Meet the Child Welfare National Resource Centers

Second of a Two-Part Series

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The Children's Bureau, part of the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, includes a Training and Technical Assistance (T&TA) Network. Network members provide assistance to states and tribes in improving child welfare systems to ensure safety, permanency, and well-being for children and families. Their shared goal is to support the capacity of state, local, tribal, and other publicly administered or publicly supported child welfare agencies and family and juvenile courts.

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 two centers to support statutorily mandated programs. This is the second of two Children's Voice articles to introduce the NRCs.

National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections

Director: Gerald P. Mallon
Administered by the Hunter College School of Social Work
Based in New York, New York
www.nrcpfc.org

NRCPFC helps publicly administered and supported child welfare agencies institutionalize a safety-focused, family-centered, and community-based approach to meet the needs of children, youth, and families. All the facets of family connection are covered--including father involvement, kinship care, sibling connections, and parent-child visiting. The scope of their T&TA and information services work is broad, but popular T&TA requests lately have been work around the Fostering Connections to Success Act, concurrent planning/ enhanced permanency, family search, and meaningful family engagement. The NRC has several webinars and telecasts scheduled already, and past sessions are still available; visit the website for links to past and future topics.

Achieving Permanency Sooner: "Age, time in placement, race, family issues, and incidence of maltreatment are all issues that effect the achievement of permanency for children and youth. A focus on comprehensive family-based assessment at the start of the case is one of the many ways that agencies can work toward making the child/youth's first placement their last placement. The Children's Bureau recently funded a new cohort of cooperative agreements, which are specifically focusing on these issues. Our NRC looks forward to learning from these newly funded projects and providing them with technical assistance in areas where the evidence suggests strategies to minimizing time children/youth spend in care. One of our goals in focusing on this scope of work is to develop a comprehensive practice model supported by the child welfare systems in states and tribes, between and with community- based partners."

Involving Fathers: "Fatherhood and Paternal Resources is indeed an area of focus for our NRC. We have this year conducted several TA events onsite in states on this issue and we have some wonderful NRC staff that provides specific TA in this area. In 2011 we will host a teleconference on Fatherhood and Paternal Resources which will be then archived and posted in audio and podcast versions on our NRCPFC website."

Working Across Systems: "The trend of recognizing shared outcomes and working with other systems of care to move children and youth toward permanency has had a very positive impact on our work and is federally supported by legislation, discretionary grants, and the work of the T&TA network. Our NRC and all of the other members of the Children's Bureau T&TA network have comprehensive evaluation plans that assist us in evaluating our own work with states, tribes, and territories. We ground our work in states and tribes with the principles from the Child and Family Service Reviews and the Systems of Care frameworks."

National Resource Center for Adoption

Director: Natalie Lyons
Administered by Spaulding for Children
Based in Southfield, Michigan
www.nrcadoption.org

The NRCA was established in 1985, but at that time was known as the NRC for Special Needs Adoption. It began by offering training about topics related to special needs adoption to public child welfare agencies. "Our mantra then, as it is today, was that there is no such thing as an 'unadoptable child,' and we aimed to partner with child welfare agencies in finding forever families for waiting children with 'special needs,'" NRCA staff explain. Since its start, NRCA's work has expanded to improve the effectiveness and quality of adoption and postadoption services provided to all children and families.

Types of T&TA: "T&TA is delivered through on- and off-site consultation and strategic planning; tools; curricula; webinars and webcasts; our biannual newsletter, The Roundtable; our information-rich website; secondary research services; and our Minority Adoption Leadership Development Institute, which provides leadership development to emerging leaders of color from across the nation."

Policy to Practice: "The NRCA also provides logistic and planning services for the Children's Bureau Policy to Practice (P2P) Dialogue, an annual high-level permanency meeting, which includes each state's in-home, foster care, and adoption program manager, in order to share best practices, important federal updates, and inform about the resources available in the T&TA network. This meeting's plenary sessions are videotaped and archived for greater viewing on the NRCA's website, all as part of an effort to increase the capacity of the states to deliver high-quality adoption and child welfare services to children and families. This year, the P2P is scheduled for October 12-13, 2011, in Washington, DC. It will be preceded this year by a Post Adoption Summit on October 11, 2011, which will also be sponsored by the NRCA."

National Resource Center for Organizational Improvement

Director: Peter Watson
Administered by the Muskie School of Public Service, University of Southern Maine
Based in Portland, Maine
www.nrcoi.org

NRCOI is another resource center that's seen different incarnations throughout the years. "But what we focus on has remained pretty consistent," reports current director Peter Watson, who has been at the center for more than 20 years. These include strategic planning, interagency collaboration, and some workforce issues. The recent budget crunch has directly impacted NRCOI's work, as agencies look at ways to do more with less. "It's a huge issue in any type of work people are asking us to do," Watson says. "Clearly there are a number of states that have had layoffs or furloughs or both, and even if they don't have layoffs or furloughs they have hiring freezes." Thus, it's a much more challenging environment when the NRCOI comes in. "To do some sort of planning or implementing some sort of systemic changes," Watson says, "you can't do that without looking at those realities that are out there." The center recently hosted an executive leadership institute on adaptive leadership. In these challenging economic times, agencies have a choice, Watson says: "You can hunker down until things get back to 'normal,' or you can adapt." The NRCOI wants to make the latter path easier for agencies to take.

