Meet the Child Welfare National Resource Centers

First of a Two-Part Series

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Many of the requirements for child welfare practice come from the federal government--but fortunately, many of the resources for meeting these requirements also have federal origins. The federal office most involved in child welfare issues is the Children's Bureau, part of the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Children's Bureau Training and Technical Assistance (T&TA) Network works to support the capacity of state, local, tribal, and other publicly administered or publicly supported child welfare agencies and family and juvenile courts. The full network, which includes national resource centers, implementation centers, the Child Welfare Information Gateway, quality improvement centers, data archives, and cross-site evaluations, provides training, technical assistance, research, and consultation. Network members provide assistance to states and tribes in improving child welfare systems to ensure the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and families.

By the numbers, the national resource centers (NRCs) are the largest part of the network--there are 10 national child welfare resource centers fully funded by the Children's Bureau, an 11th drawing partial funding from the Bureau, and 2 centers to support statutorily mandated programs. T&TA, especially from the NRCs, is usually tailored to each specific jurisdiction and each specific request. In this issue and the next, Children's Voice will introduce each of these NRCs through their responses to questions about some of the important topics their work addresses.

National Resource Center for Child Protective Services

Director: Theresa Costello
Administered by Action for Child Protection
Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico

NRCCPS focuses on building state, local, and tribal capacity through T&TA in child protective services, including help in meeting federal requirements, strengthening programs, and becoming eligible for grants through the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. This NRC also supports state liaison officers for child abuse and neglect. NRCCPS has been active for 14 years, although for its first five years it was called the NRC for Child Maltreatment. Most frequently, T&TA requests for NRCCPS focus on continuing safety assessment and management throughout the duration of a case. NRCCPS is the facilitator for the annual state liaison officers meeting and the Children's Justice Act grantees meeting, which will both take place June 20-22 in Washington, DC.

Intake: "Intake is the gateway to child protective services in every jurisdiction, so it is a critical point. All jurisdictions have established criteria to gather and assess information at intake, in order to determine the right action to be taken on each referral. That includes a determination of the urgency of response, or how quickly someone must make face-to-face contact with the family. Decisions about response time must be based on a safety threshold which considers any present danger threats that are described by the reporter."

Director Theresa Costello and Diane DePanfillis at a child abuse and neglect conference in Hawaii last fall.

Differential Response: "A decision to pursue differential response or any significant case practice approach should be based on stated objectives and specific, measurable outcomes for children and families. A successful design and implementation... must include an analysis of statutory fit, assessment of readiness, involvement of key community stakeholders, a comprehensive plan, well-developed decisionmaking processes and criteria, complementary policy and procedure, supervisory preparation, complementary documentation or automated system support, specialized staff training, quality assurance to assure fidelity to the design, and leadership to assure that resources and problem-solving are continually brought to the effort."

Mandated Reporters: "A standard set of information should be gathered from every reporter, regardless of whether they are a mandated reporter or not. The criteria for evaluating reports also should not differ based on the source of the report."

National Resource Center for In-Home Services

Director: Lisa D'Aunno
Administered by the University of Iowa School of Social Work
Based in Iowa City, Iowa

NRCinhome, established in October 2009, wants to share its expertise in child welfare practice for ensuring the safety of children and youth in their homes and making efforts to preserve families when possible. Child and Family Service Reviews (CFSRs) found poorer outcomes for in-home cases compared with foster care cases, and based on that, the Children's Bureau decided there was a need for this new NRC, which spreads knowledge about promising in-home practices. So far, so good for the center; staff are working on a nationwide assessment of successful in-home services to be published this spring, as well as several T&TA requests.

The lead organization behind the center is the University of Iowa School of Social Work, but it is a collaborative effort with partners ICF International and the National Indian Child Welfare Association. NRCinhome also benefits from close work with the NRC for Family Centered Practice, which began with federal funding more than 30 years ago but is now a project of Iowa's School of Social Work and offers guidance to public and private agencies and for-profit organizations. This year, NRCinhome will host a meeting for state in-home services managers and state and tribal Promoting Safe and Stable Families administrators. With other T&TA network members, they will also present several upcoming webinars.

Director Lisa D'Aunno

Defining the Work: "In-home services describes a continuum of services and supports to children and families, which begins with preventive services to families not yet involved with the child welfare system. This includes services specifically targeted at families who have come to the attention of child protective services and need a variety of services to strengthen the family's protective capacities and prevent the need for substitute care. In-home services also include services and supports to sustain family reunification following a placement episode. Thus, both intensive family preservation and postreunification services are part of this continuum. We help states and tribes strengthen linkages with providers along this broad continuum to make the best use of family-centered services in their communities.

