February/March 2002Vol. 3, No. 2Surveys Give Snapshot of How Child Welfare Services Are Organized, Delivered
State and local child welfare administrators in the United States are increasingly focused on collaboration, permanency planning, and innovations in service delivery—these are among the initial findings reported by the most comprehensive national study ever conducted of the child welfare system.
The National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW) is primarily focused on gathering child- and family-level information, but researchers also collected data about how child welfare services are organized and delivered. The first two reports released from NSCAW present findings, respectively, of the State Child Welfare Agency Survey (based on discussions with 46 State administrators) and Local Child Welfare Agency Survey (based on information from 92 local agencies).
Both State and local administrators reported that implementation of the Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 had brought changes to their systems. Two-thirds of State administrators said that in response to ASFA their State had made changes or enhancements in at least one of the following areas: child safety, permanency, collaboration with courts, or data collection. Sixty percent of local agencies said that ASFA has led to a greater emphasis on safety and almost all respondent agencies reported shortened time frames for decision making.
Responses from State administrators and local agencies also underscore the importance of interagency collaboration. State administrators report an increased emphasis on formal collaborations between child welfare agencies and other entities that provide services to children and families. Almost all respondent local agencies reported having linkages to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families services and 40 percent reported linkages with substance abuse treatment, mental health, and juvenile justice services.
Along with increased collaboration, State administrators cited the following as the most promising developments in child welfare: more emphasis on prevention and early intervention, greater involvement of families in decision making, and increased emphasis on evaluation and outcomes.
Responses from local agencies also spotlighted innovations in service delivery: About 40 percent of local agencies reported developing new initiatives in the 12 months preceding the survey, including specialized units of service, multidisciplinary teams, additional community-based branch offices, and concurrent planning mechanisms.
NSCAW is the first national study to examine detailed child and family outcomes as they relate to experiences with the child welfare system and to family characteristics, community environment, and other factors. NSCAW researchers are gathering information associated with 6,100 children from public child welfare agencies in a randomly selected sample of 92 communities nationwide.
NSCAW was mandated by Congress as part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. The study is being overseen by the Children's Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; the 6-year project will conclude in September 2003.
The NSCAW research team comprises Research Triangle Institute, Caliber Associates, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.
Web-based and PDF versions of the two reports can be found in the "Factsheet/Publications" section of the Children's Bureau website at www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/publications/index.htm