But each T&TA brings a different reality. Recognizing that other organizations offer similar consultation services to agencies, Watson says the NRCOI focuses on tailoring their response to each request. The first step in this is examining the request itself and trying to identify underlying issues. Watson also emphasizes that the NRC wants any improvements they help create to last, and customizing the capacity-building helps ensure that: "That sustainability piece is really key."

Like other NRCs, the NRCOI offers information in other ways as well. "We do a lot more than just individualized onsite consultation, we've got a webinar series--we get a ton of people on those," Watson says. "We've got a ton of materials."

"We have only so much capacity to be out and about, so we try to put as much as we can on our website," he continues. "We try to put out valuable information that anyone can get access to." Watson notes that as a field, child welfare is generally good at getting information and data-- "But where we all fall down is using it to take action," he says. His goal for the NRCOI is to "give people some things they can work with."

National Resource Center for Youth Development

Director: Dorothy I. Ansell
Administered by the University of Oklahoma
Based in Tulsa, Oklahoma
www.nrcyd.ou.edu

Since 1986, the University of Oklahoma has hosted a resource center for adolescent issues. NRCYD frequently works with its fellow resource centers on topics that affect older youth in foster care and those who are transitioning out of care. The NRCYD also recognizes the importance of cross-systems collaboration and specifically underlines education, mental health, health, and other community-based services as key partners. "NRCYD has worked for many years with all the federal partners who currently make up the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs," staff report. Four core principles guide the work at this NRC. They are youth development, collaboration, cultural competence, and permanent connections. "They are essential in providing effective transition services to young people," according to staff. They note that cultural competence must be included because "all development takes place in the context of culture."

Popular T&TA requests usually arise from aspects of the Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, the Education and Training Voucher Program, and the implementation of the requirements of the Fostering Connections to Success Act of 2008. Staff were also preparing for a conference in Denver, Colorado, in early May--National Pathways to Adulthood: A Convening on Youth in Transition.

The National Youth in Transition Database: "As part of the Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, the Administration for Children and Families was required to develop and implement a data collection system to (1) track the independent living services states provide to youth and (2) develop outcome measures that may be used to assess state performance in operating their independent living program. The data collection system is called the National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD). The final rule for NYTD was published in 2008 and requires data collection for young people at ages 17, 19, and 21. NRCYD has been working with the Children's Bureau and the National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology to assist states in the development of systems, policies, and practices to collect NYTD data. Engaging youth in the planning and implementation of such efforts has been a key component of NRCYD's technical assistance to states. NYTD data collection began October 1, 2010, and the first semi-annual data report is due no later than May 15, 2011."

Advice for Child Welfare Workers: "Appreciate the young people for the experts and resources that they are. Listen to your youth. Working with young people from this perspective is very helpful in building relationships with them."

National Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues

Director: Jennifer Renne
Administered by the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law
Based in Washington, DC
www.abanet.org/child/rclji

Since 2005, the NRCLJI has been a formal partnership between the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). But director Jennifer Renne says this NRC has much deeper roots: "We've had some version of it for over 30 years." For that entire time, this NRC has had a foot in both fields, law and child welfare. "Part of our role really is to bridge the gap," Renne says, "to explain to the legal audience the fundamentals of child welfare and social work [and also] the flip side of it, explaining to the social work field why lawyers and judges behave the way they behave." It's a learning process all around for the professionals as they try to see cases from each other's perspective, she continues. "When a social worker says 'confidentiality' it means something a lot different than when a lawyer says 'confidentiality.'" And of course on the legal side there are both lawyers and judges. Sometimes, Renne says, "judges are resistant that they have to learn about these cases in a way they don't have to learn about other cases." Accordingly, NRCLJI has done work around selection, recruitment, and retention of judges to increase the number of judges with an understanding of child welfare issues.

"We have to create buy-in," Renne explains. "Whatever the issue is, we have to sell it to the legal community and show them why this is a good thing." She gives the example of having youth in court--judges and lawyers have to accept that youth can be in court at all before they can talk about how to make the youth more comfortable or active at appearances. Fortunately, the NRCLJI has learned ways to do this efficiently. Renne says they take a role in several national events and make presentations at statewide judicial trainings, where most of a state's juvenile and family court judges come together.

Recently, this NRC has been focused on the Fostering Connections to Success Act. While the Department of Health and Human Services worked through clarifying the policy implications and guidance from the legislation, there was a ban on T&TA from the NRCs about the law. When that was lifted in April 2010, Renne was out in front pushing for T&TA to address it, since those were the questions she was hearing from the field. Specifically, NRCLJI has been emphasizing the education provisions and aspects that deal with older youth. In addition, through and with the NCJFCJ, the center has done a significant amount of work with model court projects in more than a dozen states. Renne says model courts are a perfect example of a method to meet a goal for this and other NRCs: "a shift away from systems training toward systems change." In terms of future work, Renne would like to have more T&TA requests around data issues, which is an area of expertise for the NCSC--an organization that also partners with the NRC for Child Welfare Data and Technology, profiled in the previous issue of Children's Voice. "It's something that we're equipped and set up to do," Renne continues, noting that there are two main categories for data questions from her perspective: "One is data exchange between courts and agencies, and the other is measuring the performance of the court."