"While many people equate in-home services with services actually provided in the child's home, the Children's Bureau's definition includes services provided in any setting as long as the children are living at home."

National Resource Center for Recruitment and Retention of Foster and Adoptive Parents at AdoptUSKids

Director: Sharri Black
Administered by AdoptUSKids, the Adoption Exchange Association
Based in Baltimore, Maryland

"We can help child welfare agency leaders understand the 'science' behind effective recruitment, response, and retention practices, and build diligent recruitment strategies that support community collaboration and stakeholder involvement," asserts staff from the NRCRRFAP. AdoptUSKids began in 2002 and has provided T&TA since then, with the resource center organizing as such officially in 2008. To assist with finding families, the AdoptUSKids website lists more than 4,000 approved families who are waiting to adopt. This center works closely with the NRC on Adoption and the NRC for Permanency and Family Connections.

The center often helps localities, states, and even regions develop a plan for recruitment and retention of parents and develop specific strategies for older youth, sibling groups, and African American children. It also teaches agencies to reach out to communities of color to find potential parents. Several webinars are in the works, and the NRCRRFAP plans to attend and present at several national conferences this year.

Targeted Recruiting: "African American, Latino, and Native American families make up most of the diligent recruitment T&TA requests. Involvement of maternal and paternal relatives/kin is also a major focus. Specific outreach to other potentially rich resources [begins] with the communities from which children enter care, [and includes] single males, military/global, and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] families, communities of faith, and rural communities. Many jurisdictions report dedicating more of their reduced resources to targeted and child-specific recruitment efforts rather than to general recruitment in order to better maximize their recruitment resources to find prospective foster and adoptive parents for the children they have in care."

Staff from the National Resource Center for Recruitment and Retention of Foster and Adoptive Parents at AdoptUSKids assist a state agency in August.

Challenges to Retention: "Retention determines the ultimate success of recruitment, and therefore it is worth expending significant efforts to provide the necessary supports to retain families. (1) Youth in care have many diverse needs, and although foster and adoptive parents receive preservice and ongoing training, parenting can be challenging and there are no 'one size fits all' solutions. (2) Foster and adoptive parents may be viewed as having sufficient training, compensation, and supports, yet their reality may be quite different. (3) Staff have numerous responsibilities that may negatively impact timely responsiveness to prospective and current foster and adoptive families. (4) Parents may become overwhelmed by the complexity of the system and sometimes feel inconsequential.

"A comprehensive customer service perspective/approach at each level of the agency/jurisdiction can help overcome these challenges. The NRCRRFAP at AdoptUSKids has many training and technical assistance tools to assist states and counties in assessing their recruitment infrastructure and to assist them in addressing gaps successfully."

Impact of the Recession: "Funding for recruitment and retention efforts in some jurisdictions have been reduced. The NRC's focus to have community partners, stakeholders, parents, and youth at the table has been well received in these times [when] jurisdictions now have to do more with less. More of these collaborative efforts, which don't require extensive funds, are highlighted in T&TA delivery, and there is a focus on doable retention and customer service efforts to better retain current and prospective families."

National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology

Director: Lynda Arnold
Administered by CWLA
Based in Washington, DC

The NRC-CWDT provides training and technical assistance to improve the quality of data that child welfare agencies collect, build agencies' capacity to use that data for decisionmaking in daily practice, and help agencies develop or improve their case management and data collection processes. T&TA from NRC-CWDT often includes improving the quality of data reported to the federal government in the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), the National Youth in Transition Database (NTYD), and the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS); help is also available for other federal requirements. The center draws on the skills of its partners--Westat, the National Center for State Courts, and the National Indian Child Welfare Association--to reach all its constituencies.

NRC-CWDT staff discusses upcoming opportunities at a team kick-off meeting in November 2009.

NRC-CWDT staff help agencies use the data they collect throughout the organization. "That is a key, and a lot of times we see that need in jurisdictions and make recommendations and talk about it, but it's really hard for people to take hold of that because it's a change in the way people do business," center director Lynda Arnold says. "Usually people come to us when they have a specific problem--but usually it needs a more systemic approach. That's an emphasis from the Children's Bureau--we're really looking at making systemic change." She adds, "The data runs through everything--there's not one area that data doesn't touch."

Recognizing this, the NRC-CWDT works to improve communication within an agency. Data collection may be in a general child welfare division, an information technology division, or a research division. "It isn't necessarily that one is better than the other, but what is key is that they do communicate," Arnold says. If a practitioner needs information, it needs to get to them. "That communication between those units is what is extremely important in making the system work and giving the users data that is useful to them--and in a way they can understand it," she continues. "Communication is just the key."

