to early intervention, to foster care for those children whose safety and well-being is threatened, through permanency and the services necessary to sustain permanency. Ensur-ing high-quality casework practice, according to national child welfare standards, requires a professional workforce. Recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining qualified, culturally diverse, culturally competent, effective, and dedicated professionals is essential to this effort.
- preventing abuse and neglect,
- preventing unnecessary separation of children from their homes,
- minimizing how long children remain in foster care should placement be necessary,
- sustaining permanent placements that are made, and
- ensuring no disproportionate effect on children or families of any culture.
Preventing Abuse and Neglect
A network of community-based, family-centered agencies will provide preventive services by identifying families whose social conditions are likely to place their children at risk for maltreatment and engaging them in a constructive partnership to develop needed skills and resources. This network will provide supportive services and education, as well as the critical, concrete services and resources families need to be successful members of the community and effective parents for their children. This network shifts the responsibility from the child welfare agency to a system of community supports, both formal and infor-mal, that will strengthen families and reduce the likelihood of abuse and neglect. Absent these preventive and supportive services, families are more likely to require intervention from the child protection system.
Preventing Unnecessary Separation of Children from Their Homes
Child protection agencies receive reports of suspected abuse or neglect and assess the nature of the reports, evaluate their credibility, and ascertain the available resources to respond.
Intake should be family-focused, child-centered, and conducted in a timely manner. It should include the identification and acknowledgement of family strengths without compro-mising the role child welfare must play in holding families accountable for the care and safety of their children. The intake process should link families with available resources within their communities and provide the necessary follow-up to ensure each family's access to and use of these resources.
Investigation and assessment should be performed by trained and experienced professional staff, rigorously supported by a cadre of trained supervisors. Staff should effectively engage the family in the process and ensure that cultural bias or insensitivity does not affect decision-making. Investigations should be timely and focused on the child, but should also include safety considerations for the entire family. Assessment should also consider the whole family, including members not living in the household. The family assessment should focus initially on the reason for referral and evaluate risk and safety. Subsequently, staff should conduct a comprehensive multidisciplinary assessment that addresses the goals of safety, permanency, and well-being. Periodic assessments of progress and safety are also important.
Appropriate assessment, coupled with strength-based supportive services will reduce any overreliance on foster care. Early intervention services, offered to any family involved with the child welfare system, provide an opportunity to improve family functioning and keep the family intact.
In-home casework and case management services involves more than just managing the array of services and providers. It also involves critical casework services to help and support the family through the changes that service intervention requires. Building on existing and newly developed strengths, services should be wrapped around the family to enhance their work and to help them develop additional skills and the confidence to use them.
Social work contacts with the family should be frequent and should include safety assessments and a review of potential future maltreatment at each visit. Ongoing service planning should occur frequently and maximize family involvement. Agreement on the service plan should be developed among the family, the caseworker, service providers, the courts, and others, including persons of significance to the child or family who may help them reach their goal of family stability. The service plan should outline the tasks for all individuals to achieve its goals and objectives. Minimizing the involvement of multiple caseworkers ensures continuity of care and consistent account-ability for the family. Lead case management should be clearly assigned and communicated to the family.
Minimizing How Long Children Remain in Foster Care
When the child protection agency determines a child is not safe at home, alternative care must be arranged. All avenues of care, including kinship care, family foster care, treatment foster care, residential care, and guardianship must be sufficiently explored as part of the comprehensive array of services to determine the most appropriate form of care. Efforts to enhance treatment of the conditions causing the need for foster care, in addition to improved treatment of the symptoms, will require much more family-focused work.
Once the decision is made that a child must be placed outside the home, placement case management should be used to recommend the most appropriate placement resource to address the child's need in the first instance. Children should receive comprehensive edu-cational, developmental, health, and mental/behavioral health assessments, and identified treatment needs should be addressed in a timely manner. Placing children with relatives or other appropriate caregivers with whom the child is comfort-able should receive particular attention to minimize the trauma of separation. Family connections should be maintained through frequent visits and visits with siblings. Well-trained placement teams require the support of adequate data systems to provide real-time analyses of placement choices.
The frequency of direct service contact or casework between the worker and the family plays a critical role in achieving timely permanence; therefore, care should be taken to ensure the continuity of the worker to the family and child. Planning for permanency (reunification or alternative long-term placement) should start as soon as contact with the family begins. Early coordination of efforts among state courts and public and private child welfare professionals will facilitate improved outcomes.
Children in placement who exhibit behavioral or mental health conditions should receive appropriate therapeutic services to ameliorate those conditions, helping the children function at the highest possible level.
Sustaining Permanent Placements
Post-permanency services are critical to ensuring the option selected as a child's permanent placement is an enduring one. These services would support reunification, prevent children from reentering foster care, and maintain permanence for children who are adopted and those in guardian-ship arrangements. Subsidies should be available to all resource families, including guardian and adop-tive families. An aftercare workforce should offer ongoing support to prevent disruption, including linking families to community-based networks of family supports developed for at-risk families.
For youth who are not adopted or reunited with their families and subsequently age out of foster care, transitional and independent-living supports should be available to help them be safe, healthy, produc-tive, and self-sufficient. These supports must be sufficient to provide communities the time to work with and care for these transitioning teens, providing assistance into their early 20s. Efforts are neces-sary to connect young people leaving the child welfare system with caring adults who have made a commitment to serve as a resource as these youth venture into adulthood. Information should be collected about how youth who age out of the system are faring with regard to stated outcome measures.
These post-permanency supports ensure that placements are sustained and the cycle of abuse and removal can be broken. Thus, these post-permanency supports serve as a measure of prevention.
Ensuring No Disproportionate Effect on Children or Families of Any Culture
Cultural influences affecting children's care must be acknowledged and addressed in service planning. Case decisions regarding assessment, referral, service delivery, placement, or options for permanence should be made without undue influence of race or culture. All children and families should have equal access to services, regardless of race, culture, or location.
Supporting Documentation for CWLA's Statement on Optimal Child Welfare Service Delivery
Child Welfare League of America
September, 15, 2005
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