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Home > Advocacy > Financing Child Welfare Services > CWLA Principles for Child Welfare Reform


CWLA Principles for Child Welfare Reform

Newspaper headlines across the country reveal that we, as a country, need to do more to protect our children from abuse and neglect and to care for the children who are in foster care. All children need protection and do best when they are living in permanent loving homes. There is also a compelling national interest in providing consistent levels of safety, protection, and care for America's children across each state in the nation.

CWLA strongly opposes any measure that limits the federal responsibility to participate fully with the states in meeting our fundamental obligation to America's most vulnerable children and families. We believe that a new, more complete approach to shared state and federal funding should be implemented. In the meantime, while recognizing the inadequacy of the current program, we believe that it is essential to maintain basic Title IV-E entitlements until a more effective financing method is proposed, tested, and proven effective as a viable national alternative.

CWLA Tenets of Child Welfare

  • Preserve the Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance entitlements to ensure a continued federal role in supporting abused and neglected children.

  • Ensure that all abused and neglected children are eligible for foster care and adoption assistance by eliminating the Title IV-E current financial eligibility requirements tied to outdated 1996 Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) standards.

  • Provide federal support for the full range of services necessary to prevent child abuse and neglect, increase services to promote safety and permanence for children, and assist families struggling with problems such as substance abuse.

  • Provide incentives to states to increase and support a well-trained workforce prepared to deliver quality services and achieve successful outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system. Provide student loan forgiveness for those who become child welfare workers.

  • Increase funding for the Social Services Block Grant, which states use to provide services to children and youth, including adoption, foster care, child protection, independent living, and residential services.

Reform Is Needed To Build A System Of Care That Will Ensure Children Are Protected

While recognizing the valiant efforts of the people who work within our nation's child welfare system, CWLA recognizes that the current child welfare system does not protect all children adequately. The shared federal, state, local, and tribal responsibility has never been fully developed or realized. The result is an incomplete system that continues to be in urgent need of reform and completion. We are overdue in implementing an improved and strengthened system. True child welfare reform hinges on an improved system of shared financing responsibilities among federal, state, local, and tribal governments.

The national child welfare system continues to be in need of:
  • A reliable, responsive, and predictable method of guaranteed funding, for a full range of essential services, as well as placement and treatment services. The current Title IV-E entitlement has proven to be an imperfect vehicle for funding a true child welfare system. Viable alternatives that offer guarantees to all children in need should be explored.

  • A means of maintaining consistent focus on safety, permanency, and well-being as outcomes for children.

  • Rigorous standards combined with strong federal and state accountability mechanisms.

  • Recruitment and support of adequately trained child welfare professionals, foster parents, mentors, and community volunteers.

  • Resources that enable parents to provide adequate protection and care for their own children.

Flaws In The Current System

The current child welfare financing structure is unbalanced.
  • Title IV-E foster care provides approximately 38% of support for all child welfare services, yet it supports only about 50% of the small portion of children who actually are placed in out-of-home care. At most, this group represents less than even 20% of children receiving child welfare services. In fact, the federal role, as defined and limited by these eligibility requirements, has never been extended to all of this country's children who have been removed from their homes. Due to the eligibility restrictions linking Title IV-E eligibility to outdated 1996 AFDC standards, this limited level of federal support for children through Title IV-E is consistently diminishing over time.

  • Even among those who are Title IV-E eligible, the scope of reimbursable care is limited to routine maintenance care. Family support services that might keep a child at home or treatment services that might reduce the length of time in out-of-home care are not included.
The current system of financing child welfare services is complex.
  • An inordinate amount of state administrative costs is attributable to maintaining individual eligibility systems, cost allocation systems, blended funding formulas, match certification protocols, and other artifacts of an overly complex system.

  • Since the patchwork of mechanisms that finance child welfare services is so complex, states vary greatly in fully utilizing existing resources.
The current system is inadequately linked to either need or outcomes and is over-invested in misplaced accountability.
  • Strong steps have been taken to move the child welfare system to an outcomes-based accountability system. Despite some significant shortcomings, the current federal review system, under the Child and Family Service Reviews, has substantial promise.

  • In the meantime, states continue to be required to invest considerable money and time in systems to track Title IV-E eligibility and related administrative tasks. By some estimates, this consumes as much as 5% of the total investment in the child welfare system. These resources could be better utilized in providing services or managing the mandated safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes for children.
The current system is overly dependent on potentially transitory resources.
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), and Medicaid provide significant federal resources for child welfare. These funding sources, however, must provide resources for services to many other consumer populations. In addition, funding for SSBG is unpredictable and has been significantly reduced in recent years.

Principles and Objectives of Child Welfare Reform

CWLA is developing a comprehensive child welfare financing reform proposal that is built on the following four principles:
  • Maintain Federal/State Responsibilities

  • Achieve Sound Outcomes

  • Ensure Quality and Accountability

  • Provide State Flexibility
Based on the above principles, an improved federal and state child welfare financing system should be constructed to achieve four key objectives:
  1. Preserve the shared federal and state responsibility for protecting and caring for at-risk children.

    1. Maintain and expand federal protections for individual children.

    2. Ensure full federal financial participation in both protection and care responsibilities for all children who require the attention of state child protection agencies.

    3. Ensure that the federal government continues to share responsibility for closing the gap between resources and need with the states to guarantee safety and permanency of children coming to the attention of the child welfare system-resources should match needs.

    4. Establish a nationally-recognized mechanism for objectively defining the full extent of protection and care needs of children in the child welfare system.

    5. Extend direct access to federal funding by tribes for care and protection of children who are victims of abuse and neglect.

  2. Ensure that the outcomes of safety, permanency, and well-being are achieved for all children.

    1. Build on the success of the Child and Family Service Review process by continuing the emphasis on child outcomes.

    2. Initiate a concerted national effort to refine the scope and reliability of measurable outcomes.

    3. Connect performance indicators to nationally-defined standards of child need.

  3. Attain high levels of quality and accountability in state and local programs.

    1. Ensure accountability through formal standards of care, accreditation, certification, or licensure.

    2. Continue and strengthen Child and Family Service Reviews.

    3. Strengthen and refine national reporting standards (AFCARS, NCANDS, etc.).

    4. Allow states and tribes substantial flexibility to design service systems that work within a local context, while still requiring them to meet performance standards.

  4. Provide states with sufficient flexibility to permit simplified administration and a full continuum of responsive services.

    1. Simplify administration by eliminating individual eligibility determination and the need to track case administrative costs as distinct from service costs.

    2. Provide state and local flexibility in defining the mix of services and types of care. Permit flexible services in response to a full range of child welfare client needs.

    3. Allow states to use all federal funds for both service and administration to support delivery through either public or private agencies.

    4. Allow set-asides to address special needs, such as workforce development, training, and research.
For more information, contact Liz Meitner, CWLA Vice President of Government Affairs, at 202/942-0257 or

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