Although in years past, the NRC-CWDT has hosted the Children's Bureau Data and Technology Conference, this event will not be held in 2011. Instead, staff and consultants of the center will be making presentations at Children's Bureau meetings and other pertinent conferences. The NRC will also host various regional or topical meetings throughout the country this year.

Data Exchange: "A major emphasis is on data exchange between the child welfare agency and the court, although some agencies also have generic data exchange questions, including concerns about how to maintain privacy and confidentiality while sharing information among systems."

Youth in Transition: "The National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) is a federal reporting system that collects case-level information on youth and the independent living services they receive from state agencies that administer the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, as well as outcomes information on youth who are in foster care or who have aged out of foster care. On October 1, 2010, states began collecting this information. For the past year and a half the NRC-CWDT has worked closely with the Children's Bureau and the National Resource Center for Youth Development on sharing information, developing tools and resources, facilitating meetings, and providing training and technical assistance on NYTD. Many resources on NYTD can be found on the NRC website."

Tribes and Title IV-E: "While services of the NRC-CWDT have always been available to tribes wanting to enhance their use of data or develop or improve their data collection, another priority over the last 18 months has been working with tribes around direct access to Title IV-E, provided for in the Fostering Connections Act. In order to access IV-E directly, tribes must be able to report AFCARS data, so the NRC has been working diligently to provide information, resources, and technical assistance to tribes interested in direct access."

National Center for Substance Abuse and Child Welfare

Director: Nancy K. Young
Administered by Children and Family Futures
Based in Irvine, California

Jointly funded by the Children's Bureau and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), NCSACW traces its history to a report commissioned by Congress after the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997. "The report established five national goals to improve the response to families in the child welfare system because of parental substance use disorders," staff say. NCSACW was created in 2002 to help achieve these goals. Nearly a decade in, the partnership is working well. NCSACW staff report that they often highlight the effectiveness of this federal-level collaboration when speaking to sate and local agencies that are trying to initiate or enhance their own collaborative relationships.

When a parent has substance abuse issues and comes to the attention of child welfare workers, often another system also becomes involved--the judicial system. Accordingly, NCSACW provides a multidisciplinary perspective. "NCSACW does not focus on one particular agency, but is rather directed at work between the agencies, providing training and technical assistance to enhance the capacity of the three systems to work together on behalf of families," staff explain.

The Children's Bureau and SAMHSA will cosponsor and Children and Family Futures will present a conference September 14-16 at National Harbor in Maryland. The conference, titled Putting the Pieces Together for Children and Families, will also feature the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children's eighth annual gathering.

Cross-Systems Collaboration: "Some of the most frequently cited barriers to child welfare, substance abuse treatment, and the courts working together are: differences in values and perceptions of primary client; timing differences in service systems; knowledge gaps among staff working in the systems; lack of tools for effective engagement in services; intervention and prevention needs of children; lack of effective communication; data and information gaps; and categorical and rigid funding streams as well as services and treatment gaps.

"There are many strategies to overcome these barriers, all of which have been the focus of publications, training, and technical assistance provided by the NCSACW, including: develop principles for working together; create ongoing dialogues and efficient communication; develop cross-training opportunities; improve screening, assessment, and monitoring practice and protocols; develop funding strategies to improve timely treatment access; expand prevention services to children; and develop improved cross-system data collection."

Shared Outcomes: "Shared outcomes are critical to demonstrate that a collaborative has accepted joint accountability and agreement on desired results. Without such an agreement, each of the partners is likely to continue measuring its own progress as it always has, using only its own measures of success. NCSACW has developed approaches using data retrieval from both child welfare and substance abuse agencies to monitor those outcomes over time."

How to Work Together: "NCSACW initially received frequent requests for 'the tool' that child welfare agencies could use to screen for substance abuse in parents and risks to children. In response, NCSACW created Screening and Assessment for Family Engagement, Retention, and Recovery (SAFERR). SAFERR is a monograph for helping staff of public and private agencies respond to families affected by substance use disorders and is based on the premise that when parents misuse substances and maltreat their children, the only way to make sound decisions is to draw from the talents and resources of at least three systems: child welfare, alcohol and drugs, and the courts. There is no 'magic tool'; it takes a trained team, operating with trust and knowledge of each other's goals and practices.

"NCSACW continues to receive frequent T&TA requests in the areas of screening and assessment, training, models of system reform, and funding. NCSACW currently maintains three online tutorials with over 30,000 registrants, including Understanding Substance Use Disorders, Treatment, and Family Recovery: A Guide for Child Welfare Professionals. At least seven states require completion of the tutorial by all new child welfare workers or use it for on-the-job training."

More child welfare national resource centers will be profiled in the next issue of Children's Voice.

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