National Resource Center for Tribes

Interim Director: Jerry Gardner
Administered by the Tribal Law and Policy Institute
Based in West Hollywood, California
www.nrc4tribes.org

Joe Walker, Carlette Randall, Connie Bear King, and Roshanda Shoulders discuss upcoming plans for NRC4Tribes.

One of the newest NRCs, NRC4Tribes was created to help improve concerns specific to tribal child welfare. "Data about the prevalence of American Indian and Alaska Native children in state and tribal foster care and the role of tribes in child welfare service delivery suggest that tribes are a crucial audience for T/TA," the Children's Bureau wrote in the request for proposals to form the NRC. The request said the new center "is expected to identify and meet the child welfare needs of tribes, improve tribal child welfare practice, and help tribes achieve greater safety, permanency, and well-being [and] promote the delivery of culturally appropriate services to all American Indian and Alaska Native children, youth, and families."

Once NRC4Tribes came together, balancing between several partner agencies, the group quickly established a shared vision, mission, philosophy, guiding principles, and systems of care values to establish a common foundation. One of its major projects this year was conducting a national tribal T&TA needs assessment; findings will guide future T&TA, to include general, targeted, and peer-to-peer work. The NRC is also planning several webinars and regional roundtable events this year.

A Busy Start: "Our first year as the National Resource Center for Tribes has been exciting. We've met with individuals from many, many tribes throughout the country to share information about the new National Resource Center. We've also completed a national tribal training and technical assistance needs assessment to learn first-hand from tribes what kinds of T&TA can assist tribal child welfare programs. We are working collaboratively with our partners within the Children's Bureau National T&TA Network as well as other federal agencies and national organizations who also have a strong interest in improving the lives of native children and families."

Deb Painte of the Native American Training Institute and Tracy King, president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community and chair of the Indian Child and Family Resource Center both bring their expertise to work with NRC4Tribes.

Partner Organizations: "We feel that the NRC4Tribes is uniquely grounded in its ability to provide training and technical assistance for tribal child welfare programs since we are composed of four agencies, three of them native nonprofit organizations. The NRC4Tribes is housed within the Tribal Law and Policy Institute www.tlpi.org and partnered with the Indian Child and Family Resource Center, Helena, Montana; the Native American Training Institute, Bismarck, North Dakota www.nativeinstitute.org; and the Butler Institute for Families, Denver University www.the butlerinstitute.org.

"Partner agencies of the NRC4Tribes each have a long history working in tribal communities throughout the nation and each are passionate about their work. They want to actively share their combined knowledge and experience as well as listen and learn more from tribal communities about how the National T&TA Network can better serve their T&TA needs in a culturally responsive manner."

National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center

Director: Jeanne Pietrzak
Administered by the University of California, Berkeley
Based in Berkeley, California
http://aia.berkeley.edu

The National AIA Resource Center was created in response to legislative requirements. In the AIA Resource Center's case, Congress passed the Abandoned Infants Assistance Act in 1988 to address the "boarder baby" phenomenon--when infants, especially those exposed to drugs or HIV in utero, are abandoned in hospitals and kept there due to the difficulties in placing them elsewhere. This center's mission is to enhance the quality of social and health services delivered to children who are abandoned or at risk of abandonment due to the presence of drugs and/or HIV in the family. AIA provides training, information, support, and resources to service providers who assist these children and their families. Service programs receive discretionary grant funding from the Children's Bureau. For descriptions of each federally funded AIA project, see the recently updated Project Profiles document, available here.

National Resource Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention

Director: Linda Baker
Administered by the Chapel Hill Training and Outreach Program, Inc.
Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
www.friendsnrc.org

Federal legislation addressed prevention of child abuse in 1974 with the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), but it was much more recently that community-based child abuse prevention (CBCAP) programs were established, with Title II of the CAPTA amendments of 1996. The goal of CBCAP programs is to support community-based prevention efforts and coordinate resources, as well as to use community-based knowledge of diverse populations to more effectively prevent and treat child abuse and neglect. Supporting CBCAP programs in the Children's Bureau T&TA network is this NRC, usually known as FRIENDS--Family Resource Information, Education, and Network Development Service. With targeted T&TA for CBCAP Lead Agencies and Set-Aside Grantees designated by the Children's Bureau, FRIENDS collaborates with several national partners, including CWLA, to build capacity in CBCAP program requirements such as outcome accountability, parent leadership, evidence-based and evidence- informed practices, peer review, logic models, collaboration, and systems change. FRIENDS is preparing for a June meeting, Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being: Network for Action.

Meghan Williams is a contributing editor to Children's Voice